The consultation – ‘How many houses does Horsham district need?’ has yet to be concluded by a formal public declaration by Horsham District Council (HDC) of the number decided.
At the Strategic Planning Advisory Group (SPAG) meeting, held June 14, councillor Ian Howard, cabinet member for living and working communities, informed SPAG members that the ‘Review of Evidence’, produced for HDC by consultants DTZ was ‘very helpful evidence’ that would be used as the ‘evidence base’ for the district’s ‘spatial strategy’ and would inform decision makers.
DTZ’s ‘Review of Evidence’ attempts to evaluate 12 ‘significant responses’ to HDC’s consultation, including CPRE Sussex – Horsham and Crawley response.
Notably, the majority of the responses deemed to be ‘significant’ were those submitted by developers. Invariably, as one would expect, the numbers advocated by the developers are huge and accord with HDC’s Consultation Option D - 730-plus new houses per annum (14,600-plus), ranging from 820 houses pa to 1,000 houses pa, that is 16,400 to 20,000 over 20 years.
Like HDC’s own contentious Locally Generated Needs Study, produced to order for HDC by another consultancy, the developers’ figures, being dependent on unverifiable and speculative assumptions and presumptions about future population growth, inward migration and the economy, are subject to a high degree of uncertainty and could well be incorrect.
Disturbingly, whilst DTZ acknowledges in its report that ‘nationally housing completion rates will remain lower than in the five years to 2008 due to constraints in the mortgage market, economic uncertainty and the cost of development finance’, it recommends that HDC should nevertheless release ‘multiple sites’ for development.
Councillors are aware that developers in Horsham district have consistently failed to meet the annual build-rate of 650 houses required for the district by the South East Plan. In consequence of this failure, planning applications rejected by HDC have been permitted on appeal by the government’s Planning Inspectors.
Given the state of the economy, with no return to the 2002-07 boom in prospect, achieving 650 houses pa, let alone the grossly inflated numbers (820 to 1,000 houses pa) advocated by developers, is likely to be impossible for the foreseeable future. This would result in yet more appeal decisions permitting development, contrary to the wishes of communities, which would otherwise have been rejected.
A decision by councillors in favour of an excessive level of housing, as advocated by developers and consultants, would result in an unprecedented loss of our countryside and biodiversity, changing forever the character of Horsham district.
Imagine the devastation of greenfields, hedgerows and stately oaks now apparent south of Broadbridge Heath multiplied many times over.
None of this, however, is inevitable - our elected representatives can if they so wish reject the grossly inflated house-building targets advocated by developers, but will they do so?
Dr R.F. SMITH
For and on behalf of Council for Protection of Rural England, Sussex – Horsham and Crawley, Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield