Building a consensus on housing ‘harder than I thought’ says cabinet member


Building a consensus on Horsham District Council’s future planning framework was ‘more difficult than I thought’ according to the cabinet member responsible for planning.

Speaking to the County Times on the eve of the publication of the Horsham District Planning Framework Proposed Submission Claire Vickers, cabinet member for living and working communities, and Roger Paterson, cabinet member for the local economy, said that while they understood residents’ concerns they felt that current proposals would keep Horsham ‘thriving’.

The Preferred Strategy, which included proposals for 2,500 homes and a new business park north of Horsham and published for consultation in July 2013, drew a wave of criticism from residents angry that only one option was included.

Now the Proposed Submission will go before HDC’s Full Council on Wednesday April 30 to be approved for a period of representation before it can be sent to the planning inspector for a series of examination hearings later this year.

When she was made cabinet member in April 2013 Mrs Vickers wanted to ‘get a consensus’ and said ‘we have to do the right thing by everybody’.

On Tuesday she said: “It’s more difficult than I thought. It would have been nice to have everybody 100 per cent behind us.

“The majority of people understand why we are doing what we are doing. It’s not all about housing, the employment needs are enormous.”

Both she and Mr Paterson stressed the importance of showing HDC’s plan promotes economic development, after Central Government passed the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012.

Mr Paterson said this represented a ‘sea change’ in what councils were expected to do to promote economic development, with the entire financial structure of local government depending on economic growth in their areas.

Without reference to this in the plan the two cabinet members said a planning inspector would simply throw it out.

“We need to produce high quality jobs in the district to enable people to live in the district, and buy houses and thrive in the district,” he added.

“The housing costs have gone so high that we can’t have that [younger] generation present and it’s a really serious problem.”

The district is almost entirely without high quality grade A office space to attract high quality businesses Mr Paterson said, with North Horsham the most sustainable place to put a business park with the new homes.

He added: “It’s very land damaging to spread it over the district. It’s much less damaging to put it in one spot.”

Mrs Vickers added: “I’ve lived in Horsham for 37 years so I have seen lots of changes.

“I still think it’s a great place to live and it will continue to be a great place and I think we need to keep the town thriving and prosperous.”

The main changes between the Preferred Strategy and the Proposed Submission is a strong section on the environment, and upping the numbers of homes per year from 575 to 650, with the increase coming from windfall sites and through the Neighbourhood Plan process.

Asked why development could not be spread across the district instead of North Horsham Mrs Vickers said: “A huge amount of development has already taken place in the south of the district and this will continue in the Neighbourhood Plan process.”

They would still operate a brownfield-first policy, but on sites like Novartis, while they anticipated there would be some enabling housebuilding they were keen to see part of the site remain for business use.

It was also emphasised that strategic site alternatives to North Horsham had been looked at and tested through the sustainability appraisal process.

Currently around 500 homes have been allocated to strategic sites in both Southwater and Billingshurst.

Mrs Vickers also defended her ‘unilateral’ decision to hold Strategic Planning Advisory Group meetings in private, changing the name to the Planning Policy Advisory Group, saying they had become unproductive in their previous format.

She added: “There is no underhand secrecy in this.”

Several background evidence papers will go in front of HDC’s Cabinet next Wednesday April 23 including an economic growth assessment, the locally generated housing needs assessment, and transport and development study.

The agenda for the Full Council meeting, to be held on Wednesday April 30, will be made available on HDC’s website on Tuesday April 22.

If approved the period of representation will begin on May 16 and run until June 27.

Further Questions and Answers from Claire Vickers:

Q) Will there be a free vote on 30 April? And whether there is or isn’t a free vote will Members be reminded to declare any whipping as an interest?

A) The Conservative Group does not have a whip. Members will make their decision based on all the facts in front of them.

Q) Why were no public meetings held during the entire process?

A) At every stage we have met our requirements for consultation and often exceeded them. All meetings need a structure to them. The purpose of the meeting held in public on 13 February was to give the public the chance to hear evidence on the Strategy directly from experts and at the same time put forward their questions. The advantage was that this occurred while their councillors, who will be the people taking a decision on the strategy, were also in attendance and could also debate points with the public there.

Q) Why was only one option put out to consultation? And what was Option 1 that the Conservative Group voted down by majority on 24 June 2013? Why wasn’t that put to the public?

A) The journey towards what will become the Horsham District Planning Framework started in July 2009 when nine strategic sites were identified and discussed by councillors. Since then there have been over 30 different meetings and there have been many visits to sites by councillors. Several options were considered and discussed in meetings. That whole process resulted in a Preferred Strategy which included evaluation of all possible options. In July 2013 councillors overwhelmingly supported this Strategy going out to public consultation, this was not a statutory requirement but we felt it was important to hear views at this stage. Responses have been taken into account when producing the Proposed Submission documents, which is going to Council on 30 April.

Q) Previous planning officers’ reports identified Southwater as the most suitable location for development and resulted in the District Council investing £25 million in producing a new village centre. Why has this policy been dropped?

A) Southwater was one of the nine sites identified as suitable for strategic development and under the Proposed Submission will be taking some significant further development.

Q) It is understood that Liberty are planning up to 170 dwellings per year. With the major infrastructure requirements how long will it take to reach this target and is the rest of the district vulnerable re five year land supply targets in the meantime?

A) If the Proposed Submission is adopted as the Horsham District Planning Framework, it will provide immediate protection against “unwanted” planning applications from developers across the District. The Plan is designed to deliver housing across the plan period to meet the housing requirements for the whole of the Horsham District.

Q) How has infrastructure of sewerage been solved for North Horsham when the nearest connection is 1 km away and the North Horsham sewerage has no capacity? How much will this cost?

A) New infrastructure has been carefully considered and will be met in an appropriate way. There is a legal right for developers to be connected to the sewerage network.

Q) The council has a policy to achieve 40% affordable housing. If this cannot be achieved on greenfield development will the new target of 35% ever be attained?

A) The previous policy had the ambition of an overall 40% affordable on developments of 15 homes or more. However, the number of affordable homes that are to be built must also be looked at alongside other considerations such as the level of community benefits being offered by a developer. The new policy will mean that smaller sites of between five and 15 homes will now require some 20% affordable housing to be included. This has the potential to increase the number of affordable homes across the district. The Council is also looking at new ways in which it can deliver a greater number of affordable homes.

Q) Southwater has always been considered as the best site for a new secondary school both in terms of sustainability and avoiding transportation costs of circa £200,000 p.a. What will happen to the school site if a new school is built north of Horsham?

A) West Sussex County Council as the education authority chooses where schools will go and it has recommended that secondary school education facilities are provided with strategic development.

Q) Will a secondary school north of Horsham require Crawley children to be bussed in?

A) This Council knows of no such requirement. However, West Sussex County Council sets catchment areas for schools not this council.

Q) Why will HDC not state what interest, if any, it has had from business to come to the industrial park? HDC could bracket the companies if they cannot name any names.

A) HDC has not engaged in specific discussions with businesses about coming to any new business park and it would not be able to do this until the Planning Framework has been agreed. However, at the meeting on 13th February both councillors and the public heard expert opinions giving an indication of the level of interest from business in locating into the District and in those already in the area wishing to expand their business into larger premises.