Campaign group RAGE addresses the same questions put to council

JPCT 090913 North Horsham public meeting. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 090913 North Horsham public meeting. Photo by Derek Martin

Last week Claire Vickers, Horsham District Council's cabinet member in charge of housing answered our questions.

This week Residents Against Greenfield Erosion, formed to fight off plans for 2,500 homes north of Horsham, answered the very same questions

Q) Are you happy with how the consultation has gone so far and whether you feel you have been able to bring residents onside to work constructively on the proposals HDC has published?

RAGE: No, we are not happy. In the first instance, Horsham District Council has failed miserably to engage its residents throughout the District. Although RAGE lobbied the council last year following its failure to engage residents in the ‘How much Housing does Horsham need’ consultation, together with providing suggestions and the offer of assistance, HDC has still not properly advised residents of the Consultation that is underway. In addition, the quality of information within the consultation documents, is at best, very poor. This lack of information has led to speculation, leading to a proliferation of misinformation.

Q) Councillors have stated that no to proposals is not an option and they need to suggest alternative sites. People have suggested that it is up to the council and its planners to argue a reasonable case for proposals. What are your thoughts on this?

RAGE: Although, we believe, the Council’s justification for providing the level of proposed housing over the next 20 years is questionable, it is still not acceptable to just say ‘No’. However, this dictate from central government does not give HDC the go ahead to destroy the beautiful countryside surrounding Horsham. In actual fact, we believe central government dictates a ‘Brown Field First’ policy. It is absolutely correct that residents of Horsham should expect the council and its planners to argue a reasoned case for appropriate proposals. It is time for HDC to stop hiding behind central government, listen to the electorate and learn how to plan for the future properly.

Q) What impact would possible developments have on the future of secondary school provision in the area? Although it is a county council matter many have expressed fears that catchment areas could be radically altered if a new secondary school is provided North of Horsham.

RAGE: We wonder where Councillor Vickers is getting her information. Obviously, there are currently no planned changes to school catchments as these are merely proposals and are yet to be considered by the LEA; this would undoubtedly change if a school were to be provided. It is worth noting that the preferred strategy document only suggests that land will ‘be available’ for a secondary school, not that a secondary school ‘will be provided’; does Councillor Vickers know something we do not? We are advised that the LEA have not actually commented on catchments areas and therefore Vickers’ assertions that catchments will not change is nothing more than speculation on her part. Schools should be built where they are required, which in Horsham’s case is in Councillor Vickers’ Ward of Southwater.

Q) Do you think the case for development North of Horsham has been handicapped by a whole list of reasons which ruled out the site in 2009 from the council itself? These included the A264 being the boundary of the Town, protecting Graylands Copse, floodplain constraints, and with no natural boundaries to the north fears it could lead to further development north along Rusper Road. Have these reasons disappeared?

RAGE: Cllr Vickers is right, North Horsham was not ruled out in 2009, but it was certainly not the favoured option. In fact, the only reason that it was in the frame, was because of the proposal to include an A + E hospital. It is now fact, that local GPs do not want a new hospital in Horsham, which makes this option much less sustainable. Her suggestion that GPs might change their minds, keeps the possibility of an A + E hospital alive in the public’s minds - this is incorrect and misleading. The creation of the A264 as a northern boundary and protection of the strategic gap between Horsham and Crawley was a stroke of planning mastermind - Vicker’s predecessors should be applauded. For many years, HDC has refused small scale development in this area, citing the protection of ‘the strategic gap’, but suddenly, now that it suits the Council, the strategic gap is of absolutely no importance.

Q) This time last year HDC produced a scoring system for all the considered strategic sites. Why has this been removed from the website, and could you shed light on the fact that Southwater scored higher than Horsham, whose high score was mainly down to the inclusion of a new A & E hospital?

RAGE: It is a shame that not only has HDC removed the original scoring table from its website, but it has failed to update it to support the preferred strategy. It was a simple system that would have allowed residents to gain an informed view. Instead HDC decided it would be better to produce a 288 page document, containing little sound and justifiable detail and written to support a pre determined conclusion. Is the Councillor for Southwater really suggesting that because Southwater is slightly further away from the A23/M23 that it has now been discounted from the strategy? Her argument that the strategic choice is led by economic development is a complete red herring. Every piece of work carried out in relation to the need for commercial development in Horsham District reaches the same conclusion; it is not sustainable.

Q) When will a traffic impact assessment be finished for the proposed North of Horsham development, and why was this not done before the draft preferred strategy was published for consultation?

RAGE: Quite frankly, it is inconceivable that an independent Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) has not been carried out by HDC prior to reaching the conclusion to include North Horsham in its preferred strategy. The council have gone to great lengths to assure the electorate that planning is not a developer-led process; should we therefore be worried that the council is currently relying on a TIA prepared by the developer?

Q) What would you say to Peter Burgess’ assertion that 2,500 houses North of Horsham is the developer’s requirement, as the council only needs an additional 1,000 homes?

RAGE: We are unable to comment on whether Councillor Burgess’ assertions are correct with regard to whether the council only need an additional 1,000 new homes. However, what we can say is that the developer would not be agreeing to develop on this site, if HDC were only to allow 1,000 homes. In addition, we should not be fooled into thinking that it will stop at 2,500 homes. If approved, Liberty will concentrate on reducing the non-profit making elements (schools, leisure areas, train stations, affordable housing etc.) only to replace them with more profitable housing. When will HDC and Councillor Vickers wake up to reality?

Q) How many permissions and square foot of business space have been granted and not yet built in the Horsham area? Residents have suggested that Broadlands has permission for sizeable business space but has not yet built it. How can the council be sure a new business park will not be an unused ‘white elephant?

RAGE: Like Councillor Vickers, we are going to have to avoid answering this question. However, we put our hands up and confess we do not know the answer. RAGE has been trying to obtain this information from HDC, with no success to date. We do not know if this is because HDC do not want us to know or if indeed, they do not know themselves? We believe Town and Country Planning is about creativity and forward-thinking. With all the existing available commercial property in the district, does the council really believe they have exhausted every opportunity to utilise these existing premises? Answer: of course not, they have simply taken the simplest developer-led option. Readers should be offended when Cllr Vickers tries to imply that £30m will be gifted to us by the developer – using their own money. Be sure this will come at a great cost to Horsham residents, usually in the form of a reduction of affordable housing. Do not be fooled.

Q) Do you regret giving assurances to Ian Thwaites and Keep Southwater Green to limit development in the village to 500 Homes?

RAGE: Clearly this council and Cllr Vickers in particular, are advocates of ‘never say never’ when it comes to planning. Does that mean we shouldn’t believe any of the detail included within the preferred strategy and that everything will change once the preferred strategy is slipped through? Probably.

Q) Why is a brand new business park being considered in the North Horsham development when there are many empty office and commercial spaces in the Horsham District?

RAGE: Cllr Vickers talks about a train station as if it is a done deal. We understand that there is absolutely no commitment or support from Network Rail. We would ask that Cllr Vickers, going forward, bases her comments on facts and known deliverables. She has condemned speculation by residents; it is only fair that she affords them the same courtesy. It makes no sense to build a brand new business park when space is already available.

Cllr Vickers talks about a train station as if it is a done deal. We understand that there is absolutely no commitment or support from Network Rail. We would ask that Cllr Vickers, going forward, bases her comments on facts and known deliverables. She has condemned speculation by residents; it is only fair that she affords them the same courtesy. It makes no sense to build a brand new business park when space is already available.

Q) Why Greenfield development? Why not build on brownfield sites first?

RAGE: Brownfield Sites must be developed as a priority. We do not believe the suggestion that there is not enough of it and what there is, is not suitable for the intended purpose. RAGE has been trying to obtain relevant detailed information from HDC for several weeks regarding the availability of potential development sites. This has been a very slow process and what has been provided, is unusable. Again, we wonder whether this is because they do not want us to know or they do not know themselves?

Q) Horsham will lose its unique identity as a market town and will be joining up with Crawley

RAGE: The proposal does not include any individual and distinctive community services and amenities, like those provided in other areas of Horsham. This will result in this part of Horsham losing its unique identity. Who wants to live in an area where a supermarket and a Business Park is at the heart of the community (American Style)? A development in North Horsham may not mean ‘Crawsham’ has arrived, yet. But didn’t a wise councillor once say ‘never say never’. This development would just be the start.

Q) Why do we need economic growth and to provide more employment?

RAGE: Surely the point here is not why do we need economic growth, but what is the best way to provide economic growth within the Horsham District? The experts do not support a new Business Park, so why does HDC? Be creative and find ways to benefit our local economy by developing existing sites.

Q) Will Littlehaven Station close or be downgraded?

RAGE: We challenge Councillor Vickers to prove Littlehaven would not be downgraded. We understand from the planning department that Network rail have yet to support a new parkway station. As a result, they have not confirmed that a new station would not result in the downgrading of Littlehaven. This is pure speculation by Councillor Vickers. Residents should not believe that the recent announcement to spend £4.5m at Littlehaven has anything to do with the preferred strategy; these issues are completely unrelated and it is misleading for Cllr Vickers to imply otherwise. Does anybody really believe that Network Rail is going to operate a fast London service serving two stations so close together? You decide.

Q) How will the existing facilities cope with a sudden population explosion?

RAGE: Simple, they will not. The existing facilities are already at full capacity and with developments in Broadbridge Heath, West Horsham and Kilnwood Vale to soon come on line, things will only get worse.

RAGE: Won’t the town be congested with traffic with more cars on the road?

Q) Of course, more people equals more traffic, with more cars on the road. We note Councillor Vickers’ suggestion that if we need more car parks or improved transport links, we should look at this. Is it only RAGE that is worried that the Council hasn’t already looked at this?

Q) Current property values in North Horsham will drop

RAGE: Who knows, we suggest not Councillor Vickers. The real question is whether or not the HDC proposal will enhance Horsham or put off people from wanting to live here?

Q) How will people cross the A264 and what about unsociable activity in the underpass?

RAGE: There may not be any proposed underpasses, but doesn’t this sort of speculation demonstrate what a poor job the local authority has done in providing information to interested parties? Apparently there is to be a new bridge, landmark at that, for pedestrians and cyclists. Is this one of the opportunities that the developer talks about? This sounds like nothing more than another vast chunk of concrete which undoubtedly will further blight the beautiful countryside views enjoyed by all. Again, is it just RAGE that is concerned by Cllr Vickers’ assumption that this land is currently used by very few people? Isn’t there a well used saying about assumption?

Q) Why consult during the school summer holidays?

RAGE: This is clearly reflective of the whole consultation process, poorly planned, ill-conceived and lacking any consideration for the existing residents of Horsham.