Amidst warnings that it was being ‘picked off by property developers’, Horsham District Council this week turned to a former consultant to John Prescott’s office.
An animated David Jenkins (Con, Chanctonbury), the longest serving Horsham district councillor, said that officers and members were floundering and lost without a five-year land supply at a business improvement working group on Tuesday.
Councillors were discussing chief executive Tom Crowley’s report on the non-determination, appeal, and then rejection of a second application for 102 homes in Henfield on land east of Manor Close.
Welbeck Strategic Land won the appeal, and now have outline planning permission, with the planning inspector awarding costs against HDC.
Meanwhile after delaying the delivery of their new housing strategy by at least three months, HDC appointed planning consultant Karen Moore at a cost of £6,000 for work over a period of three months.
She worked as a consultant to the office of the deputy prime minister between 2002 and 2003.
Mr Jenkins said: “We are in a unique situation in the last 35 years. We have not got a five-year land supply. We were floundering, officers as well as members. We were picked off by a developer. We were floundering. We were lost.”
He continued: “The fact is we are there to be picked off.
“We have to comply with the Secretary of State. We are not the planning authority, we are the local planning authority.”
He said that none of them knew everything about planning, because things were constantly changing.
Mr Jenkins explained: “He [Eric Pickles] does not know what he’s doing himself.”
Adam Walker, of Crickmay Chartered Surveyors, said: “HDC are vulnerable to hostile appeals, and Horsham’s preference and desire has always been to plan and manage long-term, but at the moment because of the lack of five-year supply they are in a vulnerable and precarious position as evidenced by the inspector’s decision on the Henfield case.”
Said Mr Crowley: “I think the single biggest factor was the applicant read the writing on the wall. There was a huge amount of opposition locally and they thought they might as well put in a non-determination appeal.
Evidently things went wrong with these cases.”
He said that some of the delays were down to the council, and some were down to internal processes, and added that more communication was needed between members and officers, with more briefing done before public meetings.
Roger Arthur (Con, Chanctonbury), deputy leader and cabinet member for efficiency and resources, said: “We should not be in the council chamber demonstrating our lack of knowledge.”
On the appointment of Ms Moore, a spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: “HDC has already decided that more time is needed to allow options and issue and implications of the choices we face to be considered.
“As part of this process, the council has engaged the services of an experienced planning consultant who has worked on similar issues at local regional and national levels. This is at a cost of £6,000 from now until January.
“The engagement is for a limited period and will help members in their deliberations over the coming few months. A decision on the strategy will be made early in the new year.”