Council housing exhibition attracts 1,000 people amidst accusations of it being a ‘box ticking exercise’

JPCT 050614 S14240150x HDC planning framework. Swan walk exhibition. Claire Vickers and Roger Patterson -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140506-141238001
JPCT 050614 S14240150x HDC planning framework. Swan walk exhibition. Claire Vickers and Roger Patterson -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140506-141238001

More than a thousand people attended a public exhibition on the council’s controversial housing blueprint.

Horsham District Council held the three-day event at Swan Walk Shopping Centre last week to engage residents during a six week period of representation on the Horsham District Planning Framework Proposed Submission, which was approved on April 30.

This includes 2,500 homes and a new business park north of the A264.

But some residents labelled the event a ‘box-ticking exercise’, while some of HDC’s documentation incorrectly referred to its Proposed Submission as ‘the draft Local Plan for Cambridge’.

Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), HDC’s cabinet member for living and working communities, said: “I am pleased that so many people took the time to attend the exhibition.

“I personally spoke to many people over the three days, a number of whom had genuine concerns while others supported the proposals.

“The greatest support came from younger people who saw the benefit of increased employment opportunities close to home and of having more affordable homes.

“I found many wanted to come and find out the facts and details of what happens next.”

However several residents who went along to the exhibition were unimpressed.

Helen Clark, who lives in Old Holbrook and attended the demonstration in North Horsham on Saturday morning, described much of the information she was given by officers at the exhibition as ‘confused and contradictory’.

Meanwhile Horsham resident Ted Delgado said the event ‘appeared to be a very late PR exercise by the council’.

In an open letter to HDC he added: “I heard young girls telling people that ‘we had to have the proposed industrial site as it would ensure work for the young people of Horsham’.

“When I asked one of them how they could be saying this when there has been no recognised case put forward Ms Vickers came over and stated that there were companies interested in coming to the area.

“I asked if she could tell us who and she said that was ‘commercially sensitive’.”

In another letter to the County Times this week Nick Webber said he was ‘looking for detailed answers to questions but did not get these’ on whether there would be a new station, what impact development would have on the A264 and A24, if flooding would worsen in the area as a result, and if a secondary school at Southwater had been ruled out.

Once the window for representations closes on Friday June 27 the plan, along with any comments received, and a summary of changes will be sent to the planning inspector.

They will then test the soundness of the plan in a series of public examination hearings later this year.

But campaigners against the plan, several of whom spoke at Monday’s North Horsham Parish Council, remained optimistic about the chances of the planning inspector finding HDC’s framework ‘unsound’.

Reasons for their opposition include building on greenfields in the strategic gap, impact on traffic and flooding, and the belief that evidence has been retrofitted to support policies.

The need for a new business park north of Horsham is also contested.

The council’s Preferred Strategy, which went out for public consultation last summer and also included the North Horsham proposals, was criticised for only including one option, while leader Ray Dawe repeatedly ignored calls from the public and the Horsham Society to hold a public meeting to properly engage residents.

However HDC did hold a ‘meeting in public’ in February 2014 to discuss housing where ten members of the public were allowed to ask questions, but even this meeting was criticised by Lib Dem councillors.

The Proposed Submission aims to plan for 13,000 houses in the 20 years up to 2031, many of which have already been granted planning permission by the council, including 2,500 north of Horsham, around 500 west of Southwater, and up to 1,500 to be allocated across the Horsham district through the neighbourhood plan process.

Berkeley Homes has already submitted a planning application to HDC for 634 homes west of Worthing Road in Southwater, plans which campaigners Keep Southwater Green have opposed.

Because of the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was billed as a piece of Government legislation to simplify the planning process, local authorities are required to plan for economic development as well as housebuilding.

Speaking at the exhibition Roger Paterson (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham), HDC’s cabinet member for the local economy, said: “The reason that Horsham thrives and the town is so attractive and the environment is the way it is and the people like it is because it is successful as an economy.

“We have to drive the economy. They have to grow and they have to provide high paid jobs.”

Both he and Mrs Vickers were keen to emphasise that without a plan they would ‘lose control’ of development in the district, and they had received top legal advice that said the steps they were taking ‘were the right ones’.

Several planning appeals have been lost including high profile cases in Billingshust and recently in Henfield.

The latter saw a rejected application for 102 homes east of Manor Close overturned on appeal in 2012 and only just this month had another 160 homes off West End Lane allowed on appeal by the planning inspector.

Last week Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert questioned why a ‘random development has been pushed through against local wishes’.