Council’s meeting in public on housing ‘gives whole new meaning to filibuster’

JPCT 17-08-12 S12330140X Horsham, Horsham District Council, office building, HDC -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 17-08-12 S12330140X Horsham, Horsham District Council, office building, HDC -photo by Steve Cobb

A four hour council meeting in public to discuss housing ended with the interim leader of the Lib Dems telling members discussions had ‘given a whole new meaning to filibuster’.

Horsham District Council organised the event tonight (Thursday February 13) to hear questions from the public and to inform councillors through several expert presentations as it prepares its housing plan for the next 20 years.

But the meeting ended with councillors debating the merits of Liberty Property Trust’s proposals for 2,500 homes and a new business park north of the A264.

Two strategies have been produced over the last few weeks as alternatives to HDC’s current strategy arguing for more dispersed development throughout the district, including several brownfield sites within Horsham town.

Chairing the meeting Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), HDC’s cabinet member with responsibility for strategic planning, said that all the alternative sites raised had already been looked at and ruled out, with North Horsham being the most sustainable location for development.

Several councillors argued that for a plan to be approved by central Government and the planning inspector it had to promote economic growth, hence the need for a new 500,000 square foot business park.

Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) said: “A huge amount of debate has been put on this and I really think it’s about time we put it to bed.”

But Frances Haigh, interim leader of the Lib Dems, said: “I think this meeting has given a whole new meaning to filibuster.

“On the 25 July we were asked to agree the preferred strategy for consultation.

“We had the consultation and the public have made it abundantly clear they do not want the strategy they wanted an open public meeting, and this is the only opportunity they are going to get. We are still sat here at nine o’clock. It’s unbelievable.

“We know you want to protect your villages. We are just as concerned about our town. We do not want to see it wrecked by an orphan community on the other side of the A264.”

She raised the Shoreham Cement Works site as an alternative site for a business park, a thought echoed by Liz Kitchen who seemed to suggest they focus on Shoreham rather than Gatwick.

Mrs Kitchen (Con, Rusper and Colgate), a former leader of the council, said: “My concern, irritation, is that this evening it seems to be hard sell of accepting the Liberty proposal North of Horsham and I do not accept that. There are other areas within the district as I said on Tuesday and I think we are totally wrong.”

Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry), leader of HDC, told her that when he had been speaking to his opposite number at Adur about the idea he had ‘fell about laughing’

He said that if you were a global company “are you realistically going to think about building a business in Shoreham?”

He continued: “Really you have got to have a better area than Shoreham. That’s totally unrealistic and I can’t find anyone to agree with what you are saying.”

Meanwhile Malcolm Curnock (LDem, Broadbridge Heath) said that developments west of Horsham and south of Broadbridge Heath had demonstrated the dangers of relying on large strategic sites to deliver housing targets.

He argued: “Small sites are more likely to achieve our objections. We should have more organic growth because it’s more deliverable, we do not get squeezed by the developer because he knows we have got to deliver that housing.

“It’s a high risk strategy with strategic development bringing them forward.”

This argument was countered by John Chidlow (Con, Southwater) who said: “On the issue of organic growth we have imposed on us by a Coalition Government the National Planning Policy Framework.

“That does not permit us that. If we do not have an acceptable planning policy framework in place, accepted by the inspector we are subject to the developers. They will put out applications and if we do not have this in place and we refuse them we will go to appeal then they will just go through and we will not have this organic growth we will have it imposed by whichever developer will have the loudest voices.”

Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead) said: “How can we turn down this opportunity of these decent jobs in this district?”

Adam Breacher (Con, Billingshurst and Shipley) added: “We have got an opportunity to set a legacy and a future for our young people.”

He continued: “Unless we try and attract the young people back I do not know what will happen to the district.”

Earlier the meeting had heard several presentations including one from WSP, who gave a summary of a transport and development study commissioned by HDC.

The study was looking at the Moorhead, Rusper Road, Great Daux, Robin Hood, Farthings Hill and Hop Oast roundabouts on the A264 and A24 and what mitigation measures might be needed if the North Horsham development went ahead.

However the consultants told members current modelling only allowed them to predict peak traffic flow in the morning not in the evenings.

Andrew Baldwin (Con, Holbrook East) said: “I find it peculiar if a bit barmy they only give you the facts for the morning.”

But Mr Donnelly told members it couldn’t be ‘nuclear science’ to work out from the journey times in the morning what the likely corresponding traffic flows were like in the opposite direction.

The other two presentations were around economic development as the NPPF requires local councils to plan for economic growth in their housing plans.

Rosemary French, executive director of the Gatwick Diamond Initiative, gave a presentation, while members also heard an update on the Economic Growth Assessment Emerging Findings for Horsham.

Mrs Vickers and Roger Paterson (Con, PUlborough and Coldwaltham), cabinet member for the local economy, also answered ten questions submitted by members of the public.

More to follow.