Former council chief: Character of town will be ‘changed forever’

Horsham District Council. Martin Pearson, former Council Chief Executive. Horsham. Picture : Liz Pearce. LP111114HDC05 SUS-141111-100825008
Horsham District Council. Martin Pearson, former Council Chief Executive. Horsham. Picture : Liz Pearce. LP111114HDC05 SUS-141111-100825008

The character of Horsham will be ‘changed forever’ if major housebuilding north of the A264 is allowed - according to a former council boss.

Martin Pearson, who as Horsham District Council chief executive from 1983 to 2005 masterminded major development of the town, returned on Tuesday to pick apart plans for 2,500 homes and a new business park.

He was one of North Horsham Parish Council’s representatives on the fourth day of examination hearings where a planning inspector is scrutinising HDC’s housing plan.

Debate centred around why large scale development at Billingshurst and Southwater had been reduced at the same time as the final North Horsham scheme came to light in 2013.

Mr Pearson, who still lives in the town, said: “This was clearly a political decision to switch to North Horsham.

“You can see the facts were adjusted to support the decision.”

He continued: “The fact here is there’s no need to breach the A264 because we have an opportunity in Southwater to meet the housing need without breaching any bypass.”

Speaking after the close of the day’s session he added: “You only have to drive around Crawley to see what the urbanisation of Horsham will become with development either side of the A264, lit junctions, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings and the impact will forever change the character of Horsham.”

Mr Pearson described how £25m was spent on a new village centre in Southwater alongside plans for a secondary school in anticipation of it taking more housing.

Around 500 homes are proposed in the plan west of Southwater but Berkeley Strategic is lobbying HDC for 2,750.

Berkeley’s representative argued that North Horsham and Southwater had not operated on a ‘level playing field’.

Meanwhile a member of the public, Jonathan Dancer, in particular argued that there was no clear audit trail showing how North Horsham was selected as a strategic site by the council following Claire Vickers’ (Con, Southwater) decision to make planning policy advisory group meetings secret after becoming cabinet member in April 2013.

He said: “The council’s justification of the strategic plan was going to deliver a rabbit and then something happened in utero and the animal became a kangaroo or something of a totally different species. It happened under a cloak of secrecy where everything went underground.”

Barbara Childs, head of strategic planning and sustainability, replied: “The reference to ‘switching’ between significant development at Southwater and plans north of Horsham, the council’s position is there was never an agreed position there would be 2,750 homes at West of Southwater. It’s an option that was put forward and was vigorously tested by a sustainability assessment.”

Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West), who has strongly opposed the North Horsham plans, said: “The council’s reply as to why North Horsham was chosen as the strategic site at the eleventh hour in mid 2013 was not compelling and clearly the inspector is going to have a lot to consider in deciding whether this plan is ‘sound’.”