Candidates vying to replace Francis Maude as Horsham MP were grilled on countryside issues - from affordable housing to a second runway at Gatwick to fracking.
The event ‘Countryside or Concrete?’ was organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England Sussex branch at the Drill Hall, in Denne Road, on Saturday morning and saw around 130 members of the public hear speakers and the Q&A session.
By embracing the future we can all shape the world we want to seeJames Smith, Horsham parliamentary candidate for Something New Party
The introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework in March 2012 was widely criticised as putting pressure on local authorities to approve more and more housebuilding.
Independent Jim Rae said: “The current Government through the NPPF has signed away every single right you may have expected to protect the countryside, to protect our future. They have given that away to the developers.”
Martyn Davis, Labour’s candidate, said his party would re-examine all the planning legislation in order to protect the countryside.
He also raised affordable housing, which was a common theme of the morning.
Mr Davis added: “Large scale housing developments have expensive housing which has been the wish of the developers in this kind of area.”
Frances Haigh, leader of the Lib Dem Group at HDC representing her party as their candidate had not yet been announced, said that schemes such as Help to Buy were merely inflating property prices.
She argued renting had its place and totally affordable housing ‘has to be the responsibility of Government’.
But Conservative Jeremy Quin defended the Help to Buy scheme saying it was a ‘reasonable desire’ for everyone to own their own home, but pointed out that the area was trapped between overspill from London, the coastal strip, the AONB and the South Downs.
James Smith of the Something New Party described housing as a utility rather than an investment and asked why anyone ‘needed more than one home’.
Mr Smith also argued for the need to make rural areas ‘fit for the 21st century’, with the introduction of better public transport links and super fast broadband to create a ‘smart countryside’.
He said: “By embracing the future we can all shape the world we want to see.”
Darrin Green of the Green Party, said his party wanted to create ‘a sustainable future for everyone not just a better future for the minority’ and argued for more landscape conservation, and increase the quality of woods, hedges and tree cover.
UKIP’s Roger Arthur pointed out that building on greenfield land had doubled in the last four years, with no overall increase in the number of houses being built, and despite promises of localism neighbourhood plans were still being overridden.