How many new homes, and where do we put them?

We don’t want any more houses’, is the fairly frequent cry from the letters columns of this newspaper. In last week’s ‘County Times’, for example, there was a letter protesting about applications for homes to be built in and around Storrington.

We could in fact substitute Horsham town or any of our villages into the letter and the message would be much the same.

In the Storrington situation the letter was in response to the fact that although Horsham District Council (HDC) actually turned down a particular application for 80 houses, it went to appeal and was granted. The main reason that the appeal inspector gave for allowing the development was that the council did not have enough specific land sites earmarked for development for the next five years and beyond, as required by the Government.

The South East Plan, a product of the last Government, says that 650 houses a year should be built in the district for the next 20 years and then requires HDC to allocate land for building them.

The problem is that since the summer of 2010 we have been told that the South East plan is going to be abolished!

Instead, each council in the country is now to produce an assessment of the number of houses it believes are needed. This must be based around maintaining economic prosperity, providing jobs, maintaining living standards and providing homes for our children and grandchildren.

We also happen to live in an area that is very good to live in, so more people want to live here. The final ingredient is the need to provide what is usually called ‘affordable housing’.

This whole assessment is then to go before a Government inspector and if the number of homes is in their opinion too low then it will be rejected.

Like virtually every other council, HDC is undergoing this process.

Once we have assessed the number of houses needed, we then have the quandary of where to put them.

To put it another way, everyone understands the need for houses for our children and to maintain our economic prosperity but often has a set of reasons for not wanting them in their own town or village, even if there are in some cases large community benefits attached to the plans.

So where is Horsham District Council in this process? Well, we are shortly going to decide on the number of houses, trying to meet the tests I have described above. The second stage is to assess available land for these houses.

We need to look at all possible areas and evaluate them for such things as landscape, ecology, infrastructure and nearness to potential employment.

This cannot just be anywhere but has to be land that is likely to be available in a reasonable time. Previous assessment has suggested this could be at Southwater, Billingshurst and north of Horsham.

There may be other possibilities, like adding a small number of houses to other existing communities based on reasonable demand there and, maybe for the final part of a 20-year plan, building a new town somewhere.

However, this would require collaboration with other councils.

Your councillors are currently trying to get a full understanding of what needs to be done.

It is then explaining that to those communities affected which may prove the most difficult part.