John Steele: Nimbyism and secrecy – a recipe for bad planning

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Last week’s outburst by MPs Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert in which they described a new market town proposal as entirely unacceptable reeks of hypocrisy and naked Nimbyism.

The Government has been telling us that we must build more housing where people want to live and its National Planning Framework is resulting in Planning Inspectors granting permission for developments against the wishes of local people.

So what is their response? Do they condemn their party’s policies? No, they just say not in our back yard.

Much is made of the claim that Mid Sussex does not want or need a new town and has completed its District Plan.

A joint study for Crawley, Mid Sussex and Horsham Councils came out in favour of a new town model but Mid Sussex subsequently withdrew support.

This is despite a legal requirement imposed by this Government on councils to cooperate across boundaries.

Interestingly, Mr Soames was previously MP for Crawley which, in the absence of a new town, depends on encroaching into Horsham District to supply its demand for new housing.

Mr Soames obviously finds it acceptable that the Crawley - Horsham strategic gap should be sacrificed instead.

The Horsham Society has argued for years that we need a new town in order to properly manage the provision of more housing without ruining our existing towns and villages.

Had we been heeded earlier the current pressure to find more housing land in a hurry, and often in the form of less than ideal bolt-on estates, would be much reduced. A new town is needed more now than ever before.

We cannot comment on the report that HDC is going to cap development in Southwater and Billingshurst until we see the proposals in full, but any development north of Horsham would be a disaster for the town, creating an orphan settlement which looked to Crawley for its services and support.

The news that there will be only 2,500 houses instead of 4,500 is of no comfort. If it goes ahead, there are no prizes for guessing where the next tranche of new housing will be built.

Funding would come primarily from a huge new out of town supermarket built in the first phase. This would be another nail in the coffin for Horsham town centre.

The promise of a new railway station is premature. One was promised for the development now under construction west of Crawley but there’s no sign it will ever be built.

In any event, there is no way we would get both and keep Littlehaven. It’s rather like a Monopoly game where each developer plays the railway station card in turn to bolster its credentials in front of credulous councillors.

Finally, what are we to make of the news that Claire Vickers has scrapped the public meetings of her strategic planning advisory group?

It’s true they were a farce, with all the debate taking place in secret meetings beforehand. But the answer is to open up the whole process to public scrutiny.

Why should councillors receive presentations from developers behind closed doors? Why should options be discussed in private? It’s a scandal, and worse the so-called opposition is party to this secrecy.