Ray Dawe: Comment on strategy must be objective and reasoned

Horsham Society
Horsham Society

Where am I going to live? Where will I find a job? These could be reasonable questions from any young person – maybe even the one featured on the front cover of the northern edition of this paper last week.

She is only 12, but older people might also ask themselves how they and their friends can be certain of a decent pension when they retire. Such questions sit behind Horsham District Council’s 20 year Strategy that is now out for consultation and the Government’s push for economic growth that needs to be at the heart of it.

In previous years huge changes have taken place over a similar time period and were heavily opposed, but would many people turn the clock back now? We should remember that the often quoted ‘historic’ town centre of Horsham was itself heavily remodelled in the early 1990s. The district council is attempting to have a rational debate about the next 20 years. The plan is centred on information that has been in the public arena since 2009. Last week the County Times reprinted its front page from January 2012 which gave the same story.

There is a striking similarity in many of the letters responding to the council’s current consultation about the future Strategy for the District. This is hardly surprising when one comment circulated to residents reads, ‘Here is a long, but comprehensive objection. Read it and you can take points from here. I suggest not to copy this in part or in whole word for word, or the council might not count your objection’. It concludes with a link to a website saying, ‘how to complain about your council/councillors’.

How can this lead to a rational and objective debate? However, those councillors who have not jumped on this populist bandwagon and tried instead to guide people towards the rational and objective debate that is needed have been personally abused.

Purely emotive or imagined scenarios feature in much of the correspondence. To list but a few: crime in underpasses that aren’t even planned, suggested failures of the water supply or telephone landlines, a decline in house prices in an area where they are rising and conjecture about a gap between Crawley and Horsham, which is not being narrowed. These will not impress a seasoned Government inspector.

On the constructive side, there have been various meetings between council officers and groups of people who do not like the proposals. These have enabled a discussion to take place in a calm environment about the points the inspector will be looking at. The council has also sought meetings with the chairmen and lead planning members from North Horsham and Rusper parish councils. Experience from the emotionally charged debate about the replacement leisure centre at Broadbridge Heath has shown such round-table meetings to be highly beneficial.

For those seeking a simple statement of fact about the Strategy, it is this. Like it or not, we have to put forward a 20 year plan for the District. It has to show that we are including a strong element of economic development and that we are planning for the building of enough houses for our future needs. This means providing for the existing population, including more single person households, people living longer and the need to maintain a working-age population. We have a company with huge overseas and UK backing and experience ready to invest £25 to £30m of their money in a site they consider will work to give us such economic growth.

Whatever we finally agree at the end of this consultation period, it will go before a Government inspector who will look at comments being put forward but they will need to be based on solid evidence and hard fact. Wherever you live in the Horsham District, if you would like your comments considered, then do write in, but please make sure these are objective and reasoned.