COMMENT: Shame on the councillors who failed the children of Barns Green

On Tuesday evening, the children of Barns Green, their parents, villagers, and community representatives packed the committee rooms of Horsham District Council in the hope of hearing that a planning application that would deliver them a new school funded by a quality housing development had been approved.

Wednesday, 17th April 2013, 7:35 am
Our comment

Indeed, there were so many members of the public present that 30 of them had to be asked to leave on health and safety grounds.

Those that departed at the start, didn’t miss much in the end.

Far from supporting the aspirations of the village, the troubled Conservative administration at HDC decided to defer the matter in the vain hope that it could negotiate more low cost housing within the overall project.

Developers Berkeley have made clear over the needlessly protracted planning process that there was no spare cash to fund more low cost houses because every penny of community benefit would be pumped into a superb £4m school building, of which the education authority was only contributing £300,000.

Quite apart from which - as some of the villagers made clear from the public gallery - more cheap housing isn’t what the community wants anyway.

And what the community wants should be paramount in the final decision.

This week, the leader of HDC Ray Dawe appointed a new cabinet member to determine the vexed issue of house building. In her first interview on Monday, published this week, Claire Vickers said that fundamental to her role was to listen to the neighbourhoods within the Horsham district and to allow them under the Government’s Localism agenda to shape the overall blueprint.

One day later at the planning meeting and she already appeared to have forgotten those fine words.

If she was truly committed to listening to community aspirations she would have backed the application. Instead, she voted for deferral - nervous, one must assume, of undermining the council’s commitment to 40 per cent of all new housing being ‘low cost’.

Supporting the deferral vote was the council’s new deputy leader Helena Croft - helicoptered in by the leader, again without a vote, after the previous deputy leader Roger Arthur defected to UKIP.

One of Mr Arthur’s private reasons for throwing in the towel was he felt no-one in his cabinet was listening to him.

They certainly weren’t listening to their own voters on Tuesday evening.

Six brave Tories raised their hand in favour of the application. The local members spoke strongly, while lawyer Christian Mitchell - the best leader the council never had - made an eloquent and impassioned plea on behalf of residents.

It was all to no avail.

His colleagues seem obsessed with coercing developers against market forces to provide as much low cost housing as possible.

What they should be doing is giving communities the type of housing that they want - often aspirational, to enable more movement within the property chain especially at the lower end - and the sort of properties developers can sell.

Instead, while they face hostility on every flank from communities resisting development, here in Barns Green they have procrastinated once again over a project for which there is unanimous support - and which would help secure the village school for generations to come.

Let us hope that one more deferral doesn’t put everything at risk.

Shame on all those who supported their own woefully inadequate planning policies rather than demonstrating the courage and conviction to back the will of the people they claim to represent.