Decision made at planning meeting raises training debate

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A senior Horsham District Councillor has said a planning decision made last week could make controversial training for councillors more likely.

Last week Horsham District Council chief executive Tom Crowley put forward several proposals to the Scrutiny and Overview Committee, including that all councillors should carry out training on planning law before sitting on the Development Control committees.

His proposals proved unpopular with some councillors, but leader of the Horsham Liberal Democrats David Holmes has said this week that the result of an application at last Tuesday’s Development Control North Committee meeting illustrated that training may be necessary.

The application in question was from national dressage competitor Karen Mathers of Furzefield Equestrian, who wanted to convert a former barn and stable at Broadwater Lane, Copsale, into housing so that she could live nearer her horses.

HDC officers recommended members delegate the application for refusal on the grounds it was in an unsustainable location and contrary to a number of HDC planning policies.

However local member Duncan England (Con, Nuthurst) disagreed and referred it to the committee for a decision.

Miss Mathers, who breeds horses to be international winners, told councillors: “It’s taken many years of hard work, investment and dedication to build up the facilities I now have, which are tailor made for my horses needs.

“Being self employed, I’m reliant heavily on local freelance work. Again it has taken years to build up a good reputation and a solid local client base. On-site living accommodation is vital for an equestrian set-up such as mine, for the welfare and security of the horses at all times.”

She said if the council refused her application she would have to ‘start from scratch’ elsewhere.

In the passionate debate which followed, Mr England said it was a ‘ridiculous argument’ to say this was an unsustainable location.

“I cannot agree with this thinking. There is only one way you can get into the countryside now. We have no buses in the area.”

He put forward a counter-proposal to support the application and it was carried by a majority.

Dr Holmes, who was among the councillors to vote against the application, said: “I really would have loved to have supported her, but there’s a need for committees to make decisions that conform with policy otherwise applicants won’t know where they are. We need to treat all people alike.

“Unfortunately this decision will push us towards compulsory training. It’s frustrating for councillors that do understand the planning law and have voted against things which in their hearts they support. It makes it very difficult for them.”

A spokesman from Horsham District Council said: “Each case needs to be determined on its own individual merits, having regard to all material considerations.

“The decision made on planning application DC/12/1447 (Furzefield, Broadwater Lane, Copsale, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 6QW) does not set a precedent for any future planning applications, the considerations of which are unlikely to be directly comparable to those of this specific proposal.

“During HDC Development Control (North) Committee meeting on Tuesday November 6, Council officers advised Members on the relevant material considerations upon which they should base their decision.

“Members then reached their decision having considered these material matters and the respective weight they attached to them.”