Dramatic turn of events at Southwater planning meeting

JPCT 220212 Great House Farm, Southwater. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 220212 Great House Farm, Southwater. Photo by Derek Martin

A MEETING to decide Berkeley Homes’ plans for up to 550 homes for Southwater was adjourned dramatically on Tuesday due to English Heritage upgrading a listed building on the site.

Councillors on the development control committee of Horsham District Council were due to vote on the outline application for land west of Worthing Road but were instead told listed Great House Farm had become Grade II* listed.

More than 30 residents gathered in the public gallery despite being handed a statement as they arrived at Park North due to be read out by committee chairman Liz Kitchen.

Mrs Kitchen (Con, Rusper and Colgate) said new information had been received on Monday afternoon and she suspected residents were as frustrated as they were at the adjournment of the meeting.

“The council has a statutory duty to consult English Heritage for development which potentially impacts upon the setting of Grade II* listed buildings,” she said.

“This is a process the council are obliged to undertake and therefore officers are not in a position to make a recommendation on the application until such time as English Heritage has been consulted and the implications of the revised listing of Great House Farm has been fully assessed by officers in the context of this proposal.”

Officers aimed to bring the application back to committee on April 17.

“However, the council values the input from all consultees and therefore will provide an opportunity for individuals to express their view on this matter. Individual consultation letters will be sent to advise of the change of status of the grading of Great House Farm and to provide the opportunity to comment.”

Heritage Minister John Penrose awarded the farmhouse the second highest grade on the advice of English Heritage because of its more than special historic and architectural interest.

A statement from English Heritage said: “The farmhouse dates back to 1575 and is considered to be one of the most important houses in Southwater, built on a medieval site that was associated with the monastic Sele Priory - home of Benedictine monks.

“The impressiveness of the building is evident in the very large and decorative chimney stack and the high quality and unusual construction.

“It  included a ‘drop tie beam roof’ which was designed to allow full access to the upper floor and two sets of stairs running from ground floor to attic – one dating from 1678.

“The presence of two sets of stairs in the mid-late 17th century was highly unusual in its day and makes the property even more special today.”

Ian Thwaites, of campaign group Keep Southwater Green, said they were pleased ‘common sense has prevailed – albeit at such short notice that many people will inevitably have wasted journeys’.

“In every consultation the main reason people say they want to live in Southwater is the pleasant green area to the west of the village,” said Dr Thwaites.

“That it happens to be a productive farm tenanted by the same family for nearly 200 years is also important - as is, crucially, the farmhouse itself. It was built in 1462 but was much enlarged in the 16th century and from then on is remarkably unchanged.

“A working farmhouse substantially unaltered from this period is rare and yesterday English Heritage made public its decision to upgrade it to Grade II starred.

“Only about five per cent of all our listed buildings are in this exceptionally important category.

“There were already outstanding and unanswered objections from the design and conservation officer at HDC but the alteration of the status, in the nick of time, meant it was impossible for the planning department to proceed because there was not enough time to undertake the necessary consultations with English Heritage.

“Hence the chaotic cancellation. We are delighted because we have been telling them this for over two years now. We, they have totally ignored. English Heritage, they cannot.

“There are other significant reasons to refuse this application and no doubt we will have to revisit this matter in two months or so, but for the moment let us rejoice that at last the juggernaut that is HDC planning has been forced to pause.”

He said the process to bring the application to committee this week had been ‘absurdly rushed, with no explanation at all of why this was necessary’.

“The haste with which the report to members had been prepared was such that the report contained numerous errors.

“In addition there was no time at all for members to be exposed to any opinions other than that of the developer and the planning department before the meeting was scheduled to convene. We have protested most strongly about this unfair and undemocratic approach to the leader Councillor Dawe and the chief executive; neither has even been polite enough to acknowledge our letter.

“One of the strongest reasons why there has been, and still is, such depth of feeling within the village against this development proposal is that it destroys a huge part of the amenity, both environmental and architectural, that gives the village its character.”