Horsham delivers ‘emphatic no’ to development of Rookwood Golf Course

Horsham’s three neighbourhood councils representing the unparished area of the town have delivered an emphatic ‘no’ to development at Rookwood Golf Course.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 2:43 pm

Housebuilding plans for the site were first made public by Horsham District Council at the start of 2020 when it put forward the land as a potential strategic allocation as part of its own local plan review.

Since then HDC has revised its proposals to focus housing solely to the south of Warnham Road and include more open space, enhancements to biodiversity and expansion of Warnham Local Nature Reserve.

However these changes are still not enough to win over the many residents and organisations opposed to the project.

Photo by T Meadus

In a joint letter, the town’s three neighbourhood councils, Denne, Forest and Trafalgar, say they remain ‘united in demanding that HDC withdraw the Rookwood proposal in its entirety from the local plan and that HDC consults on any future alternative proposals for the area properly in an open and transparent way, taking the needs of residents into account’.

The neighbourhood councils responded individually on various aspects of HDC’s draft local plan last year and more specifically to the Rookwood proposal. Although each council had its own particular concerns they were unanimous in objecting to the inclusion of Rookwood in the local plan.

Since then they have been consulted twice on amendments, and thanks to the overwhelming objections from the public and stakeholder organisations the amount of housing has been reduced and some of the existing green spaces are proposed to be preserved.

But the letter goes on to say: “None of these amendments have changed our opinion; that building on Rookwood at all would be irrevocably detrimental to the residents of Horsham.

Photo by T Meadus

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought profound changes to the lifestyle and needs of many Horsham residents. Home working – which has surged this year – is unlikely ever to return to pre-Covid levels and the pressure on home life has led to a huge increase in demand for local open spaces.

“Our existing green spaces are therefore exceptionally valuable and Rookwood contributes a third of the green space in the town area. The future needs of our residents – particularly their physical and mental wellbeing and easy access to green space – must be properly taken into account.”

Their letter raises four main points.

Firstly, they cannot agree the current golf usage has reached the end of its natural life and the course cannot be described as ‘surplus to requirements’.

Photo by T Meadus

Second, the inclusion of Rookwood for development negates the aims in a five-year partnership between HDC and the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Thirdly, the latest proposal for 750 now falls below the threshold for consideration of a large strategic site and would therefore not make a significant contribution to achieving the housing numbers required. Since the town is already having to absorb new homes at North Horsham and Novartis they ask ‘how can this loss of green space possibly be justified alongside the proposed increase in population?’

Lastly, the neighbourhood councils say it has ‘became all too apparent’ the planning case for building at Rookwood ‘does not stand up to scrutiny and it is primarily financial considerations driving this initiative’.

In response, a Horsham District Council spokesman said: “The local plan process is the most inclusive and transparent way for a site to be considered. All sites are assessed against the same criteria and are subject to at least two rounds of extensive public consultation.

Photo by T Meadus

“They are then assessed by an independent planning inspector who hears all views for and against each site before giving the council their decision on the content of the local plan.”

The council says it commissioned a report from a leading firm of leisure property experts and chartered surveyors, which concluded there is an adequate supply of golf courses to the population within a 20-minute drive time catchment of Rookwood.

The spokesman went on to highlight how the proposal had been developed with ‘biodiversity and nature at its heart’ with the opportunity to extend the nature reserve, new homes in the southern section would be eco-friendly and accompanied by green corridors and landscaping, while the river corridors of Boldings Brook and Red River would be protected.

The government’s absolute minimum requirement for the district would be 920 homes a year up to 2038 and the council felt 750 homes at Rookwood would make a ‘significant contribution’ to this target.

The spokesman added: “The proposal would also unlock the golf course and ensure that the site could be used more freely by many more members of the public. It would unlock a total of 42 hectares of green space. Rookwood is one of the most sustainable strategic sites being considered in the local plan review process.”

They concluded: “Rookwood is one of the most sustainable strategic sites being considered in the local plan review process. It provides an exceptional opportunity to deliver a scheme of the highest quality, which would set a new standard across the district.

Photo by T Meadus

The site is inherently sustainable because it is within the A24, which means that it is just a 20 minute walk from the existing extensive range of services and facilities in Horsham town centre.

“The development would unlock the golf course and ensure that the site can be used freely by many more members of the public.”

Meanwhile a variety of prominent Horsham organisations and conservation groups have submitted their views on HDC’s plans for Rookwood.

Horsham Society

Horsham Society has recorded its objection on a number of occasions to the HDC Local Plan inclusion of Rookwood as a strategic development site. The latest proposal is to build c.750 homes on the land south of the Warnham Road.

All the previous Horsham Society objections are still valid. One objection, gaining momentum, relates to the adverse impact upon residents’ mental and physical wellbeing, through the loss of green space in urban areas. More homes within the town limits will increase the number of motor vehicle journeys and subsequent air pollution with increased levels of nitrogen dioxide. Public Health England acknowledges there is ‘strong evidence’ that air pollution causes heart disease, stroke, respiratory and lung disease and that it clearly exacerbates asthma.

Rookwood is owned by HDC, paid for with taxes raised from the residents. It seems unjust that the elected representatives should decide to take an amenity green space and place these residents in harm’s way of increasing air pollution. The residents elected the councillors to look after their best interests and look after their wellbeing.

There needs to be a councillor, who actually lives in Horsham, representing the town on the council cabinet on this matter.

Malcolm Willis, chairman

Keep Rookwood Green Alliance

KRGA is an apolitical, eclectic group of residents united by their conviction that this is the wrong plan for Rookwood. We acknowledge that the latest proposal is better than the initial proposal of 1,100 homes. However, human activity on the golf course currently ceases when the sun goes down. This is unlikely to be the case for a public park and our ecology experts are clear that increased human activity from a heavily used public park will damage Warnham Nature Reserve.

The golf course is already managed to promote biodiversity; locals know it is rich in wildlife and supports the neighbouring Reserve. Together with the Reserve, Rookwood is an established ecosystem and a critical wildlife corridor through the Town. Our survey has captured its wellbeing value for residents as well as golfers. High quality, accessible green space is critical in what is now a very densely populated town.

Rookwood is a precious community asset and even generates an income for the Council. If HDC sells the golf course, we are on a slippery slope to selling every community green space. We believe that HDC’s approach is out of date and out of step with residents’ wishes.

Sally Sanderson

Rookwood Seniors Golf Society

Although HDC wish to sell off and develop Rookwood resulting in the closure of the golf course at no stage have they tried to engage or have a dialogue with the many thousands of golfers who use and enjoy this facility annually. Whilst the golf course attracts players of all ages and backgrounds it is particularly popular with the older generation representing not only their main form of exercise but also in promoting social contact as well as providing benefits to health and well-being.

As a pay and play golf course Rookwood is also accessible and affordable to the majority of residents unlike private golf courses which charge four figure joining fees and significantly higher green fees.

In attempting to justify its decision HDC has mounted a PR campaign falsely asserting among other things that golf is in decline and Rookwood is an underperforming asset for the exclusive use of golfers. Over the last four years Rookwood has generated a net return of £180,000 to the Council and despite being closed for more than four months due to government edict bookings last year were more than 20% up on the previous year.

The many walkers and joggers who frequently access the footpaths crisscrossing and adjacent to the golf course do so in harmony with the golfers. The Council officers and members at the time that it was developed had the foresight to build a golf course specifically to protect this green space and prevent the type of development that is now being proposed.

Graham Hartley

Cootes Farm Community

When the news first broke about the possibility of building on Rookwood there was sheer disbelief within our community.  Over the subsequent months shock has turned to anger as we feel Horsham District Council (HDC) is not listening to the voices of Horsham residents.

So many people, prominent organisations and voluntary groups are against the decimation of this beautiful green space into yet another housing estate full of houses that local people can’t afford – even the so-called ‘affordable housing’ which is often anything but.

The only people who support losing this priceless asset forever are HDC. Why are HDC not promoting the other eight much larger sites with the same effort, energy and enthusiasm? 

National and local politicians are in office because the people voted for them – their fundamental job is to represent the interests of the electorate either nationally or locally. Clearly on this occasion the will of the people is being completely ignored. 

Steve Swain, chairman

Horsham Town Community Partnership

The current proposal for Rookwood is in direct contradiction with the latest HMG Treasury review of the economy of ecology: “We must change our measures of economic success to guide us on a more sustainable path… We must transform our institutions and systems – in particular our finance.”

It makes pointless HDC’s aims to: “establish a collaborative network of community groups who are all engaged with reversing the decline of wildlife and increasing access to the natural environment”.

Whilst we support the ideas of eco-development in these plans, there is no guarantee that reality will live up to the promise. Rookwood Golf Course is not the right place for development if we are to achieve a sustainable balance of welfare in the broadest and truest sense of the word for all who live in Horsham District, particularly those already most disadvantaged.

Note: Horsham Town Community Partnership was set up in 2011 in response to the Governments’ “Big Society” initiative to encourage local volunteer groups to obtain funding and undertake projects nominated by the community. The project that received the most nominations was the improvement to the dilapidated 13-mile circular Horsham Riverside Walk. We have so far raised over £80,000 and have improved many paths, provided improved signage, installed benches and produced a detailed leaflet. The walk is now well used and each year it is celebrated with an organised walk which supports local charities with up to 300 taking part in 2019. During the COVID Lockdown we have seen a 400% increase in the number of hits on our website, downloading the Riverside Walk Map. We shall continue to object to any development such as Rookwood that affects this much loved and well used local amenity.

David Searle

Friends of Warnham Local Nature Reserve

The Friends of Warnham Local Nature Reserve (FoWLNR) recognise that changes have been made to the original proposals for Rookwood and these go some way towards addressing some of the issues we raised with Horsham District Council. However, concerns still exists about the long term impact on the extended ecosystem of Warnham Local Nature Reserve, particularly from the southern section of Rookwood and also from encroachments and anti-social behaviour from the proposed country park on the northern site.

The Reserve is held in high regard for its ecological diversity, visitor facilities and the ease with which species can be seen. In addition to those living locally, visitors are known to come from well outside the Horsham District to this unique site.

Should the decision be to develop Rookwood, without material departure from this proposal, we expect and are keen to be actively involved in the detailed planning with Horsham District Council to ensure the best outcome for the Reserve. We believe that we are in a stronger position to influence the outcome by working with them. We are, however. prepared to withdraw our support if there is any material departure from the current proposal.

Illustrative view of an improved and expanded Warnham Local Nature Reserve