‘Horsham must not lose out’ in sale of major development site north of town

North Horsham site (photo from HDC planning portal). SUS-160408-161431001
North Horsham site (photo from HDC planning portal). SUS-160408-161431001

‘The people of Horsham must not lose out’.

This was the message from one councillor in response to the news that a development for 2,750 homes and a business park north of the A264 had been sold from one company to another.

{Legal & General will now take control of the North Horsham proposals from Liberty Property Trust, which {https://www.wscountytimes.co.uk/news/politics/full-report-unpopular-but-necessary-north-horsham-scheme-approved-1-7976671|gained outline permission for the land from Horsham District Council back in 2017|gained outline permission for the land from Horsham District Council back in 2017}.

The development has been hugely controversial since 2012, with Horsham district councillor Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West) one of the leading critics.

‘There must be no further delay’

He said: “We are now well over four years on from Liberty’s promises for the North Horsham site made to the planning inspector at the enquiry in public in November 2014 for a good housing mix of, the now, 2,750 homes, a parkway railway station, a secondary school, health facilities, a supermarket and an industrial park. Apart from land purchased for the secondary school there is nothing to show for Liberty’s grand plans but what we do now have is L&G looking to make good on their significant investment.

“The problem with any ‘enabler’ - which both Liberty and now L&G are – is that to drive forward a strategic site rather than a large housebuilder who owns the land and builds on it the ‘enabler’ needs to cream off profits for themselves.

“Now that there is a second ‘enabler’ on the site that can only leave even less money in the pot for what we need such as a GP surgery and good schools.

“The risk, I fear will be that L&G will wish look again at the s106 legal agreement and the trigger events contained within it, they may wish to look at the layout of the site including the housing density and the type and mix of housing. The people of Horsham must not lose out and L&G’s feet must now be held to the fire to ensure that there will be no less money to go around for affordable homes, infrastructure and community sums.

“The site is complex requiring large sums of money for road infrastructure to be put in before house building can commence.

“There must be no further delay on this strategic site as this could put at risk our five year land supply and bring with it unwanted speculative development across our district – the irony being that the designation of this strategic site in the HDPF is supposed to guard against.”

A Horsham District Council spokesman said: “The s106 payments are part of the plan that has been approved for the area and any request for change would require council approval. Legal & General plan to deliver a scheme with build to rent, later living accommodation and affordable housing units. There is an existing approved plan and if L&G did want to change that it would again require council agreement.”

Last week Kerrigan Procter, chief executive officer of Legal & General Capital, said: “This acquisition in Horsham is an exceptionally exciting opportunity for Legal & General to deliver a genuinely multi-tenure community, utilising our patient capital and in-house expertise to bring forward a significant pipeline of housing for all ages, tenures and social groups.

Threat to even more countryside

Yet more irreplaceable countryside is at risk of being concreted over, Roger Smith, trustee of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England’s Sussex branch, warned this week.

He said: “Has Liberty sold the site because they consider it to be a too high a risk investment regarding monetary return?

“Could it be that they have calculated that despite Government policies being heavily weighted in favour of developers and house-builders there is now in prospect a significant profit-reducing fall in the demand for new houses and that in consequence their US investors’ money would gain a higher return elsewhere?

“Doubtless, Horsham District Council will be concerned that its five-year housing supply is now at greater risk than previously.

“In which case they will probably be looking to allocate an additional/alternative strategic site to fill the house-building gap - resulting in yet more irreplaceable countryside being concreted over and communities blighted in consequence.”

More affordable housing?

Both Labour and the Lib Dems raised the hope that Legal & General could increase the amount of affordable housing planned on the site.

Although HDC’s affordable housing target policy is 35 per cent, the agreement with Liberty was far below this amount.

David Skipp, leader of the Lib Dems on HDC, said: “We would welcome the commitment to affordable housing and the acknowledgement of the lack of housing of this type.

“We have always been unhappy with the allocation of affordable housing in the North Horsham development and in view of the expressions of positive intentions by L&G we would press for a review of the numbers to approach our stated aim of 35 per cent.”

Meanwhile Carol Hayton, a member of the Horsham Labour Party, suggested the new circumstances provided ‘an opportunity for some genuine planning gain for our community’.

She added: “Now is the time for the council to demonstrate, when it negotiates with the new applicant, that those lessons have been learned; that they have learned that their duty is to put the needs of the residents of Horsham before the profits of developers.

“Now is the time to revisit the plans for the site North of Horsham with a spirit of integrity and transparency, and to ensure, in so doing, that the council’s policies are implemented and the genuinely affordable homes we need are delivered.”