Despite torrential downpours hundreds of people massed on greenfields under threat from large-scale housing development north of Horsham last week.
Organised to raise awareness of Liberty Property Trust’s plans for 2,500 homes and a new business park north of the A264, residents of Horsham, Rusper, and the surrounding villages arrived in force on Saturday morning to make their voices heard.
The crowd of around 200, carrying banners and placards, some walking dogs and wearing t-shirts with campaign slogans, marched on a circular walk through part of the area under threat.
Many spoke of their anger and frustration at Horsham District Council for driving through plans, with some hoping the planning inspector would take their side and throw out proposals.
The Horsham District Planning Framework Proposed Submission, which includes the North Horsham scheme, was approved by HDC in April, and was then published for a six-week period of representation.
After that closes the planning inspector will then test the soundness of the plan in a series of public examination hearings later this year.
Ray Butler, a Rusper parish councillor, said: “We feel so strongly about it, while there is a gasp of a chance of getting our opinion over we are prepared to turn out in the near rain. There is a real passion here.
“We do not mind some housing, affordable housing, on a small scale in a small village would be fine.
“It’s simply on this scale the coalescence between Horsham and Crawley will be virtually complete.”
Helen Clark, who lives in Old Holbrook, added: “We have elected the council and they do not speak for us anymore so we have to speak for ourselves.”
She had attended the council’s three-day exhibition in Swan Walk last week and said that much of the information she was given by officers was ‘confused and contradictory’.
Eloise Browning, who brought along her four children to the demonstration, described the area as ‘such a special place for a lot of people’ and how her family regularly came to the spot for walks, days out, and picnics.
“We have so many memories of happy times here,” she said.
“We can’t imagine it not being here in the future.”
Simon Lanaway, from Faygate, called for a thorough investigation into the environment and wildlife in the area and added: “We will see a decline in wildlife because of these developments.”
The fields where residents gathered on Saturday, off Wimland Road near the railway line, has been earmarked for a 500,000 sq ft business park, which HDC hopes will help attract thousands of new jobs to the area.
But Frances Rice, a Rusper resident for 42 years, said: “There is so much green land being eaten up by housing. It’s the infrastructure, the traffic with the business park they are proposing, it can’t deal with it.
“They have always said there would be a strategic gap between Horsham and Crawley and that is slowly disappearing. It’s just turning into a concrete mess.
“There are brownfield sites and so much office space is empty. Why do we need a business park?”
Janette Webber, who lives near Littlehaven, said: “I think we should focus on brownfield sites before sprawling on countryside.”
Malcolm Rawlins, a Horsham resident, added: “Once development breaches the A264 it will keep going and will be joined up with the developments in Faygate and Kilnwood Vale.”
He continued: “I think there is a challenge to the way they [HDC] have handled the process and Christian Mitchell is fighting that.
“We can only just make our opinions and objections felt and do the best we can.”
Mr Mitchell was one of several Conservative district councillors who joined most of the Lib Dems in voting against the Proposed Submission in April.
He was effectively sacked as chairman-elect in February in a whipped vote by his own party, and said he had paid the price for voicing residents’ concerns over development north of Horsham.
Sarah Homerstone, who lives in Rusper with her husband and three children, felt insufficient weight was given to any development’s impact on the wider road network, not just the A264.
She explained: “It’s already a rat run it’s going to be five times the amount of traffic. It’s already dangerous walking kids to school what are we going to do? Is there going to be a relief road? Have they thought about the wider area?”
Wayne Stutchbury, of campaign group Residents Against Greenfield Erosion, said of Horsham District Council: “What we have is the blind leading the blind. It’s clear they do not have the best interests of Horsham and its heritage at the heart of its decision making.”
He added: “We need to turn our efforts so the inspector can be persuaded the process Horsham District Council has been through has not been in the best interests of the district.”