Horsham district councillors are becoming, with good reason, increasingly hard to convince that it is right to adopt a policy of massive house-building in the area.
In many cases councillors are no longer willing to accept as gospel everything their strategic planning office says. Planning is functioning less and less well – hence the fiasco of the Henfield appeal when the inspector lambasted the council for failure of process.
Hence also the extraordinary suggestion by Mr Crowley, the chief executive, that unless councillors took additional training in planning matters, they ought to be disbarred from voting on large development proposals.
Quite rightly, this attempt to ensure compliance with the strategic planning view caused outrage among members.
Yet it has to be acknowledged that the council as a whole faces difficult decisions when it tries to bring the level of housing provision to a level that all parties can accept. There is one way of improving housing land supply and of bringing houses forward in the short to medium term that seems to have been almost totally ignored.
In several villages around the Horsham district sites exist, like old offices or garages, which are currently not being developed because of the policy of categorising settlements.
Council Policy CP5, in particular, prevents any sites in Category II settlements being brought forward unless the houses that are created are affordable/social housing.
This now is simply acting as a needless constraint to the creation of much needed homes in smaller communities. The communities can accommodate the houses without damage to their character or environment.
Indeed some building may improve the viability of some of the communities which are struggling to maintain village shops, post offices and pubs.
The council could and should abandon the policy with immediate effect. Not only would that release a significant number of sites, but it would effectively produce a number of windfall houses that would be brought forward much more quickly than the large developer sites.
Historically, before the creation of the Category II settlements, over 50 houses were released in this way every year. Furthermore the conversion of farms, stables, barns and other redundant rural buildings often produced in excess of 25 units per year; another source of housing which current policy often prevents coming forward.
Over the last seven years this could have produced over 500 homes – especially relevant when one considers that the shortfall in housing land supply is only 642 against the South East Plan at the present time!
Why should it not be done – and done quickly?
Dr IAN THWAITES