Horsham District Council, and particularly but not exclusively its planning department, was the subject of an almost unparalleled barrage of criticism in a
series of articles in the County Times of March 28.
Much of the criticism was entirely justified. I agree with John Steele that a significant contributing factor leading to the failure to develop a Local Housing Plan, as required by the Government, was the arrogant non-consultative approach that was adopted. This has to be laid at the door of the cabinet and specifically at the door of the cabinet member responsible.
Having said that I may surprise you by saying I feel some sympathy for the council as a whole. That they should, as a body, have stood up to the cabinet’s dogmatic position earlier I agree; but there was little local precedent for them to act independently and the Government’s messages were, as Gary Shipton has commented, at best contradictory.
In addition, with regard to the lack of a five year land supply, one has to have a great deal of sympathy with the district council.
They have already given permissions for the building of large housing numbers – probably enough to have an adequate five year housing supply – but the developers are dragging their feet because they realise they cannot sell them all in the current financial climate.
They simply bank their permissions and will happily wait for as long as it takes, secure in the knowledge that they will go on forcing further permissions from the powerless district council and will be able to make a killing at our expense when and if the economy eventually recovers.
This part of the problem is firmly down to central Government – but Keep Southwater Green pointed this out publically in 2010.
In the absence of a Plan, and with the application of the National Planning Framework, a flood of uncontrolled and unwanted development would seem very likely.
Mr Boles, the Government Minister for Planning, said on March 22, ‘it will be ugly and will put pressure on local infrastructure with few obvious
benefits to communities’.
And yet he says he wants it!
What can we do to try and prevent what will be a total tragedy for our area?
First we must try and make the Government understand what is happening and what people feel about it. Nationally CPRE, the National Trust and the national press are voicing their concerns.
But as Dr Smith (CPRE Sussex) has said, in the same WSCT issue, it is absolutely essential that Horsham District Council is prepared to challenge central Government and demand more time to formulate and adopt their plan.
If the district council, as Dr Smith puts it, ‘betray our trust’ their electorate will rightly lay the blame firmly at their door.
We hear of one Conservative district councillor defecting to UKIP – how many more will follow or become Independent?
Even in this Conservative heartland heads will roll. If the Government refuse to listen then they too will reap the reward they will so richly deserve at the next election.
Finally we, as individuals, must show Horsham MP Francis Maude how much we care about
this issue. We must write to him and demand help and keep demanding it until he realises his responsibility.
Dr IAN THWAITES