On 22nd May 2017, HDC held an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council to finally determine the North of Horsham outline planning application made by Liberty Property Trust.
An understanding by councillors of the site’s financial viability was clearly necessary to determine if the offer of just 18 per cent Affordable Homes was really all that could be achieved i.e. only half of the 35 per cent HDPF policy requirement.
Pivotal to this was the report by Dixon Searle Partnership (DSP) commissioned by HDC to independently evaluate the viability figures submitted by Liberty. We learnt at the meeting that only one third of councillors had bothered to access the full report; the publicly available version having many key points redacted. Inter alia, this critical report confirmed that the submitted viability figures were based on house sales and costs data approaching some two years out of date (September 2015).
One councillor (who commendably had thoroughly studied the full report) informed the meeting that updating these figures (presumably) in line with the DSP recommendations would improve the viability margin by at least £70m.
This extra money could have easily increased the Affordable Homes percentage from 18 to 25, whilst adding many millions to the S106 pot thereby eliminating funding shortfalls for schools, roads, police, fire and rescue etc.
Unsurprisingly all of this was ‘ignored’ and the ‘party line’ prevailed to approve the submitted application ‘as was’, albeit with a ‘wish-washy’ promise to clawback excess developer profit following a review in five years’ time…long grass, cans and roads rapidly come to mind!
The Council is still blocking attempts by the public to see the full unredacted DSP report. Why are they doing this? What exactly is hidden by the redactions? Maybe they don’t want us to see that they have ‘rejected’ clear recommendations resulting in a ‘gift’ to the developer of a minimum £70m of hidden extra profit to add to the already identified exorbitant profit of £174m?
Eventually the Information Commissioner will, based on clear precedents, adjudicate that HDC must reveal the full DSP report contents.
Let’s hope that by then there won’t be a repeat of the situation when HDC were pressed on their £6m ‘oversight’ in the equivalent West of Horsham reports, i.e. they said they couldn’t trace any unredacted copies. How very convenient!
Cox Green, Rudgwick
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