Horsham District Council’s (HDC) planning function has lurched from crisis to crisis.
The planning department was placed under threat of being put into ‘special measures’ by HM Government and being run by outside professionals.
There has been the scandal that is North Horsham when the council tore up the Core Strategy of 2007 and moved houses planned for Southwater into the Horsham and Crawley Strategic Gap thus breaking a promise made to residents of the town never to build there.
This was all done after cabinet member Cllr Claire Vickers moved her Strategic Planning Advisory Group into secret session thus banning the press and public. That was in breach of the existing Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) which was changed without reference to councillors.
In October 2015 the council was once again on the back foot over adverse planning appeal costs which were identified.
An officer’s report to Finance & Performance Working Group stated: ‘There have been a high number of difficult appeals and this has added to the costs for the department as a whole due to the time involved in discussing and settling legal fees, expert witness fees and costs awarded against the Council in a number of cases where Inspectors concluded that we acted unreasonably in refusing permission.’ (p73).
Cllr Vickers never did answer questions I raised at the time in these pages: ‘why is her planning department acting in a way that has led Inspectors to conclude that her planning department ‘acted unreasonably in refusing permission?’ (22.10.15).
And last week came the news of a planning application for a mass burn incinerator on the very edge of what is currently Horsham town but will be right next to where it’s planned to build a primary school in the council’s North Horsham masterplan.
In the ten months since December 2015 when this newspaper first broke the story of plans for an incinerator Cllr Vickers has said nothing about what she intends to do about stopping Horsham being blighted with a 24/7 commercial and domestic waste incinerator.
Why hasn’t she with the cabinet member for waste Cllr Cornell put planning policies in place in her much trumped Horsham Development Planning Framework (HDPF) to stop this? The issue had been resolved ten years ago but now on her watch the threat of an incinerator is back and more real than ever.
The council’s next calamity came on Friday (October 14) when the High Court, on judicial review, quashed (with no less than four grounds) Henfield’s Neighbourhood Plan. Henfield Parish Council had prepared their Neighbourhood Plan on the basis of a spatial strategy that favoured planning sites to the east of the village rather than those to the west because the development of the latter was said to give rise to unsustainable transport pressure in the centre of the village.
However, this proposition was in conflict with the findings of a planning inspector determining an appeal in respect of the largest site to the west and the conduct of the planning authority in withdrawing a highways reason for refusal in relation to the second largest site in the west.
Although this material and evidence was available to the promoters of the Plan - the Independent Examiner and Horsham District Council all failed to grapple in any way with the implications of these decisions to the rationale for rejecting expansion to the west as a reasonable alternative at the Sustainability Appraisal stage of the plan.
At the public inquiry in November 2014 the Planning Inspector took HDC to task about the rigour of its Sustainability Assessment in its HDPF. It appears the council learnt nothing from that bruising experience.
Perhaps council leader Cllr Ray Dawe and Mrs Vickers will tell us the total legal costs of this further lost judicial review?
Dr Geoffrey Richardson
Tennyson Close, Horsham
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