By approving the planning application to build 475 houses on countryside east of Billingshurst (August 20, 2013), the district councillors who supported this decision have allowed developers to hijack and in so doing undermine the public consultation on the Horsham District Planning Framework.
Only one councillor (Cllr Arthur) voted against this contentious application. Although the three Billingshurst councillors abstained from voting they nevertheless encouraged others to vote in favour - on the questionable grounds that despite the loss of valued countryside and damaging consequences for landscape the application would be approved on Appeal by the Planning Inspectorate – because the excessive house-building target set for the district by the South East Plan (SEP) had not been met.
A councillor from another ward opined that planning decisions were decided by the Government and the Planning Inspectorate not by councillors – and by implication it was futile to contest Appeals.
By their ill-judged decision on August 20 councillors have given a clear indication to developers that they can pre-empt and subvert the emerging local plan by submitting major applications in full expectation that the council will give in rather than challenge applications at Appeal.
However, district councillors should be aware of recent Appeal Decisions whereby applications to build houses on countryside where as in Horsham District, councils do not have an up-to-date local plan, have been refused by the Planning Inspectorate – even though the house-building targets set for those councils by the SEP have not been met. The councils in question are Wiltshire and Somerset.
Hopefully, Horsham District Council will do as these councils have done and stand up to developers who are currently seeking to build on yet more countryside at Billingshurst, Broadbridge Heath, Henfield and Storrington. After all, communities not developers should decide where and in what number houses are built.
Dr R F Smith
For CPRE Sussex-Horsham District