I attended the HDC’s hearing of Berkeley Homes’ contentious outline application for up to 594 dwellings on farmland at Southwater (WSCT 19Feb15). This hearing provided disturbing insights into the council’s decision-making processes, some of which are here summarised.
Persons fielded by the council at the hearing to advise the decision-taking councillors on planning matters were not identified and their roles, including whether consultant or officer, undeclared. This was an unfortunate oversight in what should have been for the public in attendance a fully transparent process.
Cllr Curnock reminded his colleagues that there was a substantial shortfall in funding for the West of Horsham development’s infrastructure and asked for an assurance that sufficient funding would be provided to pay for the infrastructure needed in consequence of the Southwater development.
But assurance came there none, indicating that yet another funding shortfall might be in prospect with the potential for adverse consequences for residents and their quality of life.
Concerns about the impact that the proposed development would have on traffic flows on an already congested and overloaded A24 were expressed by Cllrs Burgess, Curnock and Haigh.
In response, one of the advisors, presumably an HDC officer, explained that WSCC Highways was content with proposed mitigation measures implying that there was no need for concern. Surprisingly, councillors seemed to accept this dismissive response.
Evidently, the council’s strategy is to deny existing traffic problems and to accept - without question - the recommendations and findings of WSCC officials and consultants, as per their approach to the North of Horsham development; hardly a sound basis for decision taking.
It was explained that a viability study commissioned by HDC had found that the Southwater development could provide no more than 30 per cent affordable homes, contra the HDPF requirement for 35 per cent.
This ought to be of considerable concern to councillors (but apparently they were not concerned), not least because it seems that North of Horsham will not meet the 35 per cent requirement either, contrary to the assurances that it would - given by HDC’s officers last November at the examination of the HDPF.
To conclude, there were very good planning grounds for refusing this application, yet none of the councillors voted against it.
Objective and diligent decision-taking - I think not.
Dr R.F. SMITH
For Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) Sussex (Horsham District), Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield