I worked in the strategic planning department of a council for many years, before I retired and moved into the Horsham area. I attended the Horsham District Council meeting last Thursday evening to see what plans our council has for housing over the next 20 years.
It was certainly an interesting debate. It was very good to see how well most councillors understood the process and its requirements and that the officers seem to have held a series of seminars to inform them. I was also left wondering how it was then that a small minority of councillors seemed to be fairly ignorant of the process and its primary purpose.
Early in the proceedings, Cllr Vickers, who was presenting the strategy, reminded everyone that the Government absolutely required the emphasis be put on economic growth. A little later, one of her cabinet colleagues made the same comment in even stronger terms. Despite these speeches this unavoidable fact seemed to completely bypass certain members in the subsequent debate.
At one point I noted that the Council Leader specifically reminded members of the all important point that while they might have their own wishes about where housing should be built, if the plans did not stand up to scrutiny by a Government inspector they would simply be sent back to the council to be redone and so waste considerable time.
Perhaps the worst example of totally missing both the economic argument and the Council Leader’s point was the member who said he had driven all the way from his holiday in Cornwall and was later returning there.
He gave as his main contribution to the evening the idea that the council should put houses in a new town in the south – an idea that it is clear both from press coverage and the plans being presented had been discussed and dismissed as not possible in the medium term. This councillor seems to have entirely missed the point that 70 per cent of this new town would be in Mid Sussex and they have absolutely no plans for such a development! How does he seriously think any inspector would react to that idea if it were put forward as a strategy?
Cllr Kitchen seemed to be suggesting that there was a ‘better’ site for houses and a commercial park somewhere on the A24 but intriguingly didn’t say where this was or how it had so far escaped the attention of the council’s officers if it was so good!
Cllr Michell waxed poetic about a journey from Victoria to Horsham saying how great it was to arrive in Horsham but other than saying any development should be spread around through the villages offered no viable alternative and ignored the economic development requirement.
He seemed to deny that there was any move by the Government to put increasing council dependence on business rates even though, had he checked, he would find this is already happening!
Finally, we should not forget another lady councillor who told us several times and at length how bad Redhill hospital was but made no real reference to the strategy she was later going to vote on.
The pity is that while these councillors’ contributions all added to the drama of the occasion, none of those I have mentioned seem to have read the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework or to have taken on board the whole argument that economic development is the priority and housing needs to follow and support that.
At best their contribution is disingenuous at worst it shows considerable ignorance.
Fortunately, when it came to a vote, common sense prevailed.