LETTER: FoI confirms key meeting

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Your letters

Using Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) I have tried to find out from the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health and Horsham District Council (HDC) details of a meeting at the Department of Health on 18 December 2012.

It has taken over 12 months and now HDC has confirmed that leader Ray Dawe, with former councillor and then deputy leader, Helena Croft, chief executive Tom Crowley, director Natalie Brahma-Pearl, along with the majority land owner of land in North Horsham, Steve Harvey, the managing director of Liberty Property Trust (UK), Andrew Blevins, and Adam Walker of Crickmay (Liberty’s agent) met at the Cabinet Office with the then Horsham MP Francis Maude and Jeremy Hunt MP on 18 December 2012.

Why is this important? Well, the ‘dream’ of a new hospital in north Horsham (which was to have had 4,500 homes) was believed at the time to have been the key concession needed to soften up the public to the idea of development in the Strategic Gap.

Former councillor Mrs Croft said at the meeting of the General Practitioners on 20 April 2013: ‘It will be very difficult to deliver this [North Horsham], politically, without the provision of a hospital.’

After that meeting, former councillor Jim Rae wrote on Facebook: ‘The West Sussex County Times asked whether the possible provision of a new hospital within the proposed North Horsham development was ‘a bribe’, of course it was’.

The Department of Health have confirmed in their FoI answer to my appeal that they have no minutes of this meeting but confirm its existence. It appears that no Civil Servant sat at the meeting with the Secretary of State for Health. Very odd. Why not?

The Cabinet Office (of which Lord Francis Maude headed up at the time) has no records at all of the meeting. Horsham District Council have no minutes but have confirmed the list of attendees.

Just why were no notes and minutes taken by Horsham District Council and the Cabinet Office of this meeting between the then MP Francis Maude, Ray Dawe and Helena Croft and the majority landowner of North Horsham – Steve Harvey – along with the MD for Liberty Andrew Blevins?

We know some councils rue the day the public was given to right to submit FoIs and Horsham District Council seems not to be a keen supporter of FoIs.

An informal ‘sofa’ meeting was never the correct way to deal with such a high level meeting that had such major implications for Horsham.

The site for this large housing development should have been Southwater where planning gain money would have delivered a new and much needed secondary school.

That was to have been the plan until the district’s cabinet planning supremo Cllr Claire Vickers made the switch of sites from her own ward to that of North Horsham immediately upon her appointment as cabinet member after the sudden – and never explained - leaving of office of Cllr Ian Howard.

After which Cllr Vickers extolled the needs of a business and industrial park. Hitherto, there had been no mention of the need for a business park anywhere in Horsham. Not one business has expressed the desire to move to the proposed business park since it was first mooted more than three years ago.

The secrecy surrounding this meeting is just one more example of the failure by the leadership of Horsham District Council to keep the electorate fully informed about the whole North Horsham saga.

Procrastination with FoI requests does not engender trust with the electorate nor does failure to take objective (in this case Civil Service minutes) of meetings at the level of this one.

Dr Geoffrey Richardson

Tennyson Close, Horsham


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