Permit me to make some general remarks, having lived in the area for over 50 years, and coming from a family who made Horsham their home with the purchase of Compton’s Lea in 1900, and subsequently West Grinstead Park, 100 years ago. We are newcomers.
We welcome the idea of Neighbourhood Development Plans and indeed the renewed emphasis on Self-Build, both of which will give us a precise audit of needs and wants. Small scale, sympathetic builds which meet local needs, and which provide infrastructure for local people, would be a most refreshing change to the current large scale developments.
Nothing it seems can arrest the proliferation of these housing estates, erected one suspects, more to appease the avaricious deities of a handful of house builders, than to answer the prayers of the homeless. Disfiguring the landscape like a repellent rash, these homes continue to multiply, creating an unhappy dichotomy.
Generations of painstaking husbandry and inspired agriculture have endowed West Sussex with an unforgettable setting; a vibrant ecosystem
sustained by the quality of its countryside and ancient woodlands. Nourished through the arteries of its working farms and estates, it appears that small rural developments and the land are one, and one without the other, somehow renders both impotent.
In a densely populated island, land suitable for development is not just scarce, it is zealously coveted by large scale developers who land bank. They are one of the principle causes of our post war boom-bust economic trajectory. Today’s predators have been quick to identify the commercial potential of these sites, demonstrating forcefully that they are not averse to exchanging the traditional for the commonplace. This must stop if we are to have a fairer society, where people can afford to live and to work without having to use mechanical transport, particularly those who commute to work in London.
By the actions of large scale developers, West Sussex has already lost too many of its appealing features, gaining others which at best can only be described as incongruous: the monolithic structures of architectural blandness that have no place on our Island. Too often these intruders merely echo the mistakes made in other countries, where their presence has already eliminated everything original about them. Spain and its Costas being the most obvious catastrophic example.
Regrettably some paths to progress are littered with architectural freaks and soulless condominiums. Nowhere is this more noticeable than on the outskirts of Horsham. Among the more imaginative steps to arrest this has been The Horsham District Council Preferred Strategy Consultation. By seeking to discover what kind of impact large scale development is having on the local psyche, on the lifestyles of gentle country folk, whose inherent dignity, natural courtesy and charm are just as seductive as the beauty of West Sussex, will provide insight.
There is an acute shortage of housing in the UK. We need to build 260,000 houses per year for the foreseeable future, and Horsham will have to absorb its share of this demand. But with something in excess of 36,000 acres of derelict brownfield sites and empty buildings in the Greater London Area alone, I suspect that much more should be done to address this issue first, before we embark upon building on green field sites again. In the meantime small scale development on brownfield sites, the conversion of disused buildings and filling in our hollowed out cities, towns and villages must be our priority.