‘Communities and their elected councillors – not Whitehall bureaucrats – should be able to decide how many new homes they need and how many they can reasonably accommodate and support with local infrastructure’ – so said Horsham MP Francis Maude, writing in the WSCT July 2009.
However, as was made clear by Mr G. Salter, the Planning Inspector who examined the Horsham District Planning Framework (HDPF), it is the Planning Inspectorate not ‘communities and their elected councillors’ who decides house-building targets for districts.
Moreover, even though the huge target imposed by Mr Salter is dependent on untested and questionable presumptions and assumptions and includes an arbitrary allocation for the ‘unmet’ needs of other councils – and does not allow for economic and market uncertainty because, as Mr Salter explained in November, the Government’s planning policies do not allow him to do so, it will be the council, not developers, who will be held accountable by the Planning Inspectorate should the Inspector’s target not be achieved.
And, communities will be vulnerable to developer-imposed development at appeal, as they are now, in consequence - because of the Government’s planning policies.
As for the substantial infrastructure funding gap highlighted during the Inspector’s examination of the HDPF, Mr Salter advised that it was not unusual for local plans with infrastructure funding gaps to be approved despite funding shortfalls. He also acknowledged that Government policies enable developers to seek and obtain reductions in payments for infrastructure and for the provision of affordable homes.
This does not augur well for the District’s communities. After all, development cannot be truly ‘sustainable’ without adequate infrastructure and providing communities with affordable homes should be a high priority, but because of Government policies timely and adequate provision of infrastructure is not assured and needs for affordable homes may not be met.
Clearly there is substantial mismatch between Mr Maude’s words in 2009, echoed post the 2010 election by his Cabinet colleagues with responsibility for planning, and the very different reality experienced in Horsham District.
Dr R.F. SMITH
For Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), Sussex (Horsham District), Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield