LETTER: MP fails to address planning problem

I was pleased to see Horsham MP Francis Maude’s response in the County Times of May 23 to my open letter to him, ‘Distrust in the planning system’.

Unfortunately he omitted to address the immediate problem, which is that the Planning Inspectorate (and the old SE Plan) expects population growth to be used as the principal driver of house building rates, whereas in reality developers will only build what they can sell at a profit. It is not the number of people, but the number that can afford to buy a house that counts.

It should be clear by now that actual house-building rates tend to lag population growth, particularly towards the end of a drawn out recession, leaving a so called ‘shortfall’ when compared with population growth.

The problem is not just transitional and it should not be surprising that the Local Plans submitted by many authorities, have not been adopted.

So the Inspectorate needs to be instructed to adjust its expectations by taking full account of the economic factors, taking a zero based approach, as one might do with a budget.

In the meantime, it is wrong that presumption in favour should be allowed to over-ride the concept of Localism, based on a misguided (population growth) premise.

Mr Maude himself has said that “If planning decisions are taken away from local people, it is likely to breed distrust in the planning system, whilst leaving the countryside without protection.”

All we need now from those Ministers who are listening and understand, is for them to defer the application of presumption in favour, for say one year, to allow time for local plans to be completed properly and adopted.

That would significantly reduce the risk of unnecessary damage to our beautiful countryside, due to speculative and inappropriate development. The planning process may have become unduly complex, but Ministers do need to take time to deal with the underlying problem.

On other matters, your editorial last week was very apposite and you may be interested to know that I recently questioned the Environmental Agency (EA) on their proposals to upgrade Warnham Mill Pond.

In any risk (Probability/Impact) assessment, it is usual to express the impact of an incident, in financial terms. Indeed, the HSE and many other agencies are familiar with that concept and they recognise that it is sometimes necessary to put a nominal financial value on a life. Without such an approach, authorities would have to spend exorbitant amounts of money to reduce risk.

In this case the event probability has been estimated at once in 10,000 years and a rough estimate indicates that the risk could have been covered by an insurance premium of less than £5,000pa. On that basis around £500,000 of HDC’s capital might have been left available to invest in a business park, or a car park (for example) yielding over £25,000 pa. So the EA’s approach seems to be costing residents over £20,000 pa net, in lost revenue.

Since the legislation apparently applies to around 4,000 ponds across the country, the total cost to the UK council tax payer will run into many billion pounds and there will be a huge loss of open water habitat. Imagine how many affordable houses might be built with that money.

I have drawn this matter to Francis Maude’s attention and hopefully we will see a more balanced approach in future. As he observed on page two of the Sunday Times, his mandarins need to become less risk averse.

Councils need to be allowed to manage their own risk profiles, by taking out insurance as and when appropriate and they should not have unnecessary costs imposed on them.


(UKIP) Horsham district councillor for Chanctonbury, North Street, Horsham