Letter: ‘Pantomime’ of parish plans

Billingshurst. Photo: Google
Billingshurst. Photo: Google

Previous Parish Plans for Billingshurst were supposed to deliver a vibrant village with shops, ample car parking and a desperately needed upgraded doctors’ surgery.

But instead we have fewer shops, while the surgery is bursting at the seams and it appears yet again this project has been kicked into the long grass!

We are often told that infrastructure will not be upgraded, unless new housing development is accepted, yet the planning gain from some thousands of houses was apparently not enough. So perhaps Jeremy Quin MP could let us know how the increasing infrastructure shortfall is going to be addressed.

He might also investigate how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on Neighbourhood Plans (NP) and how many of those have been overridden by a Planning Inspector, or a council in fear of the PI, because the local council is behind its five-year land supply target.

Sadly many such targets are unrealistic, because developers build to meet market (not population) projections, leaving a Planning Inspector to overrule council planning decisions – rendering the NPs abortive, while leaving infrastructure unfit for purpose.

So the next question is ‘how many NPs have been over-ridden in that way and how much NP expenditure has been rendered abortive?’

Funding can amount typically to £10,000 or £20,000 per NP and in view of the many thousands of Neighbourhoods, the total cost across the country is not small beer. Neither is the ever increasing gap in infrastructure funding.

Thirty years ago the village had four garages selling fuel and three sold and repaired cars. There was a police station with four policemen, who all lived in the village and knew where the problems were. Since then the police element of the precept has increased, but we now have no local bobbies. The three building societies have all gone and the number of banks will soon reduce to three.

In those days the village even had reasonable parking provision, but that has been eroded, because the demand for development space always seems to be given priority.

School capacity has also fallen behind demand, especially amongst Infants and Juniors, where parents are forced to transport their children out of the village.

So Neighbourhood Plans are very costly but not legally binding, because at the end of the day, the Planning Inspectorate (an unelected Government quango) has the authority to overrule any plan, if for example a District falls behind its building targets.It is a sobering thought that most of those involved in the Neighbourhood Plan pantomime will not be around in 2031 to admit that ‘we got it wrong again!’.

Does Mr Quin have any views on that, or has he been advised to keep his head down?

Doug Rands

Arun Road, Billingshurst