WHY IS Horsham District Council so intent on pushing forward the Berkeley’s development in Southwater?
We think this is a question that has to be asked, and the whole issue warrants public scrutiny.
The council consulted at length with the community and with the parish council and has received a consistent and overwhelming ‘NO’ to its plans. The current plans are exactly those that the community have rejected throughout.
Nationally the planning policies of the Coalition are coming under increasing pressure from the National Trust, CPRE and the Daily Telegraph campaigns.
lthough Francis Maude, Horsham MP remember, recently and infamously employed ‘Anglo Saxon’ language to rubbish the aspirations of those organisations, the Prime Minister was much more emollient. He probably realises that if he loses the heart of middle England he loses the next general election.
Locally our district councillors can scarcely be unaware of the mounting opposition to large scale building on ‘greenfield’ sites in the area as a whole, with the formation of SOSA and the Plan Crazy campaign of the West Sussex County Times.
Despite this, HDC presses stubbornly on suggesting it would be best to accept the current planning application in Southwater.
What lies behind this extraordinary attitude? The district council says that there is a housing shortfall. There is no shortfall except with reference to the old Labour South East Plan – and even then the figures have been challenged.
It is known that The South East Plan will soon be abolished and central Government has asked planning authorities to take this into account. When it is abolished Horsham`s housing supply, measured against the current Core Strategy, is more than adequate.
The district council says that the new ‘advice’ being offered by central Government is that there is to be presumption in favour of development in every situation – precisely the point which is causing the general disquiet.
The implication is that it is already as good as enacted.
It is NOT - as has been made quite clear recently by Mr Pickles, the Secretary of State, ruling against the developer in Winchester, and saying in effect that the people of Winchester should determine their own housing needs.
Councillors frequently say that they do not want ‘developer driven’ development but wish to maintain ‘control’.
Yet the council has allowed Berkeley’s to dictate the terms of the development in Broadbridge Heath to such an extent that houses are not being brought forward because Berkeley is worried it may not be able to sell them.
It has also been allowed to reduce the number of affordable houses to only 20 per cent. Was that control? Is that the model that it wishes to see repeated in Southwater?
It seems to be. Berkeley’s has applied for ‘outline’ planning permission despite the size and controversial nature of the development.
If approved this does not commit Berkeley’s to anything. It will not say how many affordable houses will be included. It does not commit to a timetable or even detailed housing or infrastructure plans.
Once outline permission has been granted, Berkeley’s can sit on it for a number of years waiting for an economic upturn, and Horsham councillors will be as powerless to dictate what really happens as they have been in Broadbridge Heath.
In an attempt to find an answer to these questions there has been an application under the Freedom of Information Act for a sight of the emails and meeting minutes since 2007 involving Berkeley’s, HDC and the Fletcher Trust (the only landowner involved in the Southwater application).
This has at present been denied. The reason given was that more than 4,000 such documents have been identified and would need to be evaluated before release.
This shows just what an enormous amount of contact there has been.
An appeal has been lodged against this denial. We consider that the people of Southwater have a right to know just why their district council seems to want to disregard its democratically and recently stated opinion.
We intend to request a meeting with council leader Robert Nye and our local district councillors together with the officer in charge of strategic planning to see if we can obtain answers.
Dr IAN THWAITES
Keep Southwater Green