Developer insists he will ‘awaken the silent majority’ to back bid

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A PROPERTY developer has engaged a local marketing agency to better promote its proposal to build more than 500 homes in Southwater.

Speaking exclusively to the County Times, the managing director of Berkeley Homes’ major project team said he wished to ‘awaken the silent majority’ to the benefits of the business’s plans.

Adrian Brown aims to ‘address the failure of past cycles of development in Southwater that didn’t invest’ in the community.

He said: “We have an opportunity here to balance alongside a modest development of 513 dwellings a scheme that really invests in local facilities.”

Submitted to Horsham District Council is Berkeley’s planning application to build on land to the west of Worthing Road in the village. (see aerial image)

The plans have proved controversial from the start and over the past few years a considerable local opposition has evolved, ever since the site was proposed for housing in HDC’s Core Strategy Review 2008.

However, Mr Brown argues that when fully informed, a majority living in the Southwater area will support Berkeley’s future vision of the settlement, which would see more than two thousand more people living there.

Combating many of the concerns listed by objectors to the scheme, Mr Brown countered with the need for affordable homes and the necessity of the housing, its proposed quality and design, and the improved facilities and infrastructure the plans would offer.

“We are not convinced that everyone knows the details of the proposals and the scale of the investment proposed, and we feel it is really important local people are at least given that opportunity to have their say,” he said.

The development represents a £120 million investment by Berkeley, £16.1 million of which would be directed to local facilities.

Of this £1.8 million alone is earmarked for local sports clubs said Mr Brown, who also confirmed highway works were planned to improve access for Southwater residents to the A24 at the Hop Oast Worthing Road junction.

Defending the new housing, the head of Berkley Strategic who lives in Buckinghamshire but visits Sussex every week, refuted the suggestion that those in Southwater had already been subjected to more than their fair share of new developments.

“We think that Southwater is a sustainable place to develop,” he declared. “It is unconstrained in planning terms, in the sense that it is not green belt, not an area of outstanding natural beauty, nor a national park.”

However, the proposed development would be on existing green fields and farm land, but building over this was justified by the 43 year old managing director with the simple proposition ‘there needs to be more homes’.

“There is not sufficient brown field land in Sussex to accommodate the growing household numbers that we see before us,” he said, citing HDC’s forthcoming housing needs assessment, which he believes will demonstrate a ‘substantial’ need for more housing, triggering the need for green field sites to be developed.

He predicted that even if 4,500 new homes got the green light north of Horsham and were added to the confirmed 2000 new homes west of Horsham, the total would not fulfil the district’s requirements in terms of HDC’s housing needs assessment.

The various schemes ‘are not mutually exclusive’ he declared.

The relatively large population of Southwater was also factor determining the settlement a ‘sustainable place to develop’ for the house builder.

Mr Brown asserted: “Southwater happens to be a community of 10,000 people and it enjoys good linkages to Horsham, the largest settlement in the district, so it is a place that we believe is right to absorb additional development.”

However, most central to Mr Brown’s defence of the Southwater expansion was the character and quality of Berkeley’s projects.

He said the Southwater designs had been sensitively conceived and he enthused about the anticipated use of ‘local materials’, ‘local Sussex vernacular’, and a design ‘very much in keeping with the best traditions of local architecture’.

The housing would be ‘low density’ with landscaping, use of open space and ‘improved access to the wider countryside and footpath network’.

Mr Brown refuted the suggestion Berkeley Homes is just a ‘house-builder’, as opposed to a ‘master-planner’ – a distinction which has been made by those behind the North Horsham development project.

He said the firm should be judged on its other completed projects in the area - Rookwood Park, Springfield, and Farthings in Horsham.

He said: “If you take our scheme at Highwood in Horsham, there are community facilities, major parkland, new public transport facilities, employment creation, and a small business park allocated all part of the scheme.”

He added: “We are a local business and we feel we are a responsible business. We are very passionate about creating quality places. We are not in this to just make a quick buck - it has to be sustainable.

“If we get the next scheme wrong, we won’t get planning for the one after that. We need local people to trust that what we say we are going to deliver, we follow through on.”

Mr Brown confirmed that by working with Billingshurst-based PMW Communications every household in Southwater would receive a pamphlet in the next few weeks relating to Berkeley’s 513-home development, encouraging them to have their say and find out more.

HDC is due to determine the planning application in the coming weeks and if approved work could begin later this year.

It is anticipated the first homes could be completed in 2013, and the whole development finished by 2018.

For more information visit Berkeley’s website www.westofsouthwater.co.uk.

Southwater Parish Council is debating the developer’s planning application in the village leisure centre from 7.30pm tonight, Thursday January 12.