An approved housing blueprint which includes 2,500 homes and a new business park north of Horsham could lead to a ‘seismic change’ in the balance of the town.
The decision was taken at a Horsham District Council Full Council meeting last Wednesday night in front of a packed public gallery, with many others watching by a live video feed in the Capitol Theatre next door.
This was despite a motion supported by most Lib Dem and several Conservative councillors to defer the plan while they explored a five year land supply pending an announcement on a second runway at Gatwick Airport.
However the majority of Conservative councillors argued that unless they agreed a plan that night they would be even more vulnerable to unwanted development, and believed the new business park was the best way to promote economic growth in the district.
The Horsham District Planning Framework Proposed Submission will now be published for a six-week period of representation.
The plan will then be scrutinised by the planning inspector in a number of public examination hearings later this year.
Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), HDC’s cabinet member for living and working communities, said the document suggested 1,500 homes through the neighbourhood plan process, 500 homes in Southwater, and 2,500 north of the A264 in addition to houses already granted planning permission.
“This will provide the housing and the jobs the district will need in the coming years,” she added.
“If it [the plan] does not come up with the right answers as we have seen with other plans across the country it will be thrown out and we will have to start again.”
She continued: “I recognise that for some members this is not an easy choice to support but I ask: ‘What is the real alternative?’”
But many felt that alternatives had not been properly explored, including Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West), who said: “We as a council have not fully considered all options and talked about it.
“We should and I think this alone makes this plan unacceptable.”
Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar) said development north of the A264 was a ‘shift in gravity’ and would destroy the balance and the amenities of the town.
He added: “This seismic change has not been presented to the people of Horsham for public debate or any alternative strategy considered in public.”
public gives its view
Andrew Blevins, managing director of Liberty Property Trust, the developer behind plans for North Horsham, said: “We have a successful track record and now we want to work with you and local residents to create a development that Horsham can be proud of.
“Together, this is our chance to ensure continued prosperity for the town by providing homes and employment for future generations.”
But Tony Rickett, speaking on behalf of North Horsham Parish Council, questioned the merit of producing a long-term plan before the Government has decided on airport capacity in the South East, which could lead to a second runway at Gatwick.
He added: “A long term plan produced now would be meaningless and unnecessary.”
Meanwhile Sheila White added: “There’s still time to say ‘no’ to Liberty’s plan and produce a plan that has the support of the community and starts to rebuild the reputation of the council for integrity, honesty and democracy.”
After loud applause from the public gallery Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) asked: “Chairman is there a new policy which is allowing booing, clapping, and cheering?”
Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury), chairman of HDC, responded: “I’m the chairman of this council and I will use my judgement to control it.”
John Chidlow (Con, Southwater) defended the plan and said there was no ‘conspiracy of silence and no hidden agenda’. He added: “I do not like a lot about the present situation [but] I believe it’s the best option for all the residents of the district.
“We have a stark choice. Go with the planning framework or go with the developers.”
motion to defer plan
After the opening of the debate Simon Torn (Con, Roffey South) proposed deferring the plan while the council explored a five year land supply pending a Government announcement on a second runway at Gatwick Airport.
He said he thought the planning inspector would agree that HDC was in a ‘special case’ and whatever happened at Gatwick would mean huge changes in housing and employment needs, arguing that any plan produced now would be ‘premature’.
Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West) said: “I admire the courage and the determination of my colleagues - not least Claire Vickers - in attempting to juggle many conflicting demands.
“But this plan is not good enough for the people of the Horsham district. It has been rushed. It has been compiled almost entirely in secret. It has paid lip-service to meaningful consultation.
“It represents a poor second best that will scar the north of this town - haemorrhaging concrete in a snake-like sprawl and undermining everything that makes Horsham a special place in which to live and work.”
These arguments were countered by Mr Donnelly, who argued that there would be development in the north of the district in the next ten, 20, or 30 years with or without a second runway at Gatwick.
Andrew Baldwin (Con, Holbrook East), cabinet member for the environment, asked: “If we defer this could a developer slap in an application and would we be stuffed?”
Planning officer Barbara Childs replied: “We do not have a five-year housing land supply and we are vulnerable.”
Mr Baldwin added: “We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
“I should have been a coward and not turned up. It’s a grotty decision to make.”
Ian Howard (Con, Southwater), Mrs Vickers’ predecessor as cabinet member, said: “It’s not an option to defer it and hand back chaos to the developers. We need to go forward and be strong.”
Several members questioned the way in which the plan had been put together and the process leading up to it.
Frances Haigh (LDem, Horsham Park), leader of the Lib Dem group who seconded Mr Torn’s proposal, said decisions made in secret by the Conservative group should have been made by Full Council.
She explained: “You have acted undemocratically and in contempt of this council and the electorate.”
David Skipp (LDem, Roffey North) thought that proposals had been put together in a ‘patronising and arrogant way’.
He added: “We need to look again at some of the concerns. Running scared of developers and the inspector is not a good enough reason to push on with what I think is a second best proposal.”
But the motion to defer the plan was defeated by 27 votes to 14 with Josh Murphy (Con, Horsham Park) joining those who eventually voted against the plan in the final vote.
‘can’t stop development’
Several Conservatives, especially those representing wards in Horsham itself, said they had little choice but to approve the plan, even if they disagreed with elements of it.
Helena Croft (Con, Roffey North), deputy leader and cabinet member for communication, Horsham town, and special projects, said: “Knowing I can’t stop the development and regretfully supporting the plan puts me in a better position to minimise the impacts and maximise the benefits on behalf of my residents.”
Jim Rae (Con, Holbrook East) told members he did not and never liked the idea of building on greenfields north of the A264, but the reality was the ‘Government’s gun was against his head’. With council funding becoming increasingly dependent on the generation of business rates he said that they had to do their best to promote economic growth in the Horsham district.
He explained: “If we do not generate our own wealth the services we enjoy today will be a thing of the past all too soon.”
But Mr Crosbie said: “It’s the right scheme in the wrong place. There’s no need to agonise about it you either stand up and be counted or not.”
new BUSINESS PARK
Roger Arthur (UKIP, Chanctonbury) remained unconvinced that new office space would be taken up by businesses without having a look at Liberty’s evidence-based business plan and what risks were involved.
Liz Kitchen (Con, Rusper and Colgate), former leader of HDC, agreed and added: “My main objection for this there is no proven need for office space as a carbuncle on the other side of Horsham.”
Meanwhile Mr Burgess pointed out that at Liberty’s previous Kings Hill development in Kent he understood one million square feet of business space planned for phase three of the development had been withdrawn.
However Roger Paterson (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham), cabinet member for the local economy, countered this and argued that new offices in Kings Hill had attracted firms such as Rolex. He said: “We are absolutely clear from the advice we have had from our experts, we know if we have that kind of employment land on offer we will have high quality businesses coming into the district.”