“I find it extraordinary that we are in a situation where purely because someone has money they can set up a website, blight an area, put a big blob on top of your house and that’s it! It should not be legal!”
So said Anthony Watts Williams, the chairman of LAMBS, the acronym for a campaign group which stands for Locals Against Mayfield Building Sprawl - referring to a proposal by Mayfield Market Towns to build a new 10,000 home town in and around Wineham and Twineham, between Sayers Common and Henfield.
Years from a planning application even being submitted, objections to the scheme are many and far-reaching, but it is the issue of planning blight that is causing tangible concern right now for those living in the area and its environs.
Planning blight is defined as the reduction of economic activity or property values in a particular area resulting from expected or possible future development - something Mayfield Market Towns director Lee Newlyn says ‘is a fact of life’.
However, such a professional observation from a developer is a world away from the personal angst suffered by those fearing a new town the size of Haywards Heath concreting over their rural idyll.
For them, the homeowners and local business people living and working in the large and loosely defined area under threat, the effects are not just economic, but a significant cause of emotional concern that can dominate their lives.
Freelance journalist Jane Watson has lived with her husband and three children in Twineham for 13 years. She first heard of the Mayfields scheme when her neighbour contacted her and said £80,000 had been knocked off the sale value of her neighbour’s home when the buyer’s solicitor had identified the Mayfield’s project during a search.
Jane, who lives in a semi-isolated spot, surrounded by beautiful countryside with a bluebell wood sited at the end of her garden, said: “I looked on the Mayfields website and saw this great big grey blob over our house, which I then saw from the key is an enormous housing estate.”
Mr Williams is spearheading a rallying call for residents to rail against Mayfield’s actions which he says are blighting a huge area unnecessarily, and should not be legal.
“If they put in a proper planning application then you could say let’s fight it fairly, but there is no plan, because you don’t have three plans,” he said, referring to Mayfields’ three options put forward on its website.
The options, available to view at www.mayfieldtowns.co.uk, include one compact settlement dominating Twineham and Wineham, a second option more centred around Wineham with a subsidiary development greatly expanding Albourne to the west, and a third option spreading the housing over five distinct but large villages, each nearly the size of Henfield.
It is the nebulous nature of the proposals that Mr Williams states is causing such widespread worry among the local populace, with estate agent Gary Marples of Stevens, Henfield, adding that ‘the magnitude of it is just enormous’.
“If people actually realised the size of it,” said Mr Marples, “all the villages around would be horror-struck.
“It will have an impact on all the villages around,” he added, explaining how people were having to ‘put their lives on hold’.
“For those wanting to buy there is a nervousness that in five years time you won’t have what you bought.
“And from a vendor’s point of view it could seriously affect the value of your property.”
Mrs Watson spoke of friends who cannot sell their homes, and said no one will view properties in Twineham or Wineham now, a statement in part corroborated by Mr Marples who spoke of a ‘nervousness’ exhibited by potential buyers.
Mrs Watson said: “People have been afraid to fight the blight because they have been afraid they will blight it more.
“But it has now got to the stage where the blight is there and if people want to get rid of it we need to fight it.”
However, they are in for the long-haul, because Mayfield Market Towns estimates it will not be submitting a planning application until at least 2016 - leaving the threat of a new town to dominate the wellbeing of a vast swathe of countryside.
Mr Newlyn said: “We will eventually come forward with a planning application but in a sense we are doing it in the correct way by going through the Local Plan process.
“We have put in representations to both Mid Sussex and Horsham Local Plans, and we will do with Crawley too, and therefore we are pursuing it through the correct procedures.
“We are not jumping the gun as a lot of developers are doing, and putting in applications irrespective of the Local Plan.
“We are doing it through the proper approach,” he added.
With Mid Sussex having had its plan sent back to the drawing board by a Government Inspector before Christmas and Horsham’s strategy unlikey to be finalised before late 2015, Mr Newlyn said they would hope to submit a planning application in ‘early 2016’.
Such a timescale will be devastating for anyone looking to sell their property in the area, or those conducting certain types of business.
One business owner, whose business depends on the rural character of the area but asked to speak to the Mid Sussex Times in confidence, said: “It has affected my business and I am not happy with it.
“The last two or three enquiries have all expressed concern that with 10,000 houses being built it is not going to be a quiet retreat in the country.”
And yet, there is no certainty that 10,000 homes will ever be built, with local residents, parish councils, district councils and especially the area’s two MPs Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert all emphatically opposed to the scheme.
Mr Williams said the whole issue made him feel sick, and accused the developers ‘of blighting us without even knowing if it can ever happen’.
“I think it is absolutely disgusting that in an otherwise lawful society that this can be allowed to happen.
“They are ruining people’s lives. Old ladies cannot sleep at night – is that right?
“They don’t know what is going to happen - none of us know what’s going to happen.
“Is that fair to do that to people?” he questioned.
“This is just wrong in every way.”
However, Mr Newlyn, who has worked in planning for all of his career, took a more pragmatic approach and said the debate should centre around the prospect of least harm.
From his perspective, due to the economic activity of the South East, more housing will be needed, and catering for that demand with one significant scheme would be preferential to multiple add-ons to existing settlements.
“It is much better and there is less blight that takes place by locating it in one location rather than spreading it around a number of add-ons,” he said.
“Blight is caused wherever development is proposed – either by developers who have not yet put in planning applications or by the local authorities who have published draft proposals.
“All of those proposals for development can cause blight in some way,” he said.
Nevertheless, regardless of the cause, the fact is hundreds of people living between Sayers Common and Henfield now face years of planning blight until the fate of Mayfield Market Towns’ 10,0000 home scheme is determined.
Mr Newlyn invited anyone with concerns over blight to make contact with his company through its website - www.mayfieldtowns.co.uk - and pledged to discuss it with them in person.
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