A heated live Facebook chat with the council’s cabinet member responsible for housing was dominated by plans for 2,500 homes north of Horsham.
Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), Horsham District Council’s cabinet member for living and working communities, was answering questions on the authority’s draft preferred housing strategy tonight (Tuesday October 8).
The document is currently out for public consultation due to end this Friday.
Last week the leader of the council Ray Dawe called for ‘objective and reasoned’ debate on the future of housing in the district over the next 20 years, but some claimed that proposals for land north of the A264 would ‘split the town in two’.
During the chat Mrs Vickers said that Network Rail had confirmed it ‘likely’ that they could build either a new parkway railway station within the North Horsham development or one at the new Kilnwood Vale project west of Bewbush.
John Steele, of the Horsham Society, said: “Network Rail have said that even if a station were built at North Horsham trains would not stop at both Littlehaven and North Horsham. Ergo Littlehaven would be downgraded.
“So if you have approved the plan for Bewbush station how can you dangle the same carrot for North Horsham. Which community are you lying to?”
Asked to list some positives Mrs Vickers said: “Thank you for your question, here are some of the positives you’ve asked for:
“Economic Growth: Providing jobs close to where people live.
“Meeting local housing need, including affordable housing, self build and the provision of smaller market homes.
“Countryside: Opening up parts the countryside which has not been accessible to the public previously for leisure and recreation.
“Improved public transport links to Horsham and beyond, with potential for a new parkway station to link to the capital.
“New schools, medical centre and other community facilities as required.
“Environmental improvements including policies to promote decentralised energy and address the impacts of climate change.”
However many questioned the need for a business park, and flagged up concerns over whether infrastructure could cope with the added housing.
Kerry Hampson thought that more should be done to stimulate small businesses, asked whether large companies relocating would bring their key staff with them, and could not see how arterial routes like Rusper Road would not be impacted.
Mrs Vickers answered: “Horsham district has a shortfall of both office and industrial floorspace and the floorspace which is available, is often dated and below the standard required to meet modern business needs.
“Because of this, smaller businesses who wish to expand, are often forced to re-locate to adjoining areas as they have limited premises in which to grow. This is bad for the local economy as not only does it lead to unemployment, but also these workers are spending money elsewhere.
“The provision of a new high quality business park will create sufficient employment space to enable churn within the market, which will in turn allow smaller businesses to expand and grow. The council are very aware that the district has a higher than average proportion of Small to Medium Enterprises and it is working hard to ensure these companies have premises to match their growing business needs.”
Andrew Campbell replied: “Splitting the town in two and putting more traffic on an already busy road will improve nothing.”
The success of the public consultation, which ends on Friday October 11, was also debated, and many continued to question whether the majority of residents had been meaningfully engaged.
Sheila White said: “In my opinion this whole ‘consultation’ process is flawed because so many local residents remain ignorant of what’s afoot.
“Many people do not have access to a computer (especially the older generation) and not everyone reads the West Sussex County Times (unfortunately). This development has not been given the wider publicity it should have received. It’s a massive change proposed for the existing residents of Horsham. It’s obviously one which is not welcomed by the majority of people who are commenting on the proposal.”
Mrs Vickers said: “As I’ve said before, no final decisions have been reached at this stage. This is a consultation process.”
But Chris Huddleston responded: “Unfortunately though, Cllr Vickers, everything you have said and done is clearly in favour of this proposal.
“I have not seen, in any of your comments here or anywhere else any suggestion of compromise, acceptance of change or inclination to consider other ideas. Despite the overwhelming concern from all the residents that I have seen comment on the strategy.”
Meanwhile Deborah Hammond drew Mrs Vickers attention to a report from Kings Hill Parish Council, within a major development in Kent master-planned by Liberty Property Trust, the company behind plans for North Horsham.
The executive summary questioned a separate report from 2010 which called Kings Hill ‘the country’s most successful new village’ and claimed there were ‘significant failings’ in the new development.
Mrs Vickers said she had not read the report and would get back to Ms Hammond once she had done so.
Ms Hammond responded: “I think residents would like to see your immediate reaction to its contents, pasted in this thread?”
She added: “I fail to see why you can’t answer my questions as this is a LIVE FACEBOOK CHAT? Isn’t that the point of it?”
For a full roundup on proposals for North Horsham including a statement from Liberty, the developer behind plans for North Horsham, see this Thursday’s County Times.