Eric Pickles to decide 550 home development plans for village

Eric Pickles cuts the turf for the new research park for Haverhill.

Eric Pickles cuts the turf for the new research park for Haverhill.

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An appeal for 550 homes east of Billingshurst will be decided by cabinet minster Eric Pickles himself in what may be a landmark planning ruling.

The application was rejected by Horsham District Council in July 2012, but campaigners say its decisions are under threat of being overturned because its 20-year housing plan has recently stalled.

The planning process has been thrown into confusion as the South East Plan is due to be abolished on March 25, with many local authorities still lacking a policy to replace it.

One Billingshurst campaigner said planning policy at HDC had descended into farce as the village faces losing an appeal for 44 houses in Daux Avenue, with further plans for 46 homes in Marringdean Road submitted in January.

David Mowling, chairman of Save Billingshurst Action Group, made the comments after a Strategic Planning Advisory Group Meeting last Wednesday March 6.

In a document seen by the County Times, the Department for Communities and Local Government said the Secretary of State Eric Pickles would only call in appeals if planning issues of more than local importance are involved.

The appeal document says that the inspector will prepare a report and recommendation which will be forwarded to Mr Pickles to have the final say.

Because HDC has yet to announce how many houses will be built in the district in the next 20 years, campaigners fear developers will continue to appeal rejected planning applications.

When the council turned down 102 Henfield homes last year, Welbeck Land successfully contested an identical application to the planning inspector, on the grounds of non-determination, much to the dismay of campaigners.

When Brian O’Connell (Con, Henfield) asked planning officers what the council’s defence was at appeals, the officer replied that they were taking legal advice at appeals, but she could not provide a specific answer.

During the meeting Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) confidently predicted that 10,000 new homes would be built north of Horsham, citing possible expansion of Gatwick Airport, but Ian Howard (Con, Southwater), chairman of SPAG, thought that number was slightly too high.

Roger Smith, of CPRE Horsham and Crawley, said it had been clearly demonstrated that housing targets set in the South East Plan were unachieveable. He called on HDC to approach and possibly challenge the Secretary of State and planning inspector to enable ‘localised planning’ as promised by Government.

Last week the National Trust predicted ‘warfare’ if councils were not given more time to implement planning reforms, while in an interview with The Times Planning Minister Nick Boles said: “You can’t over-romanticise the countryside but you can exaggerate the extent to which it has already been developed.”