Final decision on location of 2,000 additional new homes due in March

Development off Millfield in Southwater in 2012 near where 193 new homes are proposed off Mill Straight.
Development off Millfield in Southwater in 2012 near where 193 new homes are proposed off Mill Straight.

An extra 2,000 homes for the Horsham district could be identified by early March with another round of consultation held on changes to the council’s local plan before the May elections.

The planning inspector’s initial report into Horsham District Council’s planning framework, released in December after examination hearings in November, told the authority to up its housing target from 650 to at least 750 homes a year, equating to an increase of 2,000 over the plan period.

Planners will start looking at allocations within existing planned developments to ‘reassess the capacity of these sites’, and will then look at what shortfall is left and where, within the criteria laid down by the inspector, it can find further site allocations.

The current plan has 2,500 homes north of Horsham, around 500 west of Southwater, while planning permission was granted for 475 homes east of Billingshurst in 2013.

Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), HDC’s cabinet member for living and working communities, explained that after accounting for recently approved homes, such as 160 at the former Novartis site, and others in the pipeline, they would only need to identify around half of the 2,000 homes.

“I am confident, that given the number of applications that are already agreed and in the pipleine, we can address a significant proportion of this higher number required by the inspector with minimum further impact,” she said.

HDC said they would not be allocating any more land for development at North Horsham, in line with the inspector’s report, but they could increase the density by up to ten per cent, a leeway of no more than 200 homes.

But they have already been discussing the possibility of 300 extra units at Southwater, while in Billingshurst they would be looking at how they could use additional development to finance improvements to the village centre and around the railway in consultation with interested parties.

At Southwater Berkeley Homes currently have an application pending for land west of Worthing Road for around 600 homes, while a planning application was submitted late last year for 193 homes at Hogs Wood field west of Mill Straight.

The inspector’s report reads: “I consider the overall strategy to concentrate growth in the main settlements in the hierarchy, starting with Horsham as a first order centre, followed by Southwater and Billingshurst, to be sound.”

He added: “The alternative strategy of greater dispersal to smaller settlements would be likely to lead to a less sustainable pattern of development.”

‘speaking to communities’

Speaking to the County Times on Tuesday Mrs Vickers said: “I’m pleased our strategy in principle has been approved by the inspector.

“I’m really pleased by that part, I’m disappointed the numbers have had to go up but I’m pleased our strategy has been found sound.

“To say the whole plan is unsound is disingenuous. I think he [the inspector] has made it very clear he supports where we are going.”

They hope to bring a report on where the new homes will go to Full Council on March 18, and if approved, hold a six-week consultation period on the amendments to the strategy between March 23 and May 5. They then expect the inspector to resume the examination in early summer.

Planners would be speaking to local members and parish councils in the affected areas over the coming weeks.

However Mrs Vickers ruled out holding her Planning Policy Advisory Group meetings in public.

Before she became cabinet member in 2013 Strategic Planning Advisory Group meetings were held in public, but these were cancelled and the new advisory group was held in secret.

Mrs Vickers explained: “I have no regrets about having planning policy advisory groups in private. All advisory groups of cabinet members are held in private. They do not make decisions, they are a sounding board for members.”

HDC has seen a number of refused applications allowed on appeal due to a lack of an up to date plan, and Barbara Childs, HDC’s head of strategic planning and sustainability, said the inspector’s report would mean their planning policies would ‘have significant weight’.

‘none of us want north

horsham’

While the inspector’s report might have given the green light to development north of the A264, this week Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury) said: “None of us want this development north of Horsham. People think we want it [but] we are being forced into the housing allocations in the district plan.”

Speaking at a HDC Scrutiny and Overview Committee meting on Monday Mr Circus alluded to George Orwell’s 1984 where words have their opposite meaning, and said they were told they had localism, but that it actually amounted to centralism.

Brian O’Connell (Con, Henfield) said that they were close to achieving localism where planning would be governed by the parishes and their plans. However he recommended they write a letter calling for a reduction in the time taken for a planning permission to lapse from three years to either 12 or 18 months.

This measure would be aimed at stopping developers sitting on granted planning permissions.

Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar) contrasted the political response of councils to the previous South East Plan, with the ‘relative quiet in relation to the way we have arrived where we are’.

However Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) said: “Nick Herbert, [MP for Arundel and South Downs] has taken this up very severely. He has been really pushing for some major changes.”