Last week Horsham District Council decided at the end of a prolonged meeting to adopt its Local Plan. It includes significant amounts of new housing in various locations, most of them controversial; the largest being to the north of Horsham itself.
A number of residents have asked why I didn’t vocally oppose these plans. After all, they say, you have a view on the plans for a second runway at Gatwick. You campaigned vigorously over a long period for a new acute hospital for the Horsham and Crawley area. You’re quite happy to raise concerns with the local councils over various issues. So why not join the campaign against these housing developments?
Here are some answers. I know they won’t satisfy everybody, but they’re what I believe so I’ll just go ahead and set them out.
First, the council has to make provision through its plan to ensure that there’s enough housing to meet local need. There’s nothing new about that: it’s been the case pretty much since Town and Country Planning began. It’s invidious for the local MP to argue against development in one area if he or she is not prepared to say where it should go instead.
Second, I will say if I think there is insufficient infrastructure to support the new developments proposed. That has been the basis for my 15-year campaign for a new hospital. We got agonisingly close; and I continue to believe that if local doctors said a new acute hospital was needed to meet the requirements of their patients it could still be made to happen. And readers with long memories will recall that a decade ago I introduced a Private Member’s Bill into the Commons which would have required an audit of infrastructure before large-scale housing developments could be agreed.
Third, I genuinely believe that decisions on the allocations of new housing are for the local council, informed by serious engagement with local neighbourhoods. The debate at Horsham seems to have been exhaustive (probably exhausting as well), with local members completely properly representing the views of local residents. I understand the voting was not whipped, although I don’t think there’s anything at all improper in our system in a whipped vote. This is a good example of localism in action.
Finally, there is a point to make about how decisions get made in our system, both in local government and national government. Unless there is a directly elected mayor, the executive leadership in local councils is drawn exclusively from the ranks of elected councillors. This is the same in national government, where all ministers are drawn from among Parliamentarians. There are pros and cons in this system, which I will explore next week.