Group ‘devastated’ as 475 homes approved

Members of Billingshurst Parish Council who objected to the scheme.
Members of Billingshurst Parish Council who objected to the scheme.

A campaign group has said it is ‘devastated’ by the council’s decision to grant planning permission for 475 houses east of Billingshurst.

Horsham District Council’s planning committee gave the green light for the scheme at a meeting on Tuesday, with members admitting they had little choice given central government’s planning policies.

JPCT-15-09-11 SC11380252a Billingshurst countryside, fields to the east of houses, from along public footpath found opposite Catholic church, eastwards off A272  -photo by steve cobb

JPCT-15-09-11 SC11380252a Billingshurst countryside, fields to the east of houses, from along public footpath found opposite Catholic church, eastwards off A272 -photo by steve cobb

David Mowling, chairman of Save Billingshurst Action Group, said he was ‘devastated’ by the decision.

He said: “I’m very disappointed with Horsham District Council and the vote and I think it will be a big problem for Billingshurst.”

He thought the blame lay squarely with the council. He said it had not produced a workable draft plan in a timely manner and made a mockery of its current strategy which was published for public consultation last Friday.

While local members Adam Breacher, Gordon Lindsay and Kate Rowbottom (Con, Billingshurst) outlined the reasons they did not agree with the proposals, they and others felt that they had no chance of defending the application if developers appealed the decision.

A consortium consisting of Bellway, Rydon, Devine and Reside submitted an application for 550 homes on the same site, but it was rejected by the council in July 2012. The appeal was due to be heard in October.

Therefore members felt it was better to approve the application so they had control over the development and community funding, including an extra £1.72m provided by developers in lieu of a five per cent reduction in affordable housing. Mr Lindsay explained: “Although I do not support this application it would be foolish to refuse it.

“In the current circumstances agreeing the application is the least bad decision.”

Mrs Rowbottom added: “We will try and make this development as painless as possible and negotiate as many benefits for the village as we can.”

A new spine road, a junction with the A272, open spaces, and land for new primary school are all proposed.

Martin Spurrier, of Billingshurst Chamber of Commerce, said he did not want to see houses replace greenfields, but funding was needed to ‘rejuvenate’ the village.

He explained: “If we want to save Billingshurst we have to bite the bullet, and be pragmatic and imaginative.

“Thus the chamber supports this development because of the money it will make available for the community and, thus, because it is in the long-term interest of our village of Billingshurst.”

Beverley Bell, clerk of Billingshurst Parish Council, said it still vehemently objected to plans and nothing had changed since the last application was rejected in 2012.

She explained: “It is not supported by the community, the landscape and heritage character are still highly sensitive to change and the infrastructure has not miraculously improved, far from it, judging by the raw sewage running down Billingshurst High Street two weeks ago.”

Roger Smith, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Sussex branch, said the application was ‘without merit’, and later questioned whether the decision made a mockery of public consultation currently underway on the draft housing plan.

“This craven and unprecedented capitulation to developers has huge implications for communities and countryside across Horsham district,” he added. “This has been a shameful day for planning in Horsham district.”

Comment: page 32