A few days ago the council received a letter from the inspector who has been examining our 20-year plan for homes and jobs. There is no requirement for an inspector to send an interim letter to a council and it is far from normal to do such a thing so quickly.
Whether we like the system or not, such a plan is a government requirement and such an early indication of his views is very helpful. Only once it is passed will we have certainty over future house building in the district for the foreseeable future.
The inspector finds the plan sound in virtually every respect except that he disagrees about the number of houses to be built. We have throughout attempted to minimise this number while remaining realistic and so we were not greatly surprised when he said it was not high enough. Are we happy that he wants this number of houses? No, but given that we cannot move on until a plan is agreed by this inspector, we have to look at this.
Further work is now underway to show how the numbers can be further increased without fundamental changes to the plan - since the inspector is basically happy with it. He specifically supports the project to build in North Horsham and for 500 homes in Southwater. He also supports our major thrust in asking our parish and neighbourhood councils to produce their own local plans showing where they think new housing could be built.
The fact is that many councils have had their plan entirely thrown out or their public hearing has been halted after just a couple of days. All our inspector has done is to postpone approval while we work on the numbers. Meanwhile, as we have always said, we must do our best to ensure that we extract maximum benefits for the community out of the plans the inspector has approved.
There have been some frankly rather unhelpful comments that because the inspector asked us to look again at just one aspect, it is somehow a flawed plan. The inspector has clearly indicated it is close to being approved. Other comments have suggested that there was some alternative plan that we missed out on that would have been better, but have not actually offered anything that hasn’t been already presented at the hearing.
The inspector gave large amounts of time listening to all sorts of alternative ideas about housing and, as can be seen from his letter, he has rejected them all. Anyone who would like to make their own independent judgement of exactly what the inspector said can see the whole letter at http://www.horsham.gov.uk/latest-news/news/december-2014/horsham-district-planning-framework-update
This plan has been the topic that has created most public attention this year, yet a lot more has been happening. We have continued our plan to do away with bureaucracy in delivering council services - our transformation programme. Anyone coming into the council offices, who has been before, will notice the difference immediately in the way we interact with them. The same programme has been applied to our telephone answering and the activity on our website.
A big building block in this transformation process has been the council’s decision to enter into discussions with the county council to share the building down the road from our existing offices in Horsham. At the moment we plan this ‘big move’ for June next year.
The late summer saw us launch our new ticketless parking system ‘Smartpark’, making it easier for visitors to enjoy Horsham’s vibrant street scene without having to watch the clock.
Coming up in the New Year we have the Gatwick second runway debate and the opening of the new John Lewis store at the ‘west end’ of Horsham, a district council election and without doubt, much we don’t know about yet. But whatever the challenges, it remains for me to wish everyone a very happy and healthy 2015.