Ray Dawe: Inspector is judge and jury over housing numbers

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‘On balance, I consider the overall strategy to concentrate growth in the main settlements in the hierarchy starting with Horsham... followed by Southwater and Billingshurst, to be sound. The proposal for some development in villages, in accordance with Neighbourhood Plans, is also justified’.

So says the government Inspector in a letter to the council following his examination of the 20-year plan for homes and jobs that the council must produce. However, the Inspector tells us we must plan for at least 750 homes a year, not for the 650 we had proposed. This is 2,000 more over the 20-year period of the plan. So where are these extra houses to come from? We can include about 1,000 for which permission has already been given. For the rest, we follow the ‘hierarchy’ described by the Inspector in the quote above.

However, he says about North Horsham: “...nothing has convinced me that the proposed allocation is not sound. In summary, the allocation offers the opportunity to provide housing, business development and social and community facilities at a sustainable location. The proposed development area below the wooded ridgeline to the north would not result in the loss of landscape of particularly high value... there would be sufficient distance between the new development and the western edge of Crawley for the separate identities of both towns to be retained.” We take this to mean, and we fully support, not developing any more land than already proposed. Nothing he has said prevents an application by the developer for a much greater density but the council’s view is that while we could add a couple of hundred or so smaller houses,that would be it. In Southwater, there is an existing plan for housing close to the centre, and again, without increasing the land taken up, we will discuss whether we could support increasing the density. A second site, currently a planning application at the Shipley end of the village, is also being looked at.

The other area the Inspector mentions is Billingshurst. Here we feel that any additional housing must go hand in glove with the emerging plans for improvements to the village centre and around the station, including better parking. Talks continue with the parish council, local district councillors and other parties to see how we can do this.

The Inspector also comments on Neighbourhood Development Plans. These provide the opportunity for communities to set out how they want to develop over the next ten years, in ways that meet identified local needs. Those communities that take a proactive approach by drawing up a Neighbourhood Plan and getting the consent of local people in a referendum, will then benefit from 25 per cent of the revenues from a levy paid by developers specifically for local infrastructure use. Parishes that don’t do a plan will only get 15 per cent of any such monies.

Neighbourhood Plans started in Horsham district well over a year ago and 20 parish councils have started them, giving us over 60 per cent coverage of the district. These are: Nuthurst, West Grinstead, Henfield, Upper Beeding, Storrington, Washington, Thakeham, West Chiltington, Pulborough, Shermanbury, Southwater, Woodmancote, Ashington, Warnham, Slinfold, Shipley, Steyning, Ashurst, Bramber and Wiston. We are also in discussion about the un-parished areas of Horsham town. Nuthurst, Henfield and Thakeham have already published draft plans and we expect Storrington/Washington’s joint draft plan next month. 2015 should see most of the other parishes reaching the point where their plans can be published too.

All in all, we are far from happy that the Inspector believes that we should find any extra houses but the reality is that he is the judge and jury in this matter. In addition, he has given us a timetable to get this all finalised by early summer, which means that we shall need to get council approval by March and we are working on this timetable.