Hassocks residents living close to Stonepound Crossroads staged a protest on Tuesday to vent their anger against what they see as needless pollution caused by the pressure for housing.
Their anger spilled onto the streets after Mid Sussex District Council put together an ‘Air Quality Action Plan’ for the crossroads to try to bring down unacceptable levels of nitrogen dioxide from vehicle emissions.
The plan has a number of suggestions, including adjusting the traffic light sequencing to improve traffic flows; signage on the A23 to advise drivers of heavy goods vehicles to use alternative routes, and putting up “Cut engine, Cut Pollution” signs at the crossroads.
But angry residents say these ‘solutions’ miss the point. Traffic queues are building at the crossroads because of the unending pressure for more housing on a creaking infrastructure that cannot cope.
On July 11, Mid Sussex District Council approved a plan for 81 new homes in the strategic gap between Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint off 31 College Lane.
What is left of the gap, a mere 600 metres, lies behind homes off London Road, Hassocks - the main arterial route to Burgess Hill, leading from the crossroads.
London Road resident Ian Credland and his neighbours fear that Hurstpierpoint and Hassocks could coalesce and lose their identities, with traffic jams and further pollution eroding family life.
Their fears were heightened last month, when several residents spotted men with what appeared to be surveying equipment in the field behind their homes.
Ian Credland said: “The strategic gap is a beautiful green space intersected with numerous public footpaths and bridleways, and there are long ranging downland views, ancient woodlands with rare and varied flora and fauna.”
London Road neighbour Ian Tovey added: “I hope more residents will start becoming aware of the potential nightmare that awaits us - the potential merging of villages, the road infrastructure being inadequate to cope with, but most of all the health of both ourselves and our children.
“I and many others, including school children, would like to be able to use our cycles more to get to school or visit the village but the amount of traffic is making it too dangerous.”
Ian Tovey’s daughter, Megan, suffered from acute bronchial problems for two years from birth and still needs an asthma inhaler.
Ian said: “I have studied the World Health Organisation report on air pollution, and nitrogen dioxide levels can have an effect on allergic reactions. The study concludes that the most susceptible are younger children and older persons.”
Mid Sussex District Councillor for Hassocks, Peter Martin, said: “I do not anticipate any further development in the gap between Hurstpierpoint and Hassocks. The College Lane development is filling in a corner. We would jealously guard what remains of the gap. There are other areas of Hassocks that are far less contentious.”
One area, which councillor Martin describes as “ripe for development”, is the old station goods yard off Keymer Road, Hassocks.
Although it is a brownfield site, he acknowledges that it does present potential access and congestion problems because it is less than a quarter of a mile from Stonepound.
The district council has a housing target of 10,600 new homes over the next 20 years - equating to 530 new homes per year.
The draft district plan, drawn up in the context of the Localism Act, envisages 4,000 new homes will be built in the northern and eastern parts of Burgess Hill, taking some of the pressure off the rest of Mid Sussex.
However, speculative developers have been criticised for trying to push through applications on sensitive greenfield sites before the district council can demonstrate a five year land supply through its vital plan that is yet to be ratified and set in stone.
The council submitted the draft district plan to the Secretary of State last Wednesday. It will be subject to an independent examination conducted by the Planning Inspectorate and, once approved, it will be the main planning document used by the council when considering planning applications.
While residents all over Mid Sussex wait for the district plan to be approved, they are raising their heads above the parapet to fight speculative developers, who are taking advantage of the planning vacuum.
Councillor Martin said: “There are certain malign influences - mostly started by Lord Prescott who first imposed massive housing numbers on the south east.
“Subsequent ministers have not been too swift at sorting the matter out and we hope our own local plan will put the matter to bed.”
The district plan envisages 3,500 new homes being built on the north-western edge of Burgess Hill along part of the A2300.
However, the demand for housing, particularly homes that are affordable, will continue to put pressure on a creaking, transport infrastructure in a district where there is not even a direct cycle link between Burgess Hill and near neighbour, Haywards Heath.
The polluted crossroads at Stonepound is the district’s first Air Quality Control Zone. How many more will follow?
* The district council has put forward a number of suggestions for controlling pollution at Stonepound. You can comment on the suggestions and read more at: www.midsussex.gov.uk/air quality.
The council is keen to hear your views on a range of options to lower emissions, including signs telling motorists to switch off their engines. You can provide feedback on-line at www.midsussex.gov.uk/airquality.
The deadline for feedback is August 5.