LETTER: ‘Alternatives’ are unworkable

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A letter from Mr Brian Johnson in last week’s paper made the statement that ‘Alternatives are now on the table’, I would like to clarify a number of points he has raised.

He is referring to the council’s plans for homes and jobs that the government requires Horsham District Council to produce. We have been working on this ‘District Planning Framework’ since 2009 and went out to public consultation on it last summer.

Now, some months after the end of the consultation period, two alternative strategies have appeared. One is from North Horsham Parish Council and the other is produced by a group of Liberal Democrat councillors and this has caused some confusion.

The one from the Liberal Democrat members was sent to all parish councils. As a result a number of clerks and chairmen were under the mistaken impression that this was an additional council-produced planning strategy. My job has since been to clarify the position.

The journey towards the Horsham District Planning Framework started in July 2009. Nine alternative sites were researched, debated, consulted upon and visited by district councillors in the process and this resulted in a ‘Preferred Strategy’ published last summer.

The reasons for some large sites being considered more suitable than others are fully set out in a Sustainability Appraisal also published by the council for comment last summer. All evidence that led us to this ‘Preferred Strategy’ has been shared with councillors and the public in the preparation of the plan.

For those readers interested, the comparative suitability of all the strategic sites considered is available to everyone on the council’s website http://www.horsham.gov.uk/environment/planning_policy/14379.aspx and a more detailed comparison can be found in the Sustainability Appraisal http://www.horsham.gov.uk/environment/planning_policy/14479.aspx.

We have looked carefully at both of the ‘alternative strategies’ that have come forward. Any plan put forward must meet the criteria laid down by the Government under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Neither of these ‘alternatives’ conforms to government rules as set out in the NPPF.

They fail in many areas but above all they do not proactively drive and support sufficient job creation and economic growth, which is a core principle required by the government (see the NPPF paragraph 17). A second major point is that trying to spread the required number of new homes across the District as described in the alternative strategies would be greatly limited by a large number of factors including environmental impact, infrastructure constraints and delivery of appropriate infrastructure.

Overall, a lack of supporting evidence and proper appraisal of sites makes these ‘alternatives’ unworkable and they would be rejected by a planning inspector.

Finally I have to say that as councillors we often have to make tough decisions. We must find the best solution for the whole District in order to meet the very particular requirements laid before us.

Bringing forward ideas that will not work, as they do not fulfil the necessary requirements, helps no one. If we don’t put forward an acceptable plan which is backed by strong evidence, which is sustainable and deliverable, it will be rejected.

The effect of that would be developer-led expansion within our District. We, as councillors, would have very little influence. We would be unable to ensure that we obtain, on behalf of the District as a whole, considerable benefits to our community.

The pressures on us to build houses are not going to go away, in fact they have the potential to become far more severe the longer we delay, understandably a scenario which we must not allow to happen.

CLAIRE VICKERS

(Con, Southwater) Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Living and Working Communities, Horsham District Council, North Street, Horsham