LETTER: Confused thinking by HDC planners

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The revelation, noted in your issue of July 31, that two of Horsham’s biggest retail operators – John Lewis and Aviva – have objected to HDC’s plans for the Broadbridge Heath Quadrant as set out in the Horsham District Planning Framework (HDPF) raises yet more concerns about the council’s competence and consistency in exercising its planning function. As pointed out in John Lewis’ objection, the proposal to provide for substantial new retail space at the Quadrant appears to conflict directly with the National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF)insistence on the need to preserve and enhance the vitality of town centres.

It could have added that it also evidently conflicts with the council’s own ‘Town Centres First’ strategy, mentioned frequently in the HDPF. In this context John Lewis and Aviva could also have pointed out – as other objectors have – that this strategy is also undermined by the proposal to establish a new food superstore as part of the proposed North Horsham Strategic Development (NHSD).

If this display of confused thinking on the part of HDC planners were not alarming enough, recent developments in the retail market at national level show them once again to be seriously behind the curve in tracking economic trends.

For, as recently reported in the Financial Times and other national newspapers, large supermarkets are increasingly going out of style in favour of convenience stores, internet shopping etc, with the result that Tesco and other large multiples are sharply cutting back their expansion plans and are instead seeking to convert much of the land they have acquired for new stores to other uses such as housing.

Yet HDC seems blissfully unaware of such market realities, just as they are in proposing a large new business park on the NHSD site in defiance of all the evidence from their own consultants that there is no market for it. Hence if the HDPF were to be implemented in its present form we could expect the worst of all worlds, combining a blighted town centre with loss-making new retail and business space on the outskirts.

It is of course quite plausible to suppose that Liberty – the developers behind NHSD – are no more committed to the supermarket than they probably are to the business park, reckoning that the highly permissive NPPF will allow them to reallocate the space for more housing if ever that suits them. Whether or not that is so the Planning Inspector can surely have no choice - on these grounds alone - but to send this ill-thought-out and disreputable Plan back for a total rethink.

HARRY SHUTT

Allingham Gardens, Horsham