LETTER: Development and politics are linked

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I write to give my overwhelming support to the campaign and Charter for Free Speech for councillors. However, it is vitally importantly to remind all readers that this is not just about the freedom for councillors to represent the views of their constituents without punishment; it is about exposing all of the factors surrounding the emergence of North Horsham as the Draft Preferred Strategy within the Horsham District Planning Framework; a strategy which has been decided upon and driven through by an ‘Elite Group’ of Tory councillors.

Two completely viable and highly sustainable alternative plans have been put forward to the council – the Frances Haigh (Lib Dem) Alternative Strategy and the North Horsham Parish Council Alternative Strategy.

Both of these strategies have been completely dismissed by Claire Vickers, without even a discussion in full council – I quote from a letter by Claire Vickers in the WSCT letters on 20th February – in which the following extract appears ‘trying to spread the required number of new homes across the district as described in the alternative strategies would be greatly limited by a number of factors including environmental impact, infrastructure constraints and delivery of appropriate infrastructure’.

This is just COMPLETELY unacceptable - when the ‘Preferred Strategy’ dumps 2,500 homes, a business park, retail superstore, (alleged) Parkway railway station, a crematorium and a secondary school, all in one place, and decimates our greenfields.

The North Horsham Development Plan went through the consultation period without environment impact and infrastructure assessments, or economical development evidence to substantiate it.

Only now, are they grappling to build some evidence to support the Preferred Strategy, using consultants linked to the developer – Liberty Properties – all very convenient.

It is abundantly clear, without the need for consultants’ reports to disprove it, that the environmental and infrastructure impact of this North Horsham Development Plan is catastrophic, and there is no economic case for the business park – however, the ‘Elite Group of councillors’ are simply changing the rules and trying to manufacture the evidence, to get their desired outcome!

Councillor David Skipp, Lib Dem, recently called for an independent inquiry and that is exactly what is required.

In the five weeks left before the council vote on 30th April, need a big public awareness campaign for the ‘Alternative Strategies’, in the form of feature articles and letters in this publication and leaflet drops by local councillors. These alternatives strategies address the needs of the whole District by: 1) Distributing housing throughout the Horsham District across a number of key sites, both to meet housing numbers required and to meet local needs, and also minimising the impact on environment and infrastructure; 2) Utilising brownfields sites for affordable housing and business space, including some regeneration of the Parsonage Road area, and with the availability of sites like Novartis which were not known at the time of the consultation; and 3) recognising that economic growth will come from retail and leisure (such as the proposed Broadbridge Heath Quadrant development) and from SME business that can flourish in smaller, affordable business facilities; and not on a large scale business park.

Most importantly, these alternative strategies can be easily scaled up or down, should government housing targets be reduced in the future.

Additionally, they can better address the development and employment needs in the context of the Gatwick Diamond when the outcome of the proposed second runway at Gatwick is known, with Ifield becoming an important key strategic site.

It would also be possible to include the ‘Extension to Kilnwood Vale’ option within such an alternative plan – this was one of the main options included in the Interim Sustainability Report – and was in fact quoted by councillor Jim Rae to be his preferred option!

Why is the investment in consultants not being placed to bring these alternative plans (individually or blended) forward as viable, sustainable options– and allow the forthcoming consultation to determine the real ‘preferred option’?

It is time to bring this continued disgraceful secretive behaviour of the district council ‘Elite Group’ to an end and allow the views of their fellow councillors, Christian Mitchell, Peter Burgess, Liz Kitchen, Andrew Baldwin, Frances Haigh and the Lib Dems, and others who are all opposed to the North Horsham Preferred Strategy, to be heard. Those councillors that have kept quiet to ‘toe the party line’ must now represent the views of their constituents, without fear, and voice their opposition.

This is the most important decision that will be made for Horsham District – so come on councillors of all parties, sign up to the Charter and start demonstrating the values and integrity that you have all been put in office to fulfil.

Now is the time to speak out in opposition to the North Horsham Preferred Strategy and get these Alternative Strategies on the table for vote; before it is too late and Horsham District is irreversibly destroyed forever.

G. CONSTABLE

The Castle, Horsham