LETTER: Escape clause for developers

Your letters
Your letters

It is highly regrettable that in your latest editorial (County Times Comment, 12 February) you appear to give comfort to the view that there is little opponents of the Horsham District Planning Framework (HDPF) can do to change the Plan before it is finally approved, even though – as noted in the letter from R. Baker in the same issue – the Planning Inspector has yet to rule on the soundness of many aspects of it.

You even go so far as to welcome what you call the ‘commitments’ given by Mr Blevins on behalf of Liberty (in the PR piece that you print in the same issue) in respect of the proposed North Horsham Strategic Development, the most questionable feature of the Plan.

However, it would be extremely naïve to assume that the warm words offered by Mr Blevins amount to a commitment to do anything to serve the needs and aspirations of the local community - rather than those of his own shareholders - especially as he does not give any numbers on the affordable homes for first-time buyers, young families and downsizing pensioners that he says Liberty intend to build in North Horsham.

For it is well known that under the highly permissive terms of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) developers can escape any supposed obligation they may have to provide a certain proportion of affordable housing – or to provide funding for infrastructure needed to support the development – if it turns out that this would render the project non-viable (i.e. reducing the projected rate of return to their shareholders to below the exorbitant 20 per cent they are permitted by government guidelines to allow for).

As has been shown in numerous examples from across the country, this escape clause has permitted developers to renege on their commitments to provide for affordable dwellings, leaving local communities helpless to prevent it and facing a still worse housing crisis.

Anyone reading your editorial could be forgiven for thinking you are endorsing Mr Blevins’ claim that ‘the inspector’s findings are an important step forward for Horsham District’ which ‘provide everyone with a stake in the district with the certainty of knowing that they need to gear up to deliver the council’s emerging vision’.

Rather than leaving such an impression, may I respectfully suggest you should be urging everyone to take part in the full public consultation on the revised HDPF which is due to last six weeks following its publication in March.

This would be in keeping with your admirable editorial of 22 January – How modern democracy works – in which you rightly deplore the role of the unelected Planning Inspector, strongly influenced by powerful commercial interests and the government that employs him, in determining ‘key decisions that will have a massive impact on the Horsham area’ with scant regard for the concerns of the local community.

HARRY SHUTT

Allingham Gardens, Horsham