LETTER: Minister’s claim is nonsense

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The Planning Inspector, Mr G. Salter, has decided that a minimum of 750 new houses pa should be built in Horsham District in the period 2011-2031, amounting to at least 15,000 in total (WSCT 25Dec14).

Considerably in excess of the council’s objective assessment of the District’s need for new houses, which would have required a build rate of 650 new houses pa (13,000 in total), the huge target imposed by the Inspector will require the additional greenfield sites, eagerly put forward by developers in November for the Inspector to consider – and decide.

To justify the imposed target, the Inspector has used as his starting point the household projection for the District of 696 houses pa provided by the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) – notwithstanding that another Planning Inspector in deciding an Appeal in June cautioned that the weight given to CLG projections ‘should take account of the fact that they have not been tested or moderated against relevant constraints’.

Having accepted the CLG projection for Horsham District as if it were an immutable truth, Mr Salter has increased it to take into account employment growth forecasts, which he acknowledged should be treated with caution, and the ‘unmet’ housing needs of other councils. Since he does not explain how he has arrived at a number for the latter, one must conclude that the allocation is arbitrary.

Disturbingly, too, Mr Salter makes no allowance for economic and market uncertainty because as he explained in November, the Government’s planning policies do not permit him to do so – even though, as was demonstrated during the recent recession, developers will not build more houses than can be sold at an acceptable-to-them profit and will reduce build rates to maintain profit margins, irrespective of set targets.

Even though the target imposed by the Inspector is dependent on untested and questionable presumptions and assumptions it will be the council, not developers, who will be held accountable by the Planning Inspectorate should it not be achieved and communities will be vulnerable to developer-imposed development at Appeal, as they are now.

All of this makes nonsense of the misleading claim by the Housing and Planning Minister, Brendon Lewis MP, that the Government has ‘shifted power from Whitehall and the town hall to local people’ (The Sunday Times, 16 Nov 14).

Power on planning matters rests with the Planning Inspectorate and its political masters.

Dr R.F. SMITH

For the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) Sussex-Horsham District, Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield