Councillor Sheila Matthews (Ind, Henfield) spoke at the Horsham District Council meeting (December 11) about the 1,861 responses to the council’s consultation about new housing and industrial space. She inferred that such a response out of a district population of 131,000 meant that the remainder of Horsham residents are in favour of the councillor Dawe, Vickers, Croft, Rae plan.
Just where is the evidence to draw such a conclusion? Mrs Matthews conveniently forgets that in addition to the 1861 individual returns, the council received responses from its statutory consultees (the parish councils of North Horsham, Warnham and Rusper) representing nearly 27,000 residents of whom over 50 per cent would be adult voters.
Councillor John Chidlow (Con, Southwater) waxed lyrical about the ‘tremendous document’ prepared by officers summarising the results of the consultation, despite evidence sent to all councillors by residents identifying major flaws in its content.
Your readers will note that both these councillors represent wards in the south of the district. There is an unfortunate north v south conflict developing in this debate – and in the end the council leaders must assume responsibility for that.
These two councillors may well have convinced themselves that dumping most of the houses which may well be required by central Government, in North Horsham, will save them from having more than a few on their patch and save their seats.
Perhaps those councillors and their electorate in southern wards who think they are safe should take a minute to stand back and consider what might happen in 2014.
Let’s assume in May, with the Tory group whipped to fall into line and support ‘yes’ (beware - abstentions are not ‘no’) the council approves essentially the same ‘politically’ driven strategy by the councillor Dawe, Vickers, Rae and Croft team supported by councillors Matthews and Chidlow.
Councillor Vickers said there should be only ‘minimal comments’ on future consultation before the ‘Proposed Strategy’ goes to the planning inspector.
Maybe there will be few responses anyway to the next consultation because electors feel they already gave their responses to the ‘Preferred Strategy’ and little has changed. Maybe electors will be fed up with the sham process. Councillor Matthews may claim 100 per cent public support.
There will be a public inquiry. It is possible from what has happened to other councils that the inspector will reject the Plan. It could be that annual house building numbers are too low, impact assessments (such as traffic and flood risks) don’t support what is proposed or more likely ‘the council has failed in its duty to co-operate’ with neighbouring councils. We know that Mid Sussex had its plan rejected for this reason.
So where does all this lead us? Rejection of the Horsham strategy by the inspector with no agreed Local Plan, will mean a continuing free-for-all for developers who even if a council refuses planning permission can get the inspector to over-rule.
Look what has recently happened in Henfield where the inspector over-ruled the council and allowed a development for 160 houses to go ahead.
If we look at the likely numbers of houses that will be required in the Horsham-Crawley-Mid Sussex (north) geographical area it may well be far more than councillors are currently admitting. It seems unlikely that the 500 maximum allegedly promised to Southwater will be sustainable.
Councillors individually have a legal duty to ensure that a plan they vote for is ‘sound’ – that means sound in all aspects of planning law.
If this politically driven, inept plan is rejected by the inspector, what will that do for the respect in which the council and councillors are held by voters?
Blaming the inspector will not be accepted by voters. The council will have to go back to the drawing board and in the meantime builders will get planning permission from the inspector no matter what Horsham District Council planning committee says.
The time to get this right is now as Sheila White called for in her excellent contribution to council. We need imaginative leadership in the council to create alternatives - plural - as other Districts have done.
We need options that realistically share the pain across the whole district, provide the sort of houses the district really needs in the right places, makes maximum use of brown field sites and takes full advantage of the huge available space for industrial/commercial development.
If electors could see that what is being proposed is a necessary but fair compromise - honesty with the electorate, bringing together those that want to make a contribution - it might provide the respect councillors are seeking and produce a plan most can support.
Dr GEOFFREY RICHARDSON
Tennyson Close, Horsham