When I read in the New Year’s Day edition of the County Times the headline that ‘All sites are now back on the table’ I heaved a weary sigh and read on. Happy New Year? Didn’t last long, did it?
From what the gang of five wrote, I gained the impression that our district council must be completely incompetent and couldn’t plan its way out of a wet paper bag.
If so, however, it did seem odd that the Inspector followed the full advertised inspection agenda and didn’t chuck out the plan on Day 1, as has happened at inspections up and down the country.
What had he really said? What are the gang of five getting at? Why are all sites ‘back on the table’? I decided to download the inspector’s findings from the HDC website and make up my own mind.
Shoot me down in flames but I couldn’t find the word ‘trash’ anywhere in the Inspector’s initial findings. The truth is, all Inspectors have probably had the nod from Government to try to squeeze another ten per cent out of local authorities in the hope of rescuing their failed housing and immigration policies (I don’t know why it’s always ten per cent. Maybe it’s the first figure that flits through the space where a politician’s brain ought to be).
What I found myself thinking was this: If this was a school report, I reckon the Inspector was giving HDC 6 out of 10 when many other councils are somewhere on the road between 1 and 2. That seems like a good effort from HDC.
So why are we encouraged by the gang of five to think that a hypothetical newly-elected council will do better? What’s the idea? Throw the whole plan into the air and hope that all the houses (including the extra 2,000) come down somewhere far better as long as it isn’t North Horsham?
It seems to me that you’ve got your answer when you see which parishes the gang of five represent.
But hold on. It isn’t nice to go into an Examination In Public having spent money on barristers and consultants, and still lose. These district councillors are bound to want to fight to have zero housing in North Horsham and push all those Gatwick commuters farther away from their workplace and stick them all in Southwater and Billingshurst.
I understand that. I understand there’s political mileage and potential careers involved here, to the detriment of logical thinking. But it took me a little while to work out why they say everything should end up back on the table; the article certainly didn’t make it clear.
We have a general election coming up, don’t we? When there is a general election we normally also have the opportunity to re-elect or kick out some of our local councillors.
So clearly, in parishes threatened by the bulldozers, the issue on every doorstep is going to be ‘SAY NO TO THE DEVELOPERS’ – a fertile vote-winning strategy for the party that can capitalise on that message. But (for whatever reason) the Government won’t let us say ‘no’ to the developers.
I am left with this vision of the officers of HDC working to bump their 60 per cent credit up to a pass with distinction while a fresh load of elected officials with an ‘anywhere-but-here’ mentality squabble over where to put the influx.
Only they won’t be Conservative councillors any more. They’ll be single-issue upstarts and fringe party activists. And if this results in a pretty good plan where the numbers were a bit wrong becoming a dreadfully unsound plan, but with the right numbers, what do you suppose the Inspector will do?
He’ll throw it out. That’s what. And then the developers will have it all their own way. No plan? Easy. Some soul-less Government minister will sign off every half-baked development plan that’s put in front of him.
So I would like to say this to the gang of five and others: ‘Divided we fall. Accept reality and work with your officials to improve the plan you’ve got. If you don’t, you won’t have such a cushy little number come the 8th of May.’
The Fieldings, Southwater