A leading group of opposition members on Horsham District Council this week criticised plans for a major development in the north of the town - and put forward their own alternative strategy.
Lib Dem Horsham district councillors Christine Costin and Leonard Crosbie of Trafalgar ward, Frances Haigh, Horsham Park, Godfrey Newman, Forest, David Sheldon, Denne, David Skipp, Roffey North, and Malcolm Curnock, Broadbridge Heath, have aired concerns about the future of Horsham’s housing after a public consultation on the local authority’s preferred strategy.
But leader of their Lib Dem group and fellow Horsham councillor Dr David Holmes refused to back their calls for another approach saying the north Horsham plan made sense even if the ruling Conservative group, in his opinion, ‘has not handled working out the preferred strategy as well as it could have done’.
Dr Holmes stressed that despite his differing approach to his colleagues there was no split in his group. He said he is very happy his members have got together to express their concerns.
There has been growing dissent in Horsham town ever since the council put its plan to accommodate thousands of additional homes out to public consultation earlier this year.
Some Tory councillors representing town and neighbouring wards have been vocal in their opposition - not least former leader Liz Kitchen and current vice chairman Christian Mitchell.
But this is the first public and concerted voice of opposition from senior Lib Dems.
This week, the Lib Dem councillors issued a statement.
“The council urgently needs to review, in public, alternative options to achieve some degree of consensus on a balanced housing and economic planning framework for Horsham district before any planning strategy is pushed through,” the group warned in its collective statement.
“Over the next 20 years some 2,500 houses could be built north of Horsham plus 2,000 west of Horsham - a total of 4,500 houses with an additional 1,750 to be built elsewhere in the district.
“Thus Horsham, with 40 per cent of the population of the district, would take 63 per cent of the housing over the next 20 years. How long would Horsham remain a great and attractive Sussex Town to live in?”
The Lib Dems also criticised plans for a business park as part of the North Horsham development.
“A 500,000sq ft business park is clearly not a HDC concept. This approach is contrary to the council’s stated planning guidelines that such development should be Plan led.”
The group stressed that breaching the town’s A264, A24 and River Arun boundaries ‘will result in zero restraint on future massive development of any type, in any direction, not just towards Crawley, but also taking in any of the surrounding villages such as Warnham, Itchingfield and Slinfold’.
“In our view any planning option should embrace the whole district to ensure that all towns, villages and hamlets should share in the future prosperity of any major development strategy.
“One option, amongst many, could be that 2,500 houses with complementary economic development could be spread across the district.”
They concluded growth is needed across all communities and not just in major towns.
“We would hope that our colleagues from the rural parts of the district would concur.
“It is our aim to represent the views of the residents of Horsham on these challenging planning issues which will impact on all of us in the future.”