John Steele: It’s not too late to take a step back

Horsham Society
Horsham Society

In less than a week Horsham district councillors will be asked to approve a planning strategy that will determine future development in the District for the next 20 years.

As I write we still do not know for certain what will be in it so there will be no time for the public to digest the complex arguments and lobby their councillors before the meeting.

What seems certain however is that little will have changed from the earlier draft which included an orphan settlement of 2,500 new homes, a business park and a superstore north of the A264.

Horsham District Council will also claim there will be a new railway station but that, as they well know, is a fantasy, especially when one takes into account the absence of a business case and the recent £4.5m improvements made to Littlehaven.

There can only be one new station between Littlehaven and Crawley. The council has previously supported one at Kilnwood Vale and the business case for that is already with the Department of Transport.

The need for a business park north of Horsham has not been proved and Novartis has announced it would like to establish one on part of its site.

This would be a far better location as it is a brownfield site close to the town centre and Horsham railway station.

But the biggest problem with the strategy is Gatwick. We are only 18 months away from a decision on a second runway. If this were to go ahead it would be a game changer and the whole strategy would need to be rethought in any event. It would be madness to approve a strategy now that takes no account of possible Gatwick expansion.

Last week Cllr Claire Vickers bemoaned the difficulty in achieving consensus over her strategy. But there is an alternative which we think would command widespread support.

We believe that with the current extraordinary uncertainty the District faces over Gatwick, and the profound impact that a second runway would have, a Planning Inspector could be persuaded that the right approach now is an interim strategy that solves the immediate need to establish a five year land supply, so as to prevent speculative developments being approved on appeal, and promises that a comprehensive strategy covering a full 20 years will be produced within 12 months of the decision on the second runway.

By the council’s own admission it has already identified sufficient land to meet the five year land supply problem, and anyhow North Horsham would not come on stream in time.

They also have available several large sites within Horsham town which have not been taken into account.

Together these would tide us over until a full strategy is prepared, and it would also protect all the small villages in the District leaving their future in their hands; a true example of localism working.

It is not too late for Cllr Vickers to step back. A strategy pushed through in the teeth of opposition, which could unravel within 18 months, is not the right answer.

An interim strategy to address the immediate issues, and the promise of an open and honest debate on the future needs of the District with and without a second runway would have wide support.

The Horsham Society is concerned about the past, present and future of the town. It seeks to promote good planning and design for the built environment and open spaces. Membership of the Horsham Society is open to anyone, who shares these concerns. For more information, visit our website or telephone 01403 261640.