Anger over timing of crunch Hassocks housing meeting

Artist's impression of homes planned for Friars Oak Field north of Hassocks
Artist's impression of homes planned for Friars Oak Field north of Hassocks

Lib Dem councillors and Hassocks’ Tory MP have both expressed anger at the timing of a crunch meeting to discuss further housing proposed in the village.

A planning application for 130 homes on Friars Oak Fields is due to be discussed by Mid Sussex district councillors tomorrow (Thursday July 25).

However Lib Dem councillors have requested the application be called-in by the Secretary of State and questioned why an extra planning meeting has been scheduled at the last minute to discuss the application when many objectors will be on holiday.

‘Village has been fighting to keep green space for years’

Benedict Dempsey, a Lib Dem district councillor for Hassocks, said: “The people of Hassocks have been fighting to keep Friars Oak Fields as green space for years. By rushing this application through with little warning, during the summer holidays, key community representatives will be unable to attend.

“Committee members may also be unable to give proper consideration to public objections, as the public consultation does not conclude until the day before the meeting. This amounts to a bypassing of local democracy.

“Having fought so hard for years to protect Friars Oak Fields, the people of Hassocks will be rightly angry if this proposal goes to committee at such short notice, without local representatives to argue against it.

“We requested that the meeting be postponed to a date that had been scheduled properly in advance, but our request was refused.”

Alexander Sparasci, fellow Lib Dem district councillor for Hassocks, added: “It concerns us that this new meeting was scheduled after the developer appeared to indicate a preference for the application being considered in July rather than August.

“We are worried that this suggests the council is more concerned with facilitating the timetable of developers than enabling local democratic processes.”

Loss of faith in council’s impartiality

Given their concerns, the councillors have written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ask that he ‘call-in’ the application so it can be decided centrally.

Kirsty Lord, Lib Dem county councillor for Hassocks and Burgess Hill South, said: “We regret that we have had to take this action, but we have lost confidence that Mid Sussex District Council is able to assess this application in an impartial way.

“We are asking the Secretary of State to step in, because the way this application has been handled risks undermining confidence in the whole planning process.”

‘This will further undermine confidence in Hassocks’

The timing has also angered Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert, who represents Hassocks in Parliament, and he has written to Jonathan Ash-Edwards, the leader of the district council, expressing his displeasure.

He wrote: “I would be grateful for an explanation as to why this is happening when the appeal over an almost-identical development application is due to be heard in September and the village’s neighbourhood pan is advancing towards a referendum.

“You will be aware of local suspicion that the meeting has been scheduled deliberately so as to pre-empt these decisions. If so this would be quite wrong and will further undermine confidence in Hassocks that their village is being treated fairly and with proper respect.

“I strongly support the letter from Hassocks Parish Council to members of the planning committee which points out that the village’s neighbourhood plan is about to acquire more weight, that the application pre-determines the district council’s own site allocation process, and that Hassocks is already contributing significantly more new housing than any equivalent settlement in the district.

“This development has already been rejected twice, and the draft Hassocks neighbourhood plan designates the site as local green space. I urge the council to respect the neighbourhood planning process and either to postpone this meeting or reject the application.

“I feel so strongly that the village is once again being treated unfairly, and that its neighbourhood plan is being undermined, that I am considering once again asking the Secretary of State to call it in for his determination. “I hope that the council leadership and the planning committee will listen to the parish council’s and my concerns and that this will not be necessary.”