Another Hassocks development given the green light as district plan branded ‘worthless’

Objectors to plans for 130 homes at Friars Oak Fields in Hassocks, pictured before a planning application was approved by Mid Sussex District Council
Objectors to plans for 130 homes at Friars Oak Fields in Hassocks, pictured before a planning application was approved by Mid Sussex District Council

Another 130 homes for Hassocks have been given the green light by councillors, prompting one resident to brand the district plan ‘absolutely worthless’.

Developer Rydon Homes has been granted planning permission for land at Friars Oak Fields behind the pub north of Shepherds Walk, with access from London Road and a pedestrian tunnel under the railway line.

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

A previous application for the same site, with a footbridge instead of a tunnel, was rejected by Mid Sussex District Council last year as it conflicted with a number of policies in the district plan.

The developer had appealed against this decision and inquiry was due to be held in September.

However this time around the council’s development control committee decided to grant outline permission by seven votes to four on Thursday (July 25).

Afterwards a resident in the public gallery shouted ‘shameless’ and told the Middy: “The district plan is absolutely worthless.”

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

She added: “I’m absolutely seething. They [councillors] should be utterly ashamed of themselves.”

During the meeting Ian Weir, chairman of Hassocks Parish Council, argued that the village had taken significantly more housing than any other tier two settlement in the district already.

The combined number of completions and commitments stood at around 1,150 homes, which would increase the size of Hassocks by 33 per cent.

He asked councillors to follow the district and neighbourhood plans, described the community supporting for keeping the site as green space and urged them to not undermine the district plan and set a precedent for large scale development in the countryside.

Meanwhile Kirsty Lord, Lib Dem county councillor for Hassocks and Burgess Hill South, described the application as ‘indistinguishable’ from the one refused in November last year.

She felt that to approve it would be ‘opening up a can of worms for communities across Mid Sussex and confidence in the planning process will be seriously undermined’.

Ms Lord also highlighted how Hassocks’ neighbourhood plan was progressing and within it Friars Oak Field was designated as green space.

Meanwhile residents objecting to the plans said it would be a ‘travesty’ to allow the development as the site was ‘well loved by the community as a green space’.

Sue Hatton (LDem, Hassocks) said the district plan was sold to residents as a way of protecting their communities from speculative development.

She added: “If the council is prepared to throw that out of the window the public are going to think they are not being protected and it will be opening the floodgates for developers to bring all sorts of things forward in the future.”

But council planning officers argued that while the district plan was the starting point there were other material considerations.

They felt the tunnel would be a significant benefit for the village as the first application, originally approved by the council, was only rejected by the Secretary of State due to the absence of any measures to improve safety at the unmanned pedestrian railway crossing.

Meanwhile the housing target in the district plan, which was adopted just after the Secretary of State’s decision, was described as a minimum and not a cap.

They added: “The thrust of Government guidance is to boost the supply of housing.”

Rex Whittaker (Con, East Grinstead - Imberhorne) described a concern that the cost of a tunnel could mean the developer later reduces the amount of affordable housing provided at the site.

Several speakers also asked what happened if the tunnel was not found to be a feasible option by Network Rail.

Officers replied that the delivery of the tunnel was a planning condition and if it was not built the developer would not be able to implement this planning permission.

Neville Walker (Con, East Grinstead - Town) added: “I would suggest that we need this development to boost our district plan to ensure we are not overrun with housing.”

The Lib Dems have requested the Secretary of State call-in the application before a decision notice is formally issued by the council.

They have also criticised the district council for the timing of the meeting at the start of the school holidays.

After the meeting Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint Labour Party said it was ‘appalled’ by the decision and argued Tory councillors had ignored the council’s own district plan.

Linda Taylor, chair of the local Labour Party, who was at the planning meeting on Thursday, said “What is the point of having a local plan if councillors choose to ignore it?

“Despite strong opposition from local residents, the local Conservative MP, the local Labour Party, Hassocks Parish Council and Hassocks district councillors, the Tories have once again decided to side with the developers.”