Deputy leader resigns at Horsham District Council

Horsham District Council’s deputy leader has resigned.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 11:01 am

Conservative Jonathan Chowen, who was also cabinet member for culture and leisure, told fellow councillors in an email he had stepped down on a ‘matter of principle’.

Leader Ray Dawe explained the resignation was ‘over disagreement about emerging views on the local plan’.

Having worked closely with him for a decade, he described how Mr Chowen ‘has been an excellent colleague and become a good friend’.

Jonathan Chowen at the unveiling of the Bridge Leisure Centre. Photo by Derek Martin

He added: “He has tremendous enthusiasm and determination and has guided the council through a number of difficult and important actions.”

In particular Mr Dawe mentioned the new Bridge Leisure Centre at Broadbridge Heath and the highly successful Year of Culture in 2019.

Mr Dawe added: “I spoke to him after I received his resignation and while I am disappointed, I believe we concluded that his interpretation of views others had expressed were such that he was unable to stay in his position.”

Mr Chowen declined to comment any further when approached by the County Times.

Recently he has been at the forefront of promoting the council’s plans for redeveloping Rookwood Golf Course.

The current plan for the site, which has been put forward as a potential allocation in the council’s own local plan review, includes around 700 homes in the southern part and an expanded Warnham Local Nature Reserve.

The project has been hugely unpopular, with thousands signing a petition and the County Times’ postbag bulging with readers’ letters on the subject.

The resignation therefore comes at a time when the council is under massive pressure to withdraw the Rookwood proposals.

Martin Boffey, Lib Dem district council election candidate for Trafalgar, said: “Cllr Chowen was the driving force behind the controversial proposals to redevelop Rookwood Golf Course for housing. In my role as chairman of Trafalgar Neighbourhood Council, I have confronted Cllr Chowen on a number of occasions in the past year over both Rookwood and his plans to demolish the Drill Hall without a replacement in town.

“I make no assumptions about what Cllr Chowen’s departure means for either of these issues, which are key to the future of both Trafalgar Neighbourhood and Horsham town. I will therefore continue to push for the withdrawal of the Rookwood redevelopment proposal and the retention of the Drill Hall until I know that both of these key community assets are safe.”

Labour’s Joanne Kavanagh, also standing for election in Trafalgar, said: “I am aware from speaking to many fellow residents in the Trafalgar ward that the majority are objecting not only to Rookwood but also to what this tells us about our too complacent Tory led council that seems not to care for Horsham nor to represent our interests. Horsham Labour Party has consistently opposed the proposals and argued that we need more social housing particularly; but this is not the right place for it.”