Hundreds of people packed out a Henfield meeting to demonstrate their opposition to plans for a new 7,000-home settlement.
Mayfield Market Towns has spent the last seven years promoting its development proposals in an area between the village and Sayers Common.
An estimated 500 people turned up to a meeting held at St Peter’s Church in Henfield and organised by Locals Against Mayfields Building Sprawl (LAMBS) on Friday night (June 14) to hear more about the plans.
Geoff Zeidler, chairman of the LAMBS, opened the meeting and pointed out how the initial proposal had been previously rejected by both Mid Sussex and Horsham’s district councils when they put together their local plans.
Meanwhile Malcolm Eastwood, chairman of Henfield Parish Council, challenged the developer’s assertion that a large number of jobs would be created within the scheme, negating the need for commuting and new roads.
Attendees were addressed the area’s MPs, Mid Sussex’s Sir Nicholas Soames and Arundel and South Downs’ representative Nick Herbert, who both acknowledged the need for more housing but felt this was the wrong location for such a development.
Mr Herbert said: “It’s like a particularly bad case of athlete’s foot. It just never goes away and what we have to do is find a way to kill it off once and for all.
“The planning inspector said it was not necessary, the councils said it was not necessary, the parish council is against it, but we have to fight on and make the serious arguments and we have to support the LAMBS campaign to help them do that.”
Sir Nicholas added: “There is absolutely no case for this hugely opportunistic proposal for the Mayfield development and all of us here must move heaven and earth not to allow it. It’s a real and present threat and we need to be aware. It will not and must not be allowed to stand.”
Horsham District Council is reviewing its local plan, which was agreed back in 2015, and is looking at what new sites to allocate for development to accommodate higher housing numbers.
After the meeting Peter Freeman, chairman of Mayfield, said: “It’s not just about housing, it’s about employment and economic growth and like a number of other people we will be saying ours is the solution.
“It’s for HDC to decide which solution or combination of solutions they like best and all of them will have advantages and disadvantages.”
In terms of promoting a strategic land allocation he described how the local plan is the ‘statutory process in which you are supposed to bring it forward’.
He explained that a planning performance agreement signed between Mayfield and HDC was common practice, which means council officers have the resources to fully analyse if a scheme works.
Clarion Housing Group, which comprises the country’s largest housing association Clarion Housing, is a partner in the Mayfield project and Mr Freeman said he believes the scheme can deliver a wider mix of housing than other smaller developments.
One of the meeting’s main themes was the concern that a new town would overwhelm the area’s infrastructure, including its roads, schools and doctors’ surgeries.
Mr Herbert said: “It’s absurd to propose a development plonked down in the middle of the open countryside of West Sussex nowhere near a railway line and think that is a sustainable proposal for a modern new town. It simply is not.”
Meanwhile Sir Nicholas said the ‘catastrophic’ proposal would have an enormous impact on Mid Sussex as well as Horsham.
However Mr Freeman said Mayfield’s proposed site was near the A23, while elaborate modelling had shown the feeder roads had spare capacity, which they could improve further if Mid Sussex want them to.
Mayfield’s aim would be to have every home within 500 metres of a primary school and within a kilometre of a secondary school, with the development designed around cycling and walking.
He suggested a new settlement would generate fewer outward car journeys when compared to a number of smaller developments totalling the same number of homes tacked on to existing settlements where new residents would have no choice but to get in their cars to access all services.
He also argued that if people wanted to commute via train they would instead be more likely to buy a home in Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill or Hassocks.
Another accusation levelled at Mayfield was that it had helped stall the adoption of Horsham and Mid Sussex’s local plans, while its tactics when approaching landowners also came in for criticism.
It was also suggested that the company did not have options on a sufficient amount of land to bring forward its proposals.
Mr Herbert said the company had ‘done everything they possibly could to disrupt those plans’ and there was ‘no democratic consent for these proposals’.
But Mr Freeman argued the delay to Mid Sussex’s local plan, which was finally adopted in March 2018, was because the district council had not originally demonstrated it had fulfilled the duty to co-operate and had ‘deliberately tried to bring forward the least number of homes possible’.
Mayfield owns some parcels of land outright and has options on others. Mr Freeman described all the company’s conversations with landowners as ‘totally respectful’ with most of them taking place in homeowner’s kitchens over tea and biscuits.
Although they could share the completed transactions with council officers in commercial confidence, he said it would be unfair to share that information publicly at this stage.
At the end of the meeting a vote by a show of hands revealed unanimous opposition to the proposals.
Sir Nicholas said: “We have to maintain a really professional and serious campaign. These are very serious and professional people. They will only be dealt with properly if we maintain a proper campaign.”
Mr Herbert added: “We need to marshal our forces and that’s why this LAMBS campaign is so important. It’s not just a noisy pressure group it’s a serious group that is mounting a serious argument and that is how we will win. It needs funding to take on top legal advice so we can play Mayfield at its own game.”