Ray Dawe: Councils, housing and their Plans

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Councils throughout the country are going through the process of producing a Local Plan. This looks at their needs for future homes - how many and their location.

It also looks at what infrastructure and services will be needed and how we provide future local employment. Any Plan needs to follow guidelines laid down by the government in a document called the National Planning Policy Framework.

Once each council has put its Local Plan together, it goes out for public consultation and is then put before a government inspector to approve or query in any way where he might feel it is wrong or is deficient. Without doubt, the parts that raise most passion and debate are the projected home building numbers per year and where those houses are going to be built.

So where are we in the Horsham district with our Plan? There are all manner of sources used to arrive at the number of homes that will be needed including: more people living on their own and for longer, population growth and economic development. The district council has taken expert advice and we believe that we have got the future housing number about right.

There are some people who believe that we should go for a lower housing number and doubtless they will explain their arguments to the inspector. On the other hand, councils across the country have seen their Plans either fail or be put on hold because their inspector thought their housing number was too low. This year alone, these include authorities in Buckinghamshire, Devon and Derbyshire. This leaves them exposed to speculative applications from developers until such time a new Plan is produced and agreed by an inspector.

Until our own Plan is fully agreed, we are also at risk of any planning applications that we refuse being subsequently granted on appeal. Simply put, the longer we go on without an approved Plan, the number of houses that can be developed in our district, and where they go is to a great extent taken out of our hands. Whereas, once a Plan has been agreed by an inspector, we have much greater defence against applications the council decides are unsuitable.

Our Plan - the Horsham District Planning Framework - was produced in mid-2013. It then went out to consultation and an amended version was approved by the Council last April.

In June, the council hosted a public exhibition in Horsham town centre to give people the opportunity to drop in and find out more about our Planning Framework. BBC South Today, BBC Sussex Radio and the local press reported this event, which was attended by over 1,000 visitors.

Since that exhibition, residents, Parish and Neighbourhood Councils, key organisations and developers have all had the opportunity to make ‘representations’ to our Plan. These all go to an independent planning Inspector who looks at suggested changes. This process also permits late representation of ideas never submitted to the council, for example, a suggestion from a developer to build 10,000 extra homes north of Horsham along the A24 from Warnham to Kingsfold.

The Horsham District Planning Framework together with evidence to support it and all the representations that have been received has now been submitted to a government appointed inspector as part of a formal examination process.

The next key date in our calendar is 4th November, when the Inspector, as part of this examination, will begin a series of public hearing sessions in the council offices in Horsham. He has said that he will give equal weight to people’s representations, whether they have been submitted in writing or they attend in person. People who have specifically requested to attend a hearing and who are seeking detailed changes to the plan will be invited to attend in person.

Following the closure of the public hearing sessions the Inspector will prepare a report for the council giving his conclusions and recommendations. If the Horsham District Planning Framework is approved without major change then the next crucial step would then be its final adoption in the spring of next year.