The Extraordinary Meeting of HDC on 18 March to discuss and vote on proposed modifications to the Horsham District Planning Framework (HDPF) proved to be extraordinary in more ways than one.
The main business of the meeting was to consider a report incorporating 37 proposed changes (Main Modifications) to the HDPF and to approve a recommendation that these modifications be put out for public consultation.
In addition to the extra housing allocations – the alleged need for which was the main reason for the Planning Inspector’s conclusion in his Initial Findings that the Plan is not sound – these modifications included important changes:
1. Relating to Economic Development – creation of a University and Higher Education Quarter in Horsham, not previously included nor considered by the Inspector;
2. The Local Centre to be established as part of the proposed development at the North Horsham Strategic Site;
3. A comprehensive transport assessment relating to the impact of proposed developments north and west of Horsham on traffic movements on the A24 and A281.
Remarkably, the report offered no detailed explanation or justification for any of these modifications – nor even for the new housing allocations, the definition of which is still unknown pending consultants’ reports to the Planning Department. Not surprisingly many councillors said they could not approve the modifications nor support putting them out to public consultation in the absence of this information.
Nevertheless councillor Claire Vickers (the responsible cabinet member) succeeded in persuading the ruling majority to vote the recommendation through, seemingly on the basis that – under the National Planning Policy Framework – it is better to have a bad plan in place than no plan, bearing in mind the supposed lack of protection from indiscriminate development to which the District would otherwise be exposed.
A number of speakers raised the obvious question of why it was necessary to take such a hasty decision, given that the missing information and justification should be forthcoming within a few weeks, allowing the council to reach a properly informed decision.
While no clear answer to this question was given, it is evident that Cllr Vickers and her colleagues were determined to stick to the timetable they had pre-announced for the consultation, due to run from 23 March to 5 May, come what may.
As a result of this highly undemocratic and non-transparent procedure we are now in the position where a public consultation has in theory already begun on a revised HDPF (supposedly a track-changed version of the original) even though such a document has not been published (at the time of writing it is still not posted on the HDC Portal) nor announced to the public.
Whether such a manifestly flawed process is legally valid or not remains to be established. What most members of the public must surely agree is that it is a disgrace to the entire District that such a thing can have been allowed to happen.
Allingham Gardens, Horsham