LETTER: Planning conflict at the council?

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I write in response to Cllr Claire Vickers letter (WSCT June 12) regarding the BBH Quadrant Masterplan and its proposals for leisure facilities.

Yes, it was very pleasing that HDC Chief Executive, Tom Crowley, responded so quickly to the erroneous map issue by sending e-mails, updating the core HDC website and extending the consultation period by one week.

However what she fails to mention is that one week after 27th May, I reported that the old (wrong) map was still displaying on the main (3rd party) consultation portal website thereby continuing to mislead contributors or potential contributors.

This was only corrected following my further interjection i.e. one week after the corrective action described by Cllr Vickers. No further remedial action has since been taken, to the best of my knowledge, to ensure the validity of the consultation input.

More importantly Cllr Vickers appears to be defending yet another developer-led project; this time it is HDC who are both developer and planning authority! It appears that contrary to what is expected, ‘good practice’ in such situations of potential conflict of interest, this project has been hijacked by the ‘land developers’ at HDC, whilst statutory planning obligations have been sidelined.

How can it be explained that in this document there are multiple mentions of the viability study/business case determining the level of leisure re-provision, yet there is not one mention of the planning policies that control the redevelopment of such leisure sites?

The NPPF para 74, Horsham District Core Strategy Policy 14 and even emerging HDPF Policy 42 are mentioned an amazing ZERO times. Given that these policies generally state that in the event of redevelopment of such sites, re-provision of facilities will be required to ‘equivalent or better, quantity and quality’, you can only surmise why they have been completely omitted!

The HDC planning department’s professional status should guarantee independence and rigour in ensuring that these planning policies are taken into account, notwithstanding the ‘difficulty’ that the developer is ‘in house’ HDC. To the contrary, you would expect them to be ‘whiter than white’. Let’s hope the revised document will go some way to achieving this integrity.

Incidentally, redevelopment of the potentially valuable leisure site could and should provide the win-win solution of modern, improved (and profitable) leisure facilities and with a healthy capital receipt to the council’s coffers.

Unfortunately, even at this early stage, the council’s emphasis seems to be primarily based around the extraction of funds, rather than the retention of valued and heavily used leisure services for the future wellbeing of residents.

Finally Cllr Vickers should know that capital receipts can only be used for capital projects and so making statements like ‘to secure much needed funds to support council services without putting extra pressure on council tax payers’ is somewhat disingenuous i.e. HDC cannot directly fund day-to-day service provision with any funds they strip out of this redevelopment project.

In summary, unless this Masterplan is significantly changed to become a robust planning document and not a ‘convenience ticket’ for HDC to subsequently plunder the leisure sites for housing and/or retail space, it should be rejected as not fit for purpose. So let’s see what is finally presented to the council meeting on 25th June 2014; it deserves to be a very interesting debate.

Paul Kornycky,

Cox Green, Rudgwick