As Councillors, we have been somewhat restricted about what we can say as pre-determination rules apply to planning matters. However, we have been listening to and reading all the comments which have been sent to us and we acknowledge the huge anger that exists about these proposals.
At the beginning of the year, Horsham Liberal Democrats submitted a proposal to the Chief Executive for the Local Plan strategic sites which we would find acceptable. This excludes Rookwood and still enables the Council to meet a housing target of up to 1200 homes per year.
The first problem that faces us is that the Conservative government’s mutant algorithm for housing has not gone away. It looks as though HDC will have to explain why it is not possible to deliver the 1700 homes calculated using the algorithm. Residents who wish to save our green fields should be lobbying the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, who is forcing these numbers upon us, without taking any account of Covid 19 impacts or the Brexit related recession. It is our view that the most acceptable solution for West Sussex would be to create a new town, somewhere that can be created to meet the demands of this century, with good rail and road connections. This would overturn the demand for constant urban extensions to our towns without ever providing necessary updates to our infrastructure such as dualling the A29 and A24, or additional stations on the Three Bridges to Bognor line.
The second problem is that HDC as the planning authority should be in the driving seat for development. The type of visionary scheme being proposed by Councillor Chowen for Rookwood, is the type of scheme that should have been proposed for the Novartis or North of Horsham sites. Unfortunately, Conservative-run WSCC, which owns the Novartis site, does not have good communications with Conservative-led HDC. All of the objections to the Novartis proposal from local Members representing the Town, as well as requests for amendments to the design, were over-ruled by the application being taken to full Council. This would have been a good opportunity for the two Councils to work together and deliver both much needed affordable housing and specialist housing for people down-sizing or living with disabilities.
With regard to North of Horsham, the outline application included far too many larger homes and not nearly enough affordable homes to meet local need. Surely there is scope here for Legal and General to come back to Council with a scheme that is more comparable to Cllr Chowen’s scheme for Rookwood? Greater density of housing would make better use of the land and contribute to the additional numbers HDC needs to find. In addition, there is no reason why these homes too cannot be eco-friendly and low carbon. We would welcome such revisions.
We are not convinced that Rookwood should be in the frame for development at all. Whilst we recognise some of the visionary aspects of Councillor Chowen’s proposals, there is no overall vision for Horsham and how it will be in fifty years’ time. All we do know, is that the Council is determined to sell off the Town’s assets such as the Drill Hall, the running track and Rookwood Golf Course. We wonder what will be next on the list - the Capitol perhaps? Budgetary pressures, in part due to Covid, and in part due to Conservative Government cuts to local authority funding, mean that HDC is having to constantly review its operations and has already had to reduce its staffing. The discretionary services that make Horsham one of the best places to live are being trimmed. One of the arguments is that these services are used by people from out of the area, yet this was never an argument against events like Piazza Italia which brought in visitors from across the South East, benefitting our local businesses. In the rush to sell off HDC’s assets, there is little recognition of the community value of them. Our green spaces are precious for our health and the diversity of our wildlife. Our community facilities enhance the social life for residents of both Horsham and its rural hinterland.
As it stands, the Local Plan is not convincing. We accept that there is a need for homes, but we need to be sure that we are building the right homes in the right place, and that our place-making will stand the test of time. There is still time to think again.
This is the full letter from Cllr Frances Haigh on behalf of the Lib Dem group sent to the West Sussex County Times, and covered in their newspaper published on Thursday the 4th of February.