The threat to Rookwood has been making headlines of the wrong sort for the Conservatives. There is huge controversy over plans being drawn up in secrecy, with no public consultation. Cabinet attempts to deny this are becoming increasingly economical with the truth.
Under pressure, the Tories had admitted that Rookwood goes back at least as far as 2016, when the Cabinet hired an outside consultancy to look at plans. They have since run up expenses totalling £150k of public money – and this also was not itemised in any public document.
The Conservatives on Rookwood – True or False?
They claim…Rookwood was listed for development in the 2018 SHELAA
False. The SHELAA is a technical document published every year. It lists the current status of all possible development sites in the district. Rookwood is indeed listed in the 2018 edition (SA394; SA395) – but it’s described as ‘not currently developable’ because the landowner (HDC) was not interested in putting it forward (although in fact the Cabinet was debating it at the time).
They claim…Rookwood was included on a councillor tour of all the strategic sites in July 2019
False. The closest the bus came to Rookwood was when it drove past at 50mph on the A24.
They claim….if Councillors missed briefings on Rookwood last year, it was their own fault
False. The earliest definitive briefing to District Councillors was on 28th November last year. Although Rookwood turned out to be the only topic of the meeting, it wasn’t listed on the agenda. As a result many potentially interested parties did not attend (including local member Cllr Christine Costin). Councillors were told that the presentation had to be kept ‘confidential’, which meant it was not until January 2020 that the news finally reached the public. It immediately generated a huge outcry.
If the Tories told everybody, why did nobody know?
There is a kind of absurdity in suggesting that everybody knew about this plan all along, but somehow didn’t care about it until now!
The fact is that key stakeholders such as Neighbourhood Councils, Parish Councils, the Friends of Warnham, the Horsham Society and the Sussex Wildlife Trust, were not consulted. Information was so slow to emerge that one resident used a Freedom of Information request, simply to extract a copy of the Rookwood plan (since published in the County Times).
Either all of these groups were asleep at the wheel, or the Cabinet must accept that a degree of secrecy was involved.
People denied a chance to vote
There’s no doubt that, if plans to turn Rookwood into a housing Estate had been known in advance of the 2019 May District Election, it would have cost the Tories votes. By keeping the news under wraps till 2020, they ensured that the public will have no meaningful say in the matter.
There has never been an opportunity to debate whether Rookwood should be developed in the first place, and there won’t be one before it comes up for vote at Council.
Rookwood should be debated on its own merits
This is the worst possible way to decide on Rookwood’s fate. By including it as part of the Local Plan review (due in November), the Cabinet have greatly reduced its chances of survival. Councillors will be influenced by a desire to avoid development in their own backyards. Given the in-built majority of rural Councillors, and the fact that unlike any other site this is official Conservative policy, there’s no doubt that Rookwood is at very high risk.
Rookwood must be judged on its own merits, and not in a high-stakes beauty contest with all the other strategic sites. Councillors have too many other compelling local demands and interests to satisfy.
We demand that Rookwood be considered on its own merits, with full consultation of all public stakeholders.
Visit our Save Rookwood campaign page for resources and to get involved.