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The Battle for North Horsham Hots Up!

Members of the Horsham Society

Written: 23rd December 2013

I remember when the first of the new Stars Wars films, The Phantom Menace, was released, there was this feverish excitement over the revival of the franchise.

Then we heard the plot, about the Trade Federation and the monopoly of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, and our enthusiasm somewhat dampened.

In the end, of course, the films were just rubbish. But I can recall how the dull synopsis had an adverse effect too, as I and many others experience the same 'switch off' mentality when it comes to local planning. When I hear terms like 'Horsham District Planning Framework Preferred Strategy' or 'Sustainability Appraisal' my attention starts to wane and my eyes glaze over the words.

I need action to ignite my interest in local planning matters; the placards of the protesters, angry accusations flying across in the council chamber, and the growing unease of the affected community as the importance of a crushingly boring, generally ignored 123-page council document suddenly dawns on them at the 11th hour. For one particular site, that time is now.

That site is a huge area of greenfield land in north Horsham, which has become the council's top pick for housing development over the next 20 years.

Here we look at some of the major players in the story, why the council considers this to be the best place to build 2,500 homes, and why other, including a well-respected group of local observers, couldn't disagree more.
There are, of course, many people who have followed every stage of the planning and consultation process and analysed every word of the council's reports.

But this is for those of you that, like me, don't have such patience. Those who, like me, would rather watch Under Siege than Citizen Cane. Hopefully it'll bring you nicely up to speed. It can at times be complicated, so – to quote The Princess Bride - I'll use small words so that you'll be sure to understand...

Horsham District Council is under pressure. They must produce a local plan, in this case called the 'Horsham District Planning Framework'. This plan outlines how it will provide housing and support the economy over the next 15 to 20 years. They've come up with a draft, but all is not well. It's upset quite a lot of people, mainly because it includes a plan for a massive new estate on greenfields to the North of Horsham.

Horsham District Council: The council must complete its Planning Framework. They're making progress and have even released their 'Preferred Strategy.' As it suggests, it's what they would like to do. This 'strategy' is spread out across 123 pages, most of which state what a jolly nice place Horsham is to live. The council feels the best way forward is to build 500 homes in Southwater, 500 in Billingshurst and 2,500 in north Horsham. The council is mighty pleased with the work they've put in and, generally speaking, is keen to press on.

Horsham Society: The Society is a long-established group that, as its website states, 'watches over the interests of the town, to guard its heritage, to promote good planning and design and to speak up when it believes decisions detrimental to Horsham are being considered.' On this occasion, the Society is not happy. They have produced their own 16-page response to the council's preferred strategy, and it sure spices up the debate. The Society says that the decision to build on north Horsham land is' illogical' and believes an entirely new development needs to be built in the south of the district.

Liberty Property Trust: The developer pushing for 2,500 new homes on the north Horsham site. They've recently delivered a leaflet on their plans to 12,000 local residents. It included some corporate management jargon like 'Liberty's mission is to enhance people's lives through the creation of extraordinary environments.' Oh please, spare us! But there is also clear information on what exactly their proposal would provide in terms of community facilities.

RAGE: A group of residents opposing the north Horsham development. RAGE (Residents Against Greenfield Erosion) wants to protect this beautiful area of countryside. There are others who have been extremely vocal against this particular development. Council chairman Philip Circus felt the need to notify police when one angry and emotional resident, Geoff Richardson, failed to follow the rules of the council chamber at a meeting in December.

In the beginning...
Back in 2007, Horsham District Council came up with a plan called The Core Strategy. It was full of ideas on how to boost the economy by creating jobs and building new homes.

They looked at all kinds of places for development. Some ideas were universally unpopular, like the idea of building on Chesworth Farm.Some ideas had strong local opposition, such as the creation of a new neighbourhood in Adversane.

Some ideas were given the green light, like the two big sites to the west of Horsham near Broadbridge Heath. The two developments – Wickhurst Green (led by Countryside Properties) and Highwood (Berkeley) – are well underway. See the congestion and traffic cones...

 There's another one being built to the west of Ifield, called Kilnwood Vale, which is a joint project by Horsham and Crawley councils.
All of this has meant that residents have tended to suffer from déjà vu when reading the front pages of local newspapers. Headlines have screamed New Housing Threat to Horsham or Victory for Rural Housing Campaigners on many occasions.

But now The Core Strategy has been scrapped and, like a time-travelling television doctor, it is in the process of regenerating.There have been a few tweaks and it is now called the Horsham District Planning Framework.

Once it's all finished, the council will hand it over to the government's Planning Inspectorate, who will either give it an A* or find a red pen and throw it back with a 'Must Do Better!' So before handing it over, the council has
produced a 'preferred strategy' to dwell over.

We are all allowed to read it, as they've put it online. Some like what they read. Southwater residents, for example, were very worried that 2,500 homes would be built on land to the west of the village (if you're not good with navigation, that'll be the only part of the village without houses on it). Now though, it's only set for 500 homes...

But for others, the preferred strategy's revelations made depressing reading. The plan to build 2,500 homes in north Horsham, in particular, has gone down about as well as Justin Bieber at a rock festival.

Here's the story in the words of those most involved. You can decide where you stand...

Preferred Strategy Document Horsham District Planning Framework: 'The following alternative strategic
development options were considered before the most sustainable option was chosen; West of Ifield, Faygate, North Horsham, Chesworth Farm, West of Southwater, East of Billingshurst, Adversane/ North Heath, an extension to Kilnwood Vale (West of Crawley). All sites were found to have different pros and cons. It is
considered that the sites which would best meet wider economic and social need whilst providing opportunities for environmental mitigation are North Horsham and Southwater, followed by Billingshurst.'

David Moore Chairman, The Horsham Society
'We have a beginning, which is 2007 with the last Core Strategy, and we have an end, which is the current Preferred Strategy. But we have no middle. We don't understand how we got there. In 2007, the plan says that we would predominantly build in west Horsham. That has happened. The next stage suggests that Southwater and Billingshurst would be hit, and we ought to think about building a new town as well. Now, six years down the line, all of a sudden, all of what has been said before isn't right.'

Preferred Strategy Document Horsham District Planning Framework
'(The north Horsham proposal consists of) 2,500 homes with a mix of sizes. 20% - 30% of homes shall be provided as affordable and there shall be an area set aside for self-build housing for between 200-300 units. A landscaped buffer shall be provided to the open countryside and the strategic gap between Horsham and Crawley. The development will be programmed in order to enable the completion of 2,500 homes and other uses within the defined area by 2031.'

Liberty Property Trust
'Update' leaflet published August 2013
'Over the last four years, Liberty Property Trust has been promoting this strategic site through the planning process to deliver a new community. This new community will have its own identity but the design will take inspiration from the best examples of local architecture. The proposed development on the land does not have a name, but due to the site's location, the name Chennells Brook has been suggested.'

David Moore
'We don't want a situation where all of the young people live in north Horsham and the rest of the district becomes an OAP retirement area. That would be daft. We should look again at each of the 25 or so individual settlements in the district, and see how many houses we need to build to cater for those young people, how many of them would like to stay in the area and what type of jobs we should provide for them. What you've got to do is take a step back, and firstly say 'do we have to accept we need more housing?' I think logically the answer is 'yes' in the Horsham district. Then you ask 'where does it make sense to build them? From this point, the north Horsham plan looks completely illogical.'

Press Release, September 2013
'Clearly, the Horsham district does need to provide additional housing to meet the needs of our growing population. However, the proposal should put existing residents first by providing housing that allows our growing younger population to join the property ladder and for our growing older population to be able to downsize into
purpose-built housing, allowing the release of existing family homes. The strategy proposed makes no allowance for this and it will simply give the control to developers to build more family houses and increase the influx of new residents into the district.'

Preferred Strategy Document Horsham District Planning Framework
'(At the north Horsham site there will be) a new high-quality business park shall be provided with up to 500,000 square foot of floor space, with sufficient space provided in the first part of the plan period to meet the needs of existing employers that wish to relocate within the district. A neighbourhood centre shall be provided, as well as a retail food store, medical centre, and community centre. A site should be identified and provision made for a crematorium in the latter part of the plan period. A site for a secondary school shall be provided, and Primary school provision shall be made, according to need.'

'The council is suggesting that incorporating a business park within the proposal will benefit both employers and employees. They cannot substantiate this, especially as there is already a vast amount of office space currently vacant within the district.'

David Moore
'Where are these businesses coming from when we are losing businesses such as Novartis, and a retail store is already proposed for the Bishopric? Also, there is an industrial estate at Graylands off Langhurstwood Road. I would try to develop that first to see if you can attract businesses there. If you can, great, maybe you can build a 500,000 square foot estate. But if you can't, don't kid yourself!'

Liberty Property Trust
'Jobs will be created. The business Park will create 4,000 new permanent quality jobs, as well as the additional employment opportunities created by the retail, leisure and other amenities on site. A new parkway railway station will be provided for those commuting into Horsham, alongside a 600-space car park. This will be a far better alternative for existing residents who currently struggle to find safe car parking around other stations in the area.'

David Moore
The railway station is impossible. The key to the Horsham to Crawley line is what time the trains get into and leave London. You cannot have any more stations between Horsham and Crawley. If you built another one, you would have to close one which already exists, and the obvious one would be Faygate. But the problem is Kilnwood Vale, which has within its planning permission the building of a new railway station. Let's be terribly cynical and say that somehow the council were to prevent that from happening so one could be built at North Horsham instead, you have a second problem. You'll have one mile between Littlehaven and the new station, which wouldn't be feasible. Do you think National rail are going to close Littlehaven when it is spending £4.5million on improvements there?

'There has been no confirmation from Network Rail that they support a new station. We believe Liberty will do everything they can to avoid delivering a station, especially as there is no benefit to the developer; a new station would have a massive impact on the roads network in the immediate vicinity which are already full to capacity.'

David Moore
'We all know that you can put whatever you want in your planning application but all you are doing is allocating land. Be it for schools, railways stations or business parks. Sometimes what happens after a few years is the developer comes back and says 'there's not enough interest in the business park, can we build some more houses?' I personally believe that, if north Horsham goes forward, it will be 4,500 houses, because the rest of it will never happen.'

Liberty Property Trust
'Green space will become accessible. The majority of the land (here) is currently inaccessible to the public. The proposed plans will include 40% of open space incorporating a new country park which will provide a mix of green open spaces and wetland bordered by existing woodland. These areas would be made accessible to walkers and cyclists for the first time. Bridal paths will also be created. No other development in the district offers this balance.'

David Moore
'You have a developer plan which is designed to make money, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be, for ease being adopted by the council. If you look at this, it does seem to be the developer's plan and not Horsham District Council's plan. We need to get away from the developer-led approach that we seem to be slipping into. It's too easy to let someone else do the work and not really look at what it means.'

'RAGE is currently doing everything they can to obtain details of current brownfield sites already known to the council as we believe there is easily enough brownfield land available for development, within the district, that would ensure there was no need to build on the green fields of north Horsham.'

Preferred Strategy Document Horsham District Planning Framework
'It is important for the strategy to reflect and address the challenges that emerge from a mixed urban/rural environment, whilst maintaining and enhancing the natural beauty of the area. The role and influence of Horsham town as the major centre within the district is key. The district also has its own rural issues, not least in terms of access to services within rural areas and the future of the rural economy in such a changing context.'

David Moore
'Horsham district is of course far bigger than Horsham alone, so to be putting all your eggs in one basket and say, let's make Horsham bigger and put any business premises or facilities here too, is illogical. It means the south of the district has nothing. I honestly believe we need another large town in the south of the district, maybe the Mayfield site at Sayers Common, maybe not. It seems stupid to keep dumping everything in Horsham. The easy way is the new town. Put aside whether it's the right place, the Sayers Common site would include 20,000 houses, of which a quarter would be in the Horsham district and three quarters in Mid Sussex. That would take 5,000 homes and your problems disappear. At some point we will have to have a new town. We can't avoid it. It could be in 20 years or it could be today. It is inevitable, so why not bite the bullet and get on with it now?

Councillor Claire Vickers, Cabinet Member for Living and Working Communities)
Horsham District Planning Framework
'The draft Preferred Strategy sets a framework for Neighbourhood Plans - a new style of planning that will give residents the opportunity for the first time to determine what their communities need and where. The consultation responses will inform the drafting of the next stage in preparation of the Horsham District Planning Framework, the Proposed Submission, which I anticipate will be published in spring 2014. Once approved there will be a period for representations prior to submission and examination by an independent planning inspector.'

'The proposed planning strategy has been led by a number of Councillors who clearly have their own political
objectives. Unquestionably, the decision to propose North Horsham as the most suitable site for mass development has been determined due to it offering the route of least resistance and not because it is the most sustainable development option and will benefit the residents of Horsham.'

Cllr Claire Vickers
'We have listened to our communities and whilst I appreciate that it is not possible to please everyone, we have tried to address the concerns and issues raised.'

David Moore
'Horsham Society has always had a fairly good relationship with Horsham District Council and I hope we always will. The best way forward is to approach this in a positive way and we do not see the point in attacking people. The councillors and the officers are doing what they think is right. We think they are wrong and have asked for the preferred strategy to be totally withdrawn. If they wish to, we would meet the council and discuss it'

Cllr Claire Vickers
It should be noted that, at this stage, neither the preferred approach nor any of the proposals made in this document represent approved council policy: The intention at present is to provide for a structured debate on what the council now considers to be the preferred way forward as a means of addressing the objectives identified. It could be that the feedback results in a re-evaluation of the merits of this preferred approach and the preparation of a revised philosophy or set of policies and proposals.'


If you'd like to know more about the Horsham Society visit www.horshamsociety.org/

If you'd like to know more about the Liberty visit www.libertyproperty.com

If you'd like to know more about RAGE visit www.ragegrouphorsham.co.uk

If you'd like to read the council's preferred strategy, please visit https://www.horsham.gov.uk/environment/planning_policy/14379.aspx




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