In response to fears that government plans for a housing boom could create a planning free-for-all across the country the County Times and the West Sussex Gazette have re-launched the ‘It’s Just Plan Crazy’ campaign to give local people their voice back on housing issues.
It was first launched in summer 2011 in response to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, (NPPF) and received the backing of many local campaign groups as well as national bodies including the National Trust.
Like many authorities Horsham District Council is struggling to replace the abolished regional housing strategies with a Local Development Framework, leaving it open to attack by large planning applications and appeals.
This week Ian Thwaites, leader of Keep Southwater Green, which is aimed at fighting a possible 2,750 homes west of the village, blamed central government for giving unclear and variable instruction to authorities, and said the much-trumpeted localism had yet to materialise.
TRULY TERRIBLE SITUATION
Dr Thwaites said: “It is essential that the whole of the Horsham district area, not just Southwater, is aware of the truly terrible situation in which we find ourselves with regard to the likely imposition of vast numbers of houses upon greenfields all around us.
“The consequence of this absence of a plan, which is not unique to Horsham since less than 50 per cent of authorities countrywide have been able to get a plan in place, is that our district council may be unable to refuse planning permission for virtually any development in the area.”
He added: “A bonanza of uncontrolled and unwanted development would be almost inevitable.”
BETRAYAL OF TRUST
Roger Smith, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) for the Horsham district, called on HDC to challenge central government to give them more time to prepare their housing plans allowing them true control of the area’s future, and to enlist the help of the area’s MPs Francis Maude and Nick Herbert.
“To do otherwise would be to acquiesce in unjust decision making and it would be a betrayal of trust,” he said.
“Communities are being punished by the planning inspectorate – which is allowing planning applications on appeal – because the target being in excess of actual demand has not been met – because it is unachieveable – for reasons that are beyond the control of the council.”
This was because the abolished regional strategy the South East Plan, had set an unattainable housing target during the boom years pre-2008, with HDC cabinet members believing, even though the top-down plan was abolished, they still had to follow the housing target.
HOUSING TARGET TOO HIGH
Dr Smith added: “I am very concerned that Horsham District Council may have opted for a housing number equivalent to that set by the plan in the mistaken belief that they must do so.
“We should actively campaign to ensure that HDC listens to and acts on the concerns of communities and adopts a housing target for the district that is not determined by the revoked South East Plan, is not against our collective interest and is not damaging to the natural environment.”
Facing the possibility of 64 homes in Mannings Heath near Horsham, residents have begged MP Francis Maude, also minister for the cabinet office, to ensure uncertainties in the planning system would not allow damaging greenfield developments to slip through.
Alan Langford, one of several hundred of Mannings Heath residents who packed out their village hall last week, said: “I have been left with the perception that this development is opportunistic.
“It seems to be taking advantage of the fact that for a period of a year or more the planning rules in Horsham will make it much easier to force through unpopular housing developments.”
He said residents had unanimously condemned proposals made by Exclusive Hotels, owners of Mannings Heath Golf Club and South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding, for a seven-acre site south of the golf course.
MAUDE TRUMPETS LOCALISM
In a letter Mr Maude assured Mannings Heath residents that decisions over housing would rest with the people and their locally-elected representatives.
It read: “As a government we believe that the best people to make decisions about how many houses are needed, what kind and where, are local people and their locally elected representatives - in this case, our Horsham district councillors.”
He added: “The 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) allows local communities, via local plans, to shape the future of where they live. We put an end to the top-down imposition of housing targets by Central Government.
“The NPPF also focuses on sustainable development, preventing it if is shown to be against our collective interest - particularly when looking at local infrastructure. Protection of our natural environment is also central to the new planning rules.”
Dr Thwaites called on everyone to write to their local MP, urging the Government to see sense so they could ‘prevent what will be a total tragedy for our area’,
He explained: “Depth of feeling within a community, with justifiable reason, remains a potent weapon within a democracy.”