Plans to apply for land between Horsham and Crawley to be designated Green Belt being explored

Plans to apply for land between Horsham and Crawley to be designated Green Belt are being explored.
John Milne. Image: Horsham District CouncilJohn Milne. Image: Horsham District Council
John Milne. Image: Horsham District Council

The news was shared by Horsham district councillor John Milne when he spoke to residents at a Rusper Parish Council meeting in the village hall about the district’s Local Plan.

Mr Milne, cabinet member for planning & infrastructure, said: “If we get it, it will be the first Green Belt land in the Horsham district.”

But he warned: “It’s not an easy or quick process.”

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Should the district council prove successful – Mr Milne said they had ‘a very good case’ – the extra protection offered by a Green Belt designation would not come into play until the next Local Plan, years down the line.

A public consultation into the Local Plan currently being developed ends on March 1.

Around 50 members of the public attended the meeting, where they asked questions and shared their views about its contents.

The plan for 3,000 homes west of Ifield was the main topic of conversation, with Mr Milne insisting that the council was ‘highly opposed’ to Homes England’s original master-plan of 10,000 homes.

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Quoting the mantra ‘3k not 10k’, he said: “I’ve said that to Homes England and they’ve agreed to it.

“Clearly they can change their minds – everyone can, I accept that, but I can only take what’s in front of me now.”

Horsham’s Local Plan states that 50 per cent of the affordable housing included in the West of Ifield development will go to Crawley Borough Council.

While this would no doubt make a welcome dent in the borough’s housing needs, Crawley councillors have repeatedly spoken out against the proposed development.

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Mr Milne, though, suggested that things were not so clear cut.

He said: “Horsham and Crawley have very good relations at the officer level and communicate very well.

“Politics is another matter and things are said publicly which are not necessarily what goes on behind the scenes.”

He told the meeting that he had not been lobbied personally by any Crawley councillor to not build west of Ifield.

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When asked about Mr Milne’s words, borough council leader Michael Jones said councillors had been ‘far from silent’ on the matter, pursuing it through Duty to Cooperate discussions with Horsham, ‘which is the appropriate route’.

He added: “It must be very inconvenient for Mr Milne as the Liberals’ prospective Parliamentary candidate for Horsham that he is also the one proposing to concrete over half of the north of Horsham District, despite his party going into last year’s local elections promising to save the countryside.

“This must make it very appealing to try to point the finger at others for this decision and suggest that Crawley is quietly supporting the council’s scheme.

“We are not. And he risks causing a serious breakdown in the relationship between the two councils by continuing to insinuate it.”

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However things develop, Mr Milne’s views of the national planning system were very clear – he called it ‘entirely dysfunctional’.

Dysfunctional or not, the district council had to obey the rules when putting together its Local Plan.

Mr Milne said: “It’s about trying to make the best of it rather than perfection, which is not an option available to us.”

He described a ‘crisis in housing’, especially for young people, adding: “We absolutely have to do something about this. We deserve a revolution. It’s appalling, it horrifies me.

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“I’m very much in favour of more housing and I will be working as hard as I can at making it more affordable.”

The Local Plan will see Horsham build 480 homes per year for the first five years (2023/24-2027/28) and 901 per year between 2028/29 and 2039/40.

There have been a number of delays to the Plan and questions have been asked about whether the whole process should have been restarted.

But going back to square one would not only cost money – Mr Milne quoted in the region of £1m – but it would take two years to complete.

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He pointed to a number of ‘significant improvements’ which had been made – such as supporting Community Land Trusts to help bypass the inability to build social housing; work on Active Travel and developing a Nature Recovery Network; and much higher eco-building standards, which he said would be among the best in the country and would see average energy bills reduced by £1,000pa at least.

The Local Plan is scheduled to be submitted to the Secretary of State for examination in June, with a decision expected in September or October.