Protest against thousands of new homes goes ahead despite local plan meeting’s cancellation

A last-minute change in government planning rules has left Horsham District Council having to rework its Local Plan.

While a meeting to move the plan on to its next stage was cancelled on the advice of legal officers, that didn’t stop dozens of protesters from gathering to oppose proposals for thousands of new homes across the district.

The draft Local Plan laid out policies and proposals to guide development in the district up to 2038.

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But days before it was set to be put forward for a six-week consultation, the government declared that any authority planning large developments had to have a Local Plan looking 30 years ahead.

So now it’s back to the drawing board to adapt Horsham’s draft plan for the years up to at least 2051.

When asked why the council was taken by surprise, given that the 30-year requirement was included in the government’s draft document, shared earlier this year, a spokesman said the revisions were ‘substantially different’.

They added: “Whilst the government consulted on draft changes earlier this year, the council can only plan on the basis of the National Planning Policy Framework that is published, and not on what it might be in the future.

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“No warning was given that the revisions were to be published [in July].

“The revisions that were published on July 20 are substantially different from those which were consulted on.”

Councillors were due to hold an extraordinary meeting last week in which they would have approved the Regulation 19 planning document.

This is essentially when the version of the Local Plan the council wishes to adopt is published in draft form before being put out to consultation for six weeks.

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That consultation was due to start in September and would have ended with the Local Plan being submitted to the Secretary of State.

That has now all been delayed.

While the meeting was cancelled, groups such as Save West of Ifield and The Ifield Society continued with their planned protest outside the Chart Way council offices.

Around 100-strong, they certainly made their voices heard.

Many bore placards opposing plans for thousands of homes and a relief road west of Ifield, citing everything from the destruction of the rural countryside to the way the new homes would ‘crush’ Crawley’s infrastructure.

A spokesman for Save West of Ifield accused the council of failing to ‘counter wildly over-inflated government-imposed targets, driven by developer profit, that will see the wholesale destruction of greenfield sites, carbon sinks and ancient wildlife corridors’.

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In a letter to MP Jeremy Quin, Malcolm Bender, of Rusper Road, urged him to tell residents where he stood on the west of Ifield plans, adding: “If you are in favour of the proposals please let your constituents know so that we are aware at least that we have no representative in Parliament on this issue.

“If you don’t agree with the proposals then please let us know so that we can call upon your support.”

When asked if he supported the plans for west of Ifield, Mr Quin said he did not campaign for ‘specific outcomes from Local Plans’.

He added: “Deciding the Local Plan is a really difficult task undertaken by local councillors on the basis of the evidence.

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“It is too easy for MPs to oppose developments while not having the responsibility of delivering them – a responsibility Parliament has tasked to the district council.

“I think there is plenty we can do to improve the way we do planning – including on the delivery of affordable housing and infrastructure and I look forward to seeing the Planning Bill – which has been the focus of a huge amount of consideration – when it is finalised and published.”

Other contentious issues in the Local Plan included a new settlement of 2,100 homes at Buck Barn.

Some protesters felt the council should use the unexpected halt in the process to have a rethink.

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Dave Tidey of the West Grinstead Action Group, said: “It is important that the council reviews the whole plan and considers the ecological consequences of building at this site.

“We hope that they will take this opportunity to take account of all the representations put forward by [us].

“Buck Barn needs to be removed in its entirety.”

Some wondered why, instead of cancelling the meeting, the time could not have been used to discuss the next steps.

But things weren’t as simple as that.

The council spokesman said: “The revised National Planning Policy Framework was not accompanied by any government guidance as to the nature of work which councils are expected to prepare to support such a vision.

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“In the week between the publication of the [Framework] and the decision to not proceed with the full council meeting, the council sought legal advice as to whether the meeting of full council could proceed.

“The advice was clear that the plan could not proceed without additional technical work and that delay was inevitable.

“The reason the meeting of full council was called was to agree the content of the draft Local Plan and not the next steps.

“This will be communicated once the council has had time to give the matter full consideration.”

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The protesters, meanwhile, plan to continue to make sure their voices are heard.

They held a ‘mass trespass’ on Saturday (July 31), walking across the fields and golf course around Ifield Meadows.

A second ‘trespass walk’ is planned for this Saturday (August 7), starting from The Plough pub at 11am