Mayfield Market Towns’ proposals faced a wall of opposition yesterday from every tier of local government.
Defending its Housing Plan, Horsham District Council was flanked by two MPs, Sir Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert, and representatives from Mid Sussex District Council, West Sussex County Council, nine Parish Councils, the CPRE and LAMBS.
Mayfields’ John Rhodes (audio 2) opened the hearing claiming that the District’s housing plan was “unsound”. He presented the Government Inspector, Geoff Salter with the new town proposal as a solution to this. He admitted that Mayfields could not meet immediate housing needs but that it could be a longer term solution if it was added on to the existing housing plan.
South Downs MP Nick Herbert then opened the Council’s defence saying he believed Mayfields was undermining the Localism Act.
“It has no local support,” he said, “and its only effect would be to undermine two important local plans that will lead to the early delivery of necessary new housing.”
Mr Herbert also questioned Mayfields’ approach to the local community, “This developer has sought to give the impression to my constituents that this the development is an inevitability, is approaching landowners on that basis and that it has high level political support and therefore will go through. It distributed 8,000 leaflets to the population in North Horsham urging people not to support development there because an alternative was available. I don’t know whether this is usual planning practice but certainly as a Member of Parliament I certainly don’t see this as acceptable.”
Horsham District Council’s QC, Christopher Katkowski (audio 1 & 3) pointed out that some local residents – like those in North Horsham – were under the misapprehension that Mayfields would be an alternative to other controversial housing projects in the District and asked for clarification. Mr Rhodes confirmed that Mayfields would be “in addition” to other developments and not “instead of”.
“We believe the plan needs to provide for more housing and employment,” he said, “and in doing so we identify Mayfields in order to meet that additional need.”
Mr Katkowski then questioned the fundamental legality of Mayfields’ proposals saying to the Inspector: “We need to understand what is it that you are actually being asked to do. If the promoters here stand by their submissions then frankly you will have no option… no option at all other than to rule them out on legal grounds because the proposition of having a Supplementary Planning Document simply wouldn’t work – it would literally be unlawful.”
Mayfields’, Mr Rhodes responded by saying he believed there were “one or two ways in which it can still be implemented” and added that Mayfields had no intention of withdrawing.
After a morning coffee break the Examination got down to the more routine business of examining the sustainability and deliverability of the proposal. Transport was in spotlight first with Mr Katkowski highlighting Mayfields’ lack of a rail line which was also addressed by LAMBS barrister, Richard Turney; “There is an extensive rail network in Sussex,” Mr Turney said “This is the only proposal you have before you which doesn’t have any sensible interaction with the rail station within reasonable travel distance.”
Mayfields’ Kevin Kay Claimed (audio 4) his transport model, including proposals for a controversial new road junction at Albourne was an “appropriate initial high level assessment of the site at the local plan stage.”
However, West Sussex County Council spokeswoman clarified that any discussions between the Council and Mayfields concerning transport models were at a very “early stage” and not at “local plan stage”.
Mayfields’ Mori poll was also discussed with Mr Rhodes claiming the results showed a preference for a New Market Town. However, Horsham’s Spatial Planning Manager, Barbara Childs said the District Council’s findings had been the opposite:
“This doesn’t marry up with the outcome of our consultation” she said, “where we concluded that spreading the development throughout the District and concentrating on the main sustainable settlements was favoured.”
The hearing had been scheduled to finish at lunchtime but with many more matters still to be discussed it over ran by three hours. Flooding, ecology and blight were all addressed. LAMBS Barrister, Richard Turney (audio 5 & 6) was invited by the Council to put forward evidence on all these issues. Mr Turney refuted Mayfields’ claims that flooding in the area is restricted to the river corridors and could be addressed by urban drainage systems. He also presented evidence from LAMBS’ Ecology Report highlighting the role of the wet low lying landscape as a wildlife habitat to many rare species.
Mr Turney said that Mayfields had greatly under-estimated the ecological importance of the area:
“Barn Owls use the site and Nightingales – we think there are, on our understanding of the latest survey data, at least 24 territories in 2012 and 12 territories in 2013 – it is an extremely vulnerable species and I think Mayfields has only identified three potential territories.
“And we note that Mayfields has failed to identify at all the existence of Brown Hairstreak butterflies. They are an invertebrate species of considerable significance at National and International level.”
The subject of Compulsory Purchase Orders was touched on by Mayfields’ John Rhodes as a means of acquiring some of the land. But Mr Turney said talk of CPOs was damaging to the local community. “It is divisive and it emphasises the threat when a well funded developer comes to a local community and says ‘I am going to find a way to build on your land’. It is clear from the information we have provided that a very large quantity of the land concerned is not available.”
The final word went to Chair of the Inter-Parish group of nine local Parish Councils, Nikki Ernest: (audio 7)
You have Parish Councils here, District Councils here and we had the MPs here earlier; none of whom support the Mayfields’ proposal,” she said. “The last discussion that the only way this proposal is viable is through Compulsory Purchase, because land owners are not prepared to sell, astounds me.”