Core Strategy for Horsham District

1. Background

Under the final South East Plan, published in May 2009, Horsham District Council is required by the Government to provide 13,000 new houses by 2026.

This figure represents an increase of 600 on the original target of 12,400 set out in the draft South East Plan, prepared by the South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA) in 2006.  The increase was recommended by an independent Inspector and approved by the Government.

The Core Strategy, which will form part of the Local Development Framework (LDF), will help Horsham District to meet its obligation to provide the new houses.

The Council has set out four ‘strategic spatial options' to meet this target:

1) Spread development throughout the district;

2) Focus development on the main / most sustainable existing settlements - urban extensions;

3) Concentrate development in each sub-region within a new settlement (i.e. new market town of 10,000 homes in the Gatwick sub-region, plus a new village of 4-5,000 homes somewhere else in the district);

4) Hybrid option.

In the spring of next year, the Council will publish a Preferred Strategy, subject to a further round of public consultation.

My Arundel and South Downs constituency is directly affected by two proposals in Horsham District Council's Core Strategy Review Consultation Document published in September.  One is for a new town of 4,000 houses between the villages of North Heath and Adversane, the former being within the boundary of my constituency, and another for an expansion of Pulborough.

As the Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs, I am submitting this formal response to register my strong opposition to unsustainable development in this part of rural West Sussex.

2. Key concerns about Strategic Site Option 8 (North Heath & Adversane)

This development has been proposed under Strategic Spatial Option 3.

I fully endorse the comments of Mr Andrew Swaffield, the Chairman of STAND (Stop The Adversane North Heath Development), submitted to Horsham District Council's consultation on 24 September 2009.

A new town of 4,000 houses would be built on around 155 hectares of land between North Heath and Adversane (about 2km south of Billingshurst and 4km north of Pulborough), which could include a range of facilities and services including a new railway station and bus service.

2.1 Greenfield site

I am appalled by this proposal to build a new town on greenfield land between North Heath and Adversane.  I visited the site earlier this month and was able to view the area from a position high above North Heath.  Despite the presence of the A29, this is a peaceful, rural setting with open fields, woodland and hedgerows.  The consultation document acknowledges that this area is a ‘rural and tranquil part of the District's countryside' and ‘could be adversely affected if the large scale development takes place'.  The area would be utterly devastated by the construction of this huge new settlement and the additional traffic it will generate.

2.2 Scale of development

This new town of 4,000 houses will have a population of some 10-12,000 people and will easily be the largest settlement in my constituency, being twice the size of Pulborough.  It will almost be as large as the ‘eco-town' proposed for Ford near Arundel - recently seen off by a highly effective campaign led by local residents.

A new town between North Heath and Adversane would almost join up the villages of Pulborough and Billingshurst and it would probably be a matter of time before they merged completely to form a single conurbation.

I am wholly opposed to development on this scale in this part of rural West Sussex.

2.3 Lack of infrastructure

I am also concerned about the lack of adequate infrastructure, particularly in transport, health services, schools and water supplies.  The existing services are already under huge strain and 4,000 new houses will make matters worse.  I do not believe that it is sustainable to create a new town in the middle of open countryside without the infrastructure or jobs to support it. 

2.3.1 Roads

The A29 is highlighted in the consultation document as an opportunity to provide a bus service between Pulborough and Billingshurst.  However, as the document concedes, although this is a major development, it will ‘not be sufficient to generate the provision of more than local facilities, which may therefore encourage the use of the private car, despite the public transport opportunities'.  It is quite clear that the A29 is not suitable for development on this scale and the document itself concedes that ‘significant improvements' will be needed.  It states that ‘access to the development via the A29 would also require a new crossing over the railway line which could prove costly and technically problematic'.

2.3.2 Rail

The consultation document says that the ‘development could provide a new railway station with rail services to Horsham, Crawley/Gatwick and London, as well as the South Coast'.  However, it is hard to believe that Southern, which has already downgraded services on the Arun line since 2007, will run regular trains that stop just a few minutes apart at Billingshurst, a new station at Adversane, and Pulborough.  If they do not, it will exacerbate the problem of traffic on the local road network as people find alternative means to travel.

2.3.3 Water

West Sussex is already an area which suffers from water shortage and projections indicated that these pressures will increase.  This should be an important factor when considering further development.

2.3.4 Health services

I am concerned that we will not have the health services in this area to cope with another 10-12,000 residents.  The three major hospitals of West

Sussex have been threatened with the downgrading of key services in the last few years and there is continuing concern that, in spite of recent assurances that A&E and maternity services will be preserved on all three sites, further attempts to cut back services may be made.

North Heath and Adversane would have poor access to acute hospital services, the nearest major hospital being almost 20 miles away.  I am also concerned about the ability of SECAmb to cope with the additional pressure in an area where ambulances already struggle to meet emergency response times.  An increase of housing on the scale proposed would also inevitably impact on existing GP services.

2.3.5 Police

Despite being a large village with some issues relating to crime and anti-social behaviour, Pulborough still does not have a police station that is accessible to the public.  I am concerned that an increase in the local population would not be matched by sufficient resources to ensure a police presence in the community that would command local confidence.

2.3.6 Schools

According to the consultation document, the new town ‘would not be sufficiently large to support a new secondary school and there is unlikely to be enough capacity at existing schools to accommodate children from the development'.  I think this statement speaks for itself and I cannot overemphasise how important it is that parents are able to send their children to local schools.  In other parts of the county, such as Hassocks, we have already seen the impact that a shortage of school places can have, with parents having to travel to other villages to drop their children off at school and collect them at the end of the day.

2.4 Employment

The consultation document says that a new town at North Heath would benefit from its close proximity to the Brinsbury Campus of Chichester College.  I have recently visited the campus and, as a centre for rural excellence, it benefits hugely from being located in a rural setting.  It has a wide range of rural courses and a farm on the site.  I am not persuaded that the college will be able to provide the employment opportunities that a new town of some 10-12,000 people will require.  I fear that such a development would therefore become a ‘dormitory town' with thousands of residents travelling to other parts of the county in search of work or, more likely, to London.  A development of this size should be located where employment opportunities can be provided.

2.5 Community cohesion

I do not believe that it is desirable to create a new town in the middle of the countryside given that it is unlikely to provide people with a genuine sense of community.  I believe that we do need new homes, especially for young people who are finding it difficult to get a foot on the housing ladder.  However, in my experience of talking to people in my constituency, people want to live within their existing network of family and friends.  A new town will not help with the lack of affordable housing in our villages.

2.6 Public opinion

I have received dozens of e-mails and letters from my constituents in North Heath stating their objection to these proposals, and no-one has contacted me to say that they are in favour.  Indeed, local opposition to the plan is near unanimous.  I believe that this weight of local opinion must be taken into account.

3. Key concerns about Strategic Site Option 9 (Pulborough)

Horsham District Council has identified several sites for development in Pulborough through the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) process which may be considered under Option 1 or Option 2.  These sites, say the Council, could contribute 280 houses.  I have some concerns about the proposals to expand Pulborough.

3.1 Greenfield sites

I am particularly concerned about the prospect of development on greenfield sites, namely on West Glebe Field in Church Place and land close to Stane Street.  I believe that we should always aim to develop on brownfield land wherever possible.  Greenfield sites should be used as a last resort.

3.2 Infrastructure

The consultation document says that some of the existing infrastructure could handle the additional houses, but concedes that ‘all individual sites rely on improvements to infrastructure across the village and careful consideration of the environmental issues'.

3.2.1 Roads

The A29 and A283 are both unsuitable for any large-scale development in the area.  The A29 at Pulborough, which is extremely narrow along Church

Hill, requires a new pedestrian footbridge and the A283 (Lower Street) is very narrow and can be hazardous for pedestrians.  The A283 is already used as a rat-run for traffic that would otherwise use the A27 but for the severe bottlenecks at Chichester, Arundel and Worthing.  Given the problems that already exist, I do not believe we should be placing additional burdens on the road network around Pulborough.

3.2.2 Rail

Pulborough is a key station along the Arun Valley line and is used by commuters travelling to and from London, as well as to the coast.  At present, the car parking facilities at Pulborough are limited and over-stretched.  It is already a problem for people who want to leave their cars behind and travel by train to London. 

Added to this, train services on the Arun line have been downgraded in recent years.  In December 2007, a new timetable was introduced which disadvantaged passengers using the station at Pulborough and other intermediate stations in favour of residents in the coastal towns.  It has meant that trains using the Arun line are slower and, to make matters worse, the company has followed a policy of cancelling stops on the Arun line for late-running trains travelling south from Horsham.  It is an issue that I have taken up with Southern, which yielded a promise to review the policy.  However, it is clear that passengers using the station at Pulborough have been given a lower priority for services between London and the coast.

3.2.3 Schools

There is recognition in the consultation document that local schools will be unable to cope with the additional demand unless new places are provided in primary and secondary schools.

3.3 Public opinion

I believe that it should be for local councils and local people to decide whether to accept new development.  I believe that any significant new development in Pulborough should only take place with the approval of the parish council.

4. Conclusion

The level of housing being demanded by the Government - 13,000 new houses by 2026 - is a serious concern.  Horsham District does not have the infrastructure or employment needed to cope with house-building on this scale.  Much of this new development would be on greenfield land, damaging the countryside and contributing to a housing sprawl that would threaten the rural character of our villages and towns.  In particular, I do not believe that building an isolated new town in the countryside in this part of West Sussex is the way to address the shortage of affordable housing in our villages. 

I appreciate that Horsham District Council is required to identify sites to meet the Government's housing targets, and has therefore been placed in an invidious position.  This must change.  As the Conservative Party has said in our ‘Control Shift' green paper, we believe that these decisions should be taken by locally elected people who are trusted to make the right decisions in the best interests of their communities.  We will therefore abolish regional planning and revoke all regional spatial strategies, including regional building targets.

Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel & South Downs

Christopher N Howarth