Hassocks residents air concerns at MP's meeting

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has held a public meeting in Hassocks to hear the views and concerns of local residents.

Mr Herbert was joined on the panel by West Sussex County Councillor Colin Wilsdon and Mid Sussex District Councillors Gordon Marples and Sue Hatton.  The meeting was chaired by Hassocks Parish Council Chairman Bill Hatton.

The audience received an update from Mr Herbert on a range of local issues, including the future configuration of hospital services in West Sussex. 

Mr Herbert said that he was delighted that A&E services at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath had been granted a reprieve, largely due to the intervention of the Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.  However, he highlighted continuing doubts over the future of consultant-led maternity services and said that campaigners were working hard to persuade the health authorities to retain these services at the PRH.

Commenting on ‘Fit for the Future', Mr Herbert said that the Primary Care Trust's handling of the exercise had been "appalling" - that it had wasted vast sums of public money, caused great uncertainty for staff and patients, and been very damaging to the local community.

Although the process has been temporarily suspended, in the light of a proposed merger between the Royal West Sussex NHS Trust (which manages St Richard's Hospital) and the Worthing and Southlands Hospitals NHS Trust, Mr Herbert called on the PCT to declare their Fit for the Future programme "dead" and said that "this shenanigan has gone on for long enough".

Mr Herbert also talked about the "huge pressures" for development in West Sussex and said it would be a big challenge for the future.  Whilst recognising the need for more housing, he said that we should not be subject to "top-down" targets from Whitehall.  Instead, he argued that elected local authorities should decide on the number of houses to be built and where they should go, and that central government should provide local councils with incentives to increase the supply of affordable housing.

Mr Herbert also talked about the importance of neighbourhood policing to his constituents.  He said that he had met with the Chief Constable at a conference earlier that day and reinforced the message that local communities want to have a visible police presence in their villages. 

On the local rail service, Mr Herbert paid tribute to the Hassocks Amenity Association Rail Group who have been working hard to improve the services and facilities for passengers using the station at Hassocks.  Mr Herbert said he would continue to support their efforts to secure funding for a new station.

Issues raised by members of the audience included speeding on Dale Avenue, the idea of introducing a 20mph speed limit in the village, noise from summer activities at the Downlands Community School, street cleaning and repairs, criminal records checks for local volunteers, the Beachdown Festival at Devil's Dyke and the proposal for a South Downs National Park.

The audience included Year 6 pupils from The Windmills Junior School in Hassocks, accompanied by Headteacher Eileen Sharpe.  The pupils asked questions about car parking in Dale Avenue, the need for a wider range of shops in the village and the lack of play equipment in local parks for children of primary school age.  There was also a question on how young people can get more involved in the local community.

After the meeting, Bill Hatton commented: "We are very grateful to Nick for taking time out of his busy schedule.  We feel we had a very useful and informative meeting which was well attended and completely free of any political point-scoring.  We look forward to the next one."

Nick Herbert commented: "The meeting in Hassocks was one of a series I've held in the Downland villages over recent months and almost everyone has said they've been a success.  I certainly plan to hold more open meetings next year.  They've given people the chance to air their concerns, whether about local or national issues, and there's been a very constructive atmosphere at all of the events.

"We might try out a different time, perhaps early on a Friday evening, as lunchtime obviously isn't good for people at work.  I'd certainly welcome any views about the timing, format and so on."

He added: "I'm very grateful to the local councillors for taking part and to everyone who came along to make their views known.  I think it's been good for local people to be able to meet all of their local representatives in one room."



Notes for Editors

1. The meeting was held at The Green Room, Adastra Hall, Keymer Road, Hassocks BN6 8QH.

Christopher N Howarth