Nick's speech at public meeting objecting to new town proposal
I, as the Member of Parliament for Arundel & South Downs, which includes this village (Henfield) and will include a large part of where they propose to build this new town, want to say once again, as I have been saying for a decade now, alongside my colleague Sir Nicholas Soames, that I profoundly object to this proposal. I object to it for a number of reasons. First of all, I object to the behaviour of the developers. Horsham and Mid Sussex District Councils have very difficult jobs to do in getting their plans through. Mayfield, along with other developers but Mayfield took the lead, did everything they possibly could to disrupt those plans as they were going through. They helped to cause the delay of the Mid Sussex Plan, they argued against the plans, they wanted the development that they had chosen, and objected to the development that the democratically-elected local councils wanted. They even went so far as to leaflet people in the north of Horsham during the inspection process of the Horsham District Plan, to say they they needn’t have development up there, because the Mayfield town could be built in the south of the district itself. Those are the sorts of tactics that this developer was resorting to. We’ve heard about the tactics that they employ in seeking to bully landowners to go along with their proposal. Some of the tactics have frankly been shameful. They don’t even own the options for most of this land, and yet they persist.
The Chairman of this company is a highly reputable developer who has produced a brilliant development in Kings Cross. I don’t take anything away from that. And he said to me, in one of the meetings, “come and see the development in Kings Cross because you will see how well we did it”. I said to him, “I have seen the development in Kings Cross. It’s a good development, but this is not Kings Cross, this is rural West Sussex, and you are proposing to build 7,000 houses for 20,000 people, four times the size of any of the villages or small market towns in my constituency, in an area that has no transport infrastructure.” Where is the railway line that is going to take people to and from work? How can you build a new town these days, and not have it located anywhere near a railway line? What are people going to do? Is it a serious prospect that they are all going to have jobs located locally? No, they are going to get into their cars and they are going to drive to one of our other existing railways stations. We all know what a fantastic route it is to go through Hurstpierpoint to Hassocks, and we all know what a fantastic rail service it is there [ironic tone].
We know of the pressure that already exists on our schools, on our GP services, on our country roads, and one of the biggest concerns that people have about development in the area is not just that people don’t feel in control of it, it’s the lack of infrastructure to support it. We get the houses, but we don’t get the services and infrastructure that should follow. So, it is absurd, it seems to me, that you propose a development plonked down in the middle of open countryside in West Sussex, nowhere near a railway line, and think that is a sustainable proposal for a modern new town. It simply is not.
There is a case for building new towns. Let’s understand that there it. There’s a case as we saw there was a generation back, when some of the new towns were produced to accommodate a population then. There’s a case now because we know that there is housing need, we know that there are young people who can’t afford to buy a house, whose idea of owning a house is just a distant dream, who are driven away from this area because of high rents. We know that there is a need to build more houses. Every single person in this room knows it. You have children and grandchildren, if you yourself are not a young person. We know that we have to meet those dreams. It is the single most pressing domestic policy issue that this country faces, in my view. But we are meeting that housing demand locally. Horsham and Mid Sussex District Councils are building huge numbers of houses because of the targets that have effectively been set for them, and those targets have been increased. Horsham is going to have to build around 1,000 houses a year in order to meet this demand. You’ve just heard from the parish council chairman, how Henfield is going to have accommodate more houses. I know that we don’t like this but we all understand the need to provide houses for young people. If good sites can be found across the country, where there is local support from local councils, in sustainable areas, where there is transport infrastructure, then there would be a case for building a new town and I think we all understand that. But this isn’t one of those cases, because the councils already have their existing plans. Local councils are opposed to this plan. Members of Parliament are opposed to this plan. The parish councils are opposed to this plan. There is no local democratic consent for this proposal and it’s not necessary to accommodate the housing need that we have to meet in our area. It’s an unnecessary proposal by a developer that is simply trying to get its own way.
What I want to say in conclusion is this; it is not enough, to not like the developer, it is not enough to disapprove, as I do, of the developer tactics. It is not enough just to say that we don’t want a development of this scale anywhere near us. It is not enough to say that this housing would be built in open countryside and that would spoil the countryside. It’s not enough to find a beetle, a dormouse, or a bat that is claimed as the rarest in the whole world and therefore the development cannot come. That never stops development of this kind. My serious point is this; you have to mount, and we together have to mount, a serious case to stop this developer. It won’t be enough to gather in this church again. It won’t be enough to go out with our placards. It won’t even be enough to threaten to lie down under the bulldozer. We have to make the case. We have to ensure that the planning arguments as to why this is not a sustainable proposal, are put to the council, and if necessary put to the planning inspector, we have to marshal our forces.
That’s why the LAMBS campaign is so important, because it’s not just a noisy pressure group, and I know we all want noise about this proposal, it’s a serious group mounting a serious argument, and that is how we will win.The group needs funding because it wants to take on top legal advice.It wants to make sure that we can play Mayfield at their own game.One of the developers told me “were just in this for the long game”.Well perhaps they are but look at the price we are paying for that cynicism; property blight, local public concern, our plans being disrupted.What we have to signal is that if necessary, we’ll be in it for the long game too because we won’t give up.That’s why I want you to support the LAMBS campaign.That’s why it’s so important.This proposal has arisen again.It’s like a particularly awful case of Athlete’s Foot, it just never goes away, and what we have to do is find a way to kill it off once and for all.The planning inspectors said it was not necessary, the councils said it was not necessary, the parish councils are against it, but we have to fight on and we have to make the serious arguments, and you have to support the LAMBS campaign to help them to do that.I promise you that Sir Nicholas Soames and I, for so long as we remain Member of Parliament, will continue to join with you and fight against this completely undemocratic, unsustainable and cynical proposal.