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PROTECTING SOUTHWATER

Originally published in the first issue of Southwater Life magazine, February 2011.

Ian ThwaitesBy Dr Ian Thwaites

In 2009, Horsham District Council decided to actively consider applications from Berkeley Homes to build 2,750 new houses to the west of Southwater in the next strategic plan, which was to go up to 2026.

This was such a huge imposition upon the village, which would have increased in size by more than 70%, that a group of residents decided this had to be contested, particularly since the Parish Council felt unable to express an opinion or take a position. Consequently we formed an organisation that we called KEEP SOUTHWATER GREEN (KSG).

We have fought the proposals with every means at our disposal, pointing out the terrible impact that such development would have upon the soul of our community, let alone the highways, health facilities, water services, etc.

With the change of Government in 2010 came the removal of the imposition of a fixed number of houses. Despite this, HDC has continued to press forward. KSG organised a petition, which was signed by over 4000 people, and presented it to both the Parish and District Councils. This simply said that we are opposed, under all circumstances, to further large scale housing development in Southwater.

This certainly had an impact. During the past summer HDC appeared to shy away from the massive numbers and asked KSG to form part of a ‘Reference Group’ to discuss development in the village. Initially Councillor David Jenkins, the Cabinet Member for Planning, suggested that, if we could accept a smaller number of houses built in the very near future, he might be able to put in place a long term protection, through safeguarding the 220 acres of Great House Farm and the right of the Charman family to continue to farm there, as they have for generations.

This was such an important possibility that we felt it had to be explored. However, by September Councillor Jenkins had produced nothing and it became apparent that this was, in effect, a backdoor way of introducing a first slice of development – some 500 houses – which would certainly have been followed by all the others. We were very concerned that the development was being pushed forward with unjustified haste.

KSG opposed this vociferously. To our great relief the Conservative Group on HDC came out against proceeding, having been convinced by Councillor Claire Vickers, who is one of our three District representatives.

So for the moment it seemed we had won, but HDC has not given up! However, this time they have been forced to dress it up as ‘Consultation’. Everyone who lives in the village is being asked to make a choice between three options. This is important because it means:

YOU have a real opportunity at this very moment to influence the future of Southwater. Don’t miss this chance to tell them what YOU really want to happen to YOUR community!

What HDC wants is to quickly build about 500 houses to the west of the Worthing Road. They say the reason for haste is that the District as a whole is vulnerable to having development thrust upon it. They present this as a major evil, which will affect us in Southwater as well as the entire District. We question this; we think they are less vulnerable than they claim – and are smaller developments necessarily an evil? We think not.

Do they have a hidden agenda? The Localism Bill will soon be enacted. Local communities will get a much greater say. Do they think that if they cannot start development now it will be harder to impose on us when the new rules apply?

We have asked them to consider our situation. We have no imminent threat from unplanned development. We have no need of major new infrastructure – our only real need is affordable houses.

HDC is demanding a sacrifice from Southwater to help the rest of the District avoid a housing supply problem, which is of their own creation. It is due to the failure of exactly the policy they currently present to us as the most desirable – namely that of large scale planned development. All they have offered us in return is the certainty that if we accept some development and some infrastructure now, more will follow!

These are the options being presented to us during the consultation period:

Option 1: NO large scale development planned by HDC

Housing needs of the village would continue to be met by small developments, as now, each considered on merit by HDC and the Parish Council via the established planning mechanism.

Option 2: about 250 houses to the west of the village, with limited infrastructure gain

This would open the flood gates for more substantial development to follow, in addition to the smaller projects that would be considered individually via the established mechanism.

Option 3: about 500 houses to the west of the village, with much greater infrastructure

This scale of development would change the character of the village. Furthermore, it would be very difficult for HDC to guarantee what infrastructure would be provided to support the increase in population and traffic. Infrastructure usually follows much later than the building of new housing estates, resulting in communities suffering from overload of their facilities for a prolonged period.

To fully understand the possible risks and gains of each option, please consult our website at www.keepsouthwatergreen.co.uk.

It is the view of KSG that the risks of accepting any planned development far outweigh any possible benefits. Therefore we ask for an overwhelming vote against all planned large scale development – that is, we’re asking you to vote for Option 1.

What do you need to do now?

  1. Read the details on our website, so you understand the implications
  2. Read the HDC circular and questions carefully
  3. Go to at least one of the public exhibitions
  4. Ask questions of us, the planning department, the developers, and the Parish Council
  5. Make up your mind on what you consider to be the best option for Southwater
  6. Then make absolutely sure you register your views with HDC

If a large number of people respond, and provide a clear majority view, HDC will have great difficulty in ignoring the wishes of Southwater’s residents. Remember, this year the District Councillors have to stand for re-election. We have three who represent Southwater; only one, Claire Vickers, has spoken up for the village. Ian Howard is in favour of the development – ask him to justify his position. Ross Dye has offered no comment.

Over 4000 of us have already said “We are opposed, under all circumstances, to further large scale housing development in Southwater”, when we signed the petition.  Now let’s say it again, even more clearly!

NB: this article is historical and provided for background information only.