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On 8th May, Southwater Parish Council’s planning committee convened to consider Berkeley Homes’ application, among other items on the agenda. The meeting held in the evening at Beeson House was open to the public, with many people in attendance. Two councillors, Laurie Apted and Barbara Varley, had to excuse themselves from the discussion as they declared an interest, both having signed KSG’s previous petition against BH’s plans in 2011. That left just five other councillors in the room.

Dr Ian Thwaites and Polly Purton both spoke eloquently on behalf of KSG. First was Polly, who started by saying that the proposal for 634 homes does not reflect the will of the people of Southwater, it threatens the highly prized natural green barrier to the west of the village and has enormous potential for harm to the countryside.

Polly then mentioned the recent ‘Planning Practice Guidance’, which stresses that insufficient local road capacity to serve a development is a justified reason to stop it. Over a thousand more cars would emanate from the proposed development, adding to the current congestion at peak times on the Worthing Road, with its pinch points and schools, caravan park, shops and multiple roads all feeding into it. It would also add to the number already using our narrow country lanes as alternative routes into Horsham, which would become even more dangerous if the volume of traffic increases.

She went on to talk about Great House Farm, how it is hugely valued by the community and would become unviable if any of its acreage was lost, a fact established by a report on the farm commissioned by HDC in 2012. She also pointed out that English Heritage has acknowledged the importance of the farmhouse itself, which is an historic Grade II* Listed Building, and that recent legal guidance states that considerable weight should be given to preserving the setting of important listed buildings when the benefit versus harm analysis of the application is made.

Next up, Ian addressed the public health implications of the anthrax risk as well as the village’s woefully inadequate sewerage system, which is already causing severe problems for some residents. The system is literally overflowing, with raw sewage bubbling up in gardens and through toilets in Cripplegate Lane and Woodlands Way. It cannot take the discharge from any more housing without major modifications to the infrastructure, a fact that is acknowledged by Southern Water. The problem has actually existed for years, with each new development worsening it. Despite this, HDC has not acted upon significant warnings of inadequate sewerage capacity from Southern Water in the past and has gone on permitting further development.

Ian also spoke about the ambulance service’s response times, which for Southwater are notoriously slow. The Government target is for 75% of emergencies to be attended within 8 minutes, but here the figure for people who are reached in that time frequently falls well below 50%. He concluded by making the point that this is another serious infrastructure failing that endangers lives and should be put right before any more housing is built.

Adrian Brown, managing director of Berkeley Strategic, then presented their case, steadfastly defending the company’s decision to go for 634 units, which they believe would make best use of the land.

All three speakers were then given a little more time to address each other’s points, although it was felt that Mr Brown was evasive on the issues raised by KSG. Following this, members of the public were given the opportunity to comment and ask questions. Feelings were running high and a number of people spoke out against the proposal.

Finally, the councillors each stated their views before taking a vote. The result of this was a unanimous decision to object to Berkeley Homes’ outline plan, citing sewerage and roads in particular, as well as concerns regarding the village design statement being ignored and high buildings being planned (the 54 retirement living apartments).

Although Southwater Parish Council has no power over the eventual outcome, this result is certainly a step in the right direction. Horsham District Council, the planning authority, is duty bound to take the Parish Council’s objections into account when considering the proposal.