Over recent weeks a number of new questions have arisen regarding the proposed West of Ifield development, what is driving it, and what options are available for preventing or amending the proposals. There are also many outstanding issues, the answers to which are central to any attempt to effectively avoid 10,000 units being built on the side of our town and which for some reason we have been waiting months for our MP to find the time to raise. Consequently, I have written to the Secretary of State on behalf of the town to seek answers to these questions.
The current council administration’s position on this is clear and we would encourage local representatives who genuinely object to the proposals to focus on running an effective campaign, rather than paying lip service or issuing press releases with off-the-wall suggestions.
Dear Mr Jenrick,
As you may or may not be aware, Homes England—the Government’s housing delivery agency, are looking to build up to 10,000 houses immediately adjacent to our current urban area: West of Ifield.
Having reviewed these plans, we are concerned that the proposed development will cause significant ecological harm to our area, stretch the town’s infrastructure beyond what it is sustainable, and ultimately fail to deliver housing the town’s residents can actually afford.
In addition, the proposed housing would be constructed beneath the flightpath of the world’s busiest single-runway airport, in a floodplain, and assumes a level of employment need based on when Crawley had the highest density of jobs in the country, something which you will be aware from my past-correspondence is certainly no longer true.
While this development would see Crawley, the largest population centre in the county, increase its size by around a quarter, due to the land falling within the boundaries of Horsham District Council current planning rules means we will play no decision-making role around this proposal.
This is clearly a breach of natural justice, one which under current planning rules with a private developer we would just be forced to accept. Fortunately, Homes England are a public body and ultimately report to you, which is why I am writing to you now to raise a number of questions which have arisen over recent months:
1) The Chair of Horsham District Council’s Planning Committee has stated that: ‘The Housing Minister has INSTRUCTED us to build 30,000 houses over the next 25 years’, as the Housing Minister reports to you, can you confirm whether or not this is the case and if this instruction would require the West of Ifield development to be included within the council’s Local Plan?
2) Homes England report to the Government, have their targets set by the Government, and reportedly the development of the West of Ifield site has already been taken into account in their delivery targets. Could you confirm that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are not pushing the development of the West of Ifield and would not provide no opposition should Homes England decide to not proceed with their current plans for the site?
3) The Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, grants Homes England the status of a planning authority where the Secretary of State has granted a designation order. Can you confirm that in the event that Horsham District Council do not grant planning permission for the development of land West of Ifield, no designation order will be granted for this site?
4) Homes England is the successor body of a long line of development agencies, stretching back to the original New Town Development Corporations. A number of these agencies had their own planning powers and comments from a past Chief Executive of Homes England have suggested that some of these powers might be used in the future to bring forward development where councils would not. In the event that they attempted to use these powers West of Ifield, could the Secretary of State confirm that he would intervene either directly with Homes England, such as through the use of his call-in power?
5) As previously outlined, in the event that Horsham District Council do grant permission for the development of West of Ifield, Crawley Borough Council and consequently Crawley residents will have no decision-making power over plans which will inevitably have a significant impact on the town’s future and which are allegedly about meeting the town’s needs. Will you intervene to ensure that a principal authority review can be carried out before any development takes place, ensuring that the local residents can decide for themselves how their town will develop by making Crawley Borough Council the decision-making authority?
6) If a principal authority is not possible within these timescales, as Homes England are a body reporting to your Ministry, will you require Homes England to pay the same heed to the requirements set out by Crawley Borough Council as if we were ourselves the local planning authority?
7) Alternatively, will you require that Homes England develop the site in a way which meets the bare minimum requirements identified to actually deliver a viable new community without substantially negatively impacting the town’s existing population, these being:
• That at least 40% of the housing is affordable (with a 70% social housing and 30% intermediate tenure mix)
• That there is the provision of a Western relief road, running all the way from the A264 to a junction at the North of the Manor Royal Business Park
• That the development follows the New Town’s ‘Neighbourhood Principal’ upon which Crawley was built, with services provided upfront and large quantities of urban green space
• That everything possible is done to minimise the environmental impact of any development, including the flood risk to adjacent areas
8) Lastly, if the development comes forward within the current boundaries, council tax and other forms of funding for providing services will be paid to Horsham District Council. Due to the development’s location the majority of the services accessed by residents will be paid for by Crawley Borough Council. This not only deprives those living West of Ifield with democratic input into the way their services are run, it will result in the borough suffering a significant increase in pressure on its services without the funding to improve capacity. At peak Crawley Borough Council had net revenue expenditure of £27m, cuts by this Government have forced our expenditure down to £13m, there is simply no way we can accommodate a 25% increase in demand within our current funding and still maintain local services at anything like their current level. In the event the development does go ahead and a principal area review is not possible, does the Secretary of State plan to make any changes to the level of financial support the council receives to adapt to the pressures brought on by an agency reporting to him?
Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council