END OF YEAR UPDATE

SEASONS GREETINGS TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS

Thank you to all our supporters for all your hard work during 2020, objecting twice to MSDC’s proposals to allocate the fields for housing in their Site Allocations Development Plan Document.

2021 could bring a major decision on the fate of the fields with the conclusion of this Site Selection process.

There’s not much progress to report following the latest round of consultation. According to their website, MSDC are still “reading and logging the responses received during the consultation”. 

Thanks again to everyone who responded.  Hopefully local people have made their voice loud and clear.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT –

Legal representation at the hearings – a call for donations?

For the first time in SOFLAG’s history, we may need to appeal to you for financial support.

The Independent Planning Inspector will be considering MSDC’s Development Plan at hearings in the new year.

This could be our final shot at protecting the fields from development.

If sites SA12/13 (the name given to the fields in the MSDC Document) are allocated, building is scheduled to start in 2022….

MSDC and all the developers will be heavily represented by barristers to defend their interests. It’s a sad fact that for us to have any effective presence at the hearings, we too will need to engage a specialist planning barrister.  In previous such hearings, we’ve seen that the Inspector simply takes more notice of the words of officials and their barristers.  They speak the same language.

In such uncertain times, we realise it’s not the best time to be asking for money, but one thing that we’ve all learned is how important nature and open spaces are to the wellbeing of our population.  Space, clean air, nature habitats…all these things are set to be lost if this development goes ahead.  If you are in a position to donate, now really is the time…. Think about how your quality of life will be affected if this development were to go ahead… the traffic, the loss of open natural space, the drop in property value, Burgess Hill eating up further swathes of the Hassocks countryside…

If you think you might be able to help, now is the time so please do let us know.

Please email info@soflag.co.uk and tell us how much you might be able to contribute to a legal fighting fund. It doesn’t matter how small the amount. This will enable us to build a fundraising plan. If you’d rather chat to one of us about this, leave your phone number and we’ll give you a call.

This does not mean you are committing yourselves to anything, it’s just to give us an estimate. We won’t keep a record of who offered what, and we’ll ask again if and when we decide we are able to go ahead.

We know the development is crazy. The Town Council know it’s crazy.   So we must make sure our voice is heard by the inspector.  We’re sure, if the evidence is presented in the correct way, they will also see this development is totally inappropriate.

We are currently looking into the best and most secure way to collect and hold donations. We’ll be in touch in the new year when we know more…but in the meantime please email us if you would like to contribute.

A taste of what’s to come?

Anyone wondering what will happen if we don’t stop the development got a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago when the A273 between Hassocks and Burgess Hill was blocked by a fallen tree .

During the morning rush, hundreds of extra cars drove north up Ockley Lane / Keymer Road into Burgess Hill, and by 8.30 the traffic was stationary as far south as Broadlands and the Folders Lane roundabout and Hoadleys Corner were gridlock.

This is what it will be like every day once 500 houses at Clayton Mills with one access point on Ockley Lane are built and Keymer Tiles / Kingsway are finished, plus the 350 that we’re fighting against…

BATTLE COMMENCES

OBJECT NOW!

Help convince the Inspector that Sites SA12 & SA13 should be removed from MSDC’s Site Allocations DPD by responding to the consultation. 
We know they are unsuitable, unsustainable and undeliverable, and the whole Site Selection process has been mishandled.
If they’re allocated, developers get the green light, traffic in Burgess Hill will be gridlocked and the green gap between Burgess Hill and the Downs villages could be completely lost.
All your responses will be sent to the independent Inspector – every one counts.
REGISTER YOUR OBJECTIONS BY 28TH SEPTEMBER
HERE’S HOW..
Object Online:

1.   Click here  or type the following into your web browser:
https://www.midsussex.gov.uk/forms/?form=28943&w=1
You will find yourself at this page:

2. Click on ‘Next Page’.
You will arrive at a page to enter your personal details.  You only really need to enter your name here, unless you wish to respond as an organisation, then

3. Click ‘Next Page’ again 
On this page you must enter your home address and email address.

4. Click ‘Next Page’ again .

You will find this screen – we’ve highlighted how to complete this page:

5. Click ‘Next Page’ one last time.

You will find yourself at the ‘Your Comments’ section of the form.  This is where you will enter your own reasons for objecting.

WHAT SHOULD I WRITE?

We recommend you write one objection per issue, don’t put all your issues in one email objection.

If you wish to object regarding several issues, write several simple objections. This is allowed.

We also advise you write the objection in your own words if possible. It doesn’t have to be long but representative of your opinion.

Here’s some examples of issues:

You are objecting to the allocation of housing sites SA12 & SA13 in the DPD because:

  • The site selection process was dishonest, unrepresentative, did not follow MSDC’s own guidance.   Representations made during the first consultation were ‘lost’.
  • The traffic report produced for MSDC is fatally flawed. Clearly the traffic situation is already at breaking point and nothing substantive can be done to address this.
  • The biodiversity within the site makes it unsuitable for development and MSDC have ignored this.
  • This will coalescence – the green gap between Burgess Hill and the villages to the south will be lost forever.
  • There is a lack of infrastructure and nothing is showing in the proposals to address this.
  • Allocating these sites for housing goes against the District Plan and national planning guidance

If you don’t want to object online, you can do it by email or post: 

 

Please take a little time out of your day to do this.

We always complain that no one listens to us.  Now we have the opportunity to be heard by an independent inspector.  Unlike MSDC they will listen, so make the most of it.

OBJECTIONS MUST BE IN BY MONDAY 28TH SEPTEMBER – PLEASE DO IT NOW!

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT…

FINAL BATTLE STARTS NOW

The final phase of the Site Selection process has begun… 

This is our best chance to:
Save the ecologically rich Folders Lane fields from development
Save Burgess Hill & surrounding villages from traffic chaos & its devastating effect on local families and businesses
Prevent a building frenzy concreting over the beautiful countryside as the edge of Burgess Hill extends towards Keymer allowing more development to the south

We believe we can save the fields. But we all need to come together as a community to show the Planning Inspector that this proposal is bad for our area.

WHAT NOW? 
A final public consultation has now opened.
Your responses will be passed to the independent Planning Inspector who will decide the fate of the fields, and our community.

WE NEED YOUR HELP AT THIS CRITICAL TIME
It’s the last throw of the dice and you CAN make a difference. We’re asking for two things from you now: 

1. Can you help us with evidence?
We’re building a case that the Site Selection process has been flawed and is unsound. We’ve found lots of errors and other issues.  Have you any written correspondence (emails or letters) with MSDC about the threat to the fields or a local planning issue over the last few years?   If you can help, please follow this link and email info@soflag.co.uk and we’ll be in touch. Your name won’t be made public.
 
2. Object, object, object…

The public consultation is open from 3rd August – 28th September.

We need everyone to respond objecting to Sites SA12 & SA13.  These responses will be sent to the Inspector, who will count and review them. It’s important we get as many as possible.  There were over 800 in the first round – this time we need 1000+.

Sign up for our email updates for more news on how to object.


SOFLAG are determined to prove to the Inspector that Sites SA12 & SA13 are unsuitable and should be removed from the Site Selection document. The Inspector is independent and not swayed by party political allegiances.

Everything you do to help us will count.

If we fail, developers will have the green light to build – traffic in Burgess Hill will be gridlocked and the green gap between Burgess Hill and the Downs villages could be completely lost.  We know the developers are waiting to pounce.  So, we need to protect our community, countryside and livelihoods.

We need you now, more than ever. So please….

1. Send us any information about MSDC and the fields.
2. Look out for our next update on how to respond to the consultation.
 
If you have any questions, please email and we’ll try to answer them. 

Follow these links for more details on how we got to this point:

MID SUSSEX DISTRICT COUNCIL VOTE TO CONDEMN THE FIELDS

EXPERTS CONFIRM TRAFFIC STUDY IS FLAWED

HOW BURGESS HILL & DOWNS VILLAGES COULD NOW MERGE

EXPERTS CONFIRM TRAFFIC STUDY IS FLAWED

As you know MSDC have been relying on the traffic study they commissioned from SYSTRA to try and prove, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, that hundreds more houses exiting onto Keymer Road / Folders Lane won’t cause gridlock. 

We all know this is nonsense, so SOFLAG commissioned an expert transport consultant, GTA Civils, to examine the SYSTRA report and the claims it makes. The GTA Civils report found many issues with the SYSTRA study, and we sent a set of questions to MSDC.  You can read all the details on our website here: http://www.soflag.co.uk/traffic-truth/

In summary though, there are 3 worrying things to highlight, which surely demonstrate what we’ve known all along, the study is deeply flawed and cannot be relied on as evidence:

• To comply with the NPPF, the traffic study should have contained safety study work. MSDC admit that this has not happened, and state that it will be completed in due course in time for the inspection. The public were consulted, and Councillors are being asked to vote on Wednesday, without knowing the impacts on road safety of Sites SA12 /13, based on the evidence of an incomplete transport model that has no safety study.

• MSDC admit that the traffic model uses average speeds to create traffic flows. This is useless on the southern side of Burgess Hill when roads and junctions are gridlocked in the morning and evening peaks – an average is meaningless.

• MSDC accept SYSTRA’s interpretation of only “additional severe impact” being a problem. But if the situation at a junction is already severe, this means that no amount of new development can have an “additional” impact to make it severe, when it is severe already. To use a simple analogy, you can’t make a full glass any fuller by pouring in more water, you only make a mess…

BURGESS HILL & DOWNS VILLAGES COULD MERGE

If Sites SA12 & SA13 are allocated in the Site Selection DPD, this becomes a very real threat, something SOFLAG and Burgess Hill Town Council are keen publicise so that people responding to the consultation and the Inspector are aware of the consequences.

How could this happen? It’s because if the fields are developed, the built up boundary of Burgess Hill moves to their southern edge. According to MSDC planning policy and the District Plan, all the last remaining fields between BH and Keymer / Hassocks would then become fair game for developers because they are now “contiguous with the settlement boundary”.

And with the 500 houses at Clayton Mills already moving the northern edge of Hassocks closer to Burgess Hill, how long will it be before there is a single sea of concrete and houses between the two?

Developers already have their eyes on fields south of Wellhouse Lane, moving ever closer to Keymer, as this map from a “scoping” planning application in 2017 shows:

COUNCIL VOTE TO CONDEMN FIELDS

MSDC voted against removing Sites SA12 & SA13 from the Site Selection DPD document at the last Full Council meeting on 22nd July.

Leader of Burgess Hill Town Council and MSDC councillor Robert Eggleston proposed an amendment to save the fields by removing them from the allocation document, but as expected thanks to the efforts of council officers and councillors from the north of the District it failed.

The voting was very telling.

Almost every Councillor from Burgess Hill and the villages to the south supported the amendment, with the notable exception of Colin Trumble (Conservative, Hurstpierpoint) who voted against, in effect supporting an increase in traffic in his area and the narrowing of the green gap protecting his village from coalescence.

In contrast, fellow Conservative Emma Coe-Gunnell White was brave enough to defy her party to support her constituents and support it.

Of course, every Councillor from north of Burgess Hill voted against the amendment, happy to see hundreds more houses dumped on Burgess Hill rather than their own area.

Now it all depends on the independent Inspector who will see every response to the next round of consultation. We’ll be sending a comprehensive submission and asking all our supporters to respond too. Thankfully the Inspector is not swayed by party political allegiances.

The fields could be saved at vital Council meeting

 

After delays due to Coronavirus the Site Selection DPD will be voted on at the Full Council Meeting on Wednesday 22nd July.

Burgess Hill Councillor Robert Eggleston is putting forward an amendment to remove Sites SA12 & 13 from the allocation.

In addition to all the reasons why the fields are unsuitable and unsustainable, there are 3 important grounds for their removal on Wednesday:

1. They are not needed – MSDC can now meet its housing requirement with a comfortable buffer without concreting over these green fields.  Read an explanation of why here

2. Allocating these fields moves the built up boundary of Burgess Hill to their southern edge, making all the last remaining fields between BH and Keymer / Hassocks fair game for developers because they are now “contiguous with the settlement boundary”.

3. If developed, there will be thousands more car journeys on the already gridlocked Folders Lane / Keymer Road / Hoadleys Corner routes into town. Burgess Hill will grind to a halt. Read how MSDC can’t answer the serious questions about their SYSTRA transport study here

Your local councillors have the power to stop this by supporting the amendment – contact them now and urge them to do so. Email addresses here:
http://midsussex.moderngov.co.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx…

TRAFFIC TRUTH…

New report confirms fears that an extra 350 houses on Folders Lane would bring widespread disruption to local traffic network.

MSDC’s SYSTRA transport study says that building hundreds of houses exiting onto Folders Lane and Keymer Road would not cause rush hour gridlock on the south side of Burgess Hill. MSDC don’t question this because SYSTRA are “experts” appointed by them.

We knew from what we’ve all seen with our own eyes that the SYSTRA study is wrong. Real life observations rather than computer modelling reveal daily traffic jams already, before the Kingsway development is finished and before 500 houses at Clayton Mills are even started.

But MSDC were never going to listen to the residents, so we found our own expert and engaged a transport consultancy, GTA Civils, to examine the SYSTRA study.

Their findings are pretty damning including:

·         Choosing sites SA12/13 would have widespread severe highway network impacts on Burgess Hill and the villages to the south

·         The criteria SYSTRA used to define “severe” and “significant” are questionable

·         The mitigation proposed in the SYSTRA study would be inadequate

·         The study contravenes the NPPF by not assessing traffic safety

How can MSDC rely on a study that is so flawed? Sites SA12/13 are unsuitable and unsustainable. They cannot even be considered until the other developments in the immediate area are complete and the traffic impact of those hundreds of houses can be measured (not just modelled).

We have written to MSDC with a set of key questions that must be answered before the site selection process is considered again at full Council on 24th June.

In the interests of transparency and full disclosure, we have today published the GTA Civils Report, a summary of key points, and our letter to MSDC on this website: http://www.soflag.co.uk/soflag-document-library/

We believe in transparency, and do not withhold information from the public – we want to promote “discussion”, unlike MSDC!

MSDC Planning – the mistakes that cost YOU thousands…

Last year the actions of MSDC Planning meant the Council – and therefore you the council tax payers – wasted over £100,000 in court costs.

Over the last few months MSDC officers have done a pretty good job of making themselves sound infallible – any objections we may have to the Site Selection process seem to be dismissed out of hand. One Councillor even tried to argue that every site will be built on in the end, so why not just give up and accept it.

They and their appointed “experts” know best. What do we know about planning policy? We’re just simple residents, who can’t even be trusted with a full disclosure of information.

Except they’re not always right.

The Information Commissioner ruled against MSDC Planning when they tried to withhold information relating to their monitoring of “windfall” housing development sites from a member of the public in 2019. MSDC claimed that “individuals without the necessary experience may misunderstand the information” but the Information Commissioner was not persuaded. MSDC were forced to back down when the Commissioner ruled that disclosing the information was in the public interest.

Another refusal by MSDC Planning to disclose information relating to a planning consent issue ended up in the courts in 2011, with a judge ruling that the photographic evidence requested should have been disclosed.

And what about those court costs? Remember the court case we told you about in January – when the judge used the words “UNJUSTIFIED” and “UNLAWFUL” to describe MSDC’s actions?

Defending those actions in two High Court cases cost at least £109,000. And that’s only the costs we were told about under Freedom of Information.

That money could have made a real difference in our community.

How can we be expected to trust that MSDC Planning are getting the Site Selection process right when they’ve made such costly mistakes like this, and they’re still trying to withhold information from public scrutiny…?

MSDC WITHOLD INFORMATION – AGAIN…

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION IS A RIGHT – except when MSDC say it might “cause a discussion”….

We’ve already said publicly that we are very unhappy with MSDC’s SYSTRA Transport Study. This unbelievably suggests that building hundreds more houses exiting onto the already congested Folders Lane and Keymer Road will be just fine. It won’t lead to traffic gridlock at all!

We believe there are serious flaws in the SYSTRA work, and will shortly be releasing our own evidence on this.

We have also been using Freedom of Information to try and get to the bottom of these claims, in particular the way that SYSTRA seems to contradict previous expert studies.

We have had some very interesting responses from MSDC….

At Scrutiny Committee in January MSDC’s Sally Blomfield said of the study: “We’ve had comments from the Department of Transport who are substantially content with it”.

We asked to see those comments, but the response from MSDC was:
“We have nothing on file from the Department of Transport related to the Systra study/methodology.”

That’s strange – those two statements can’t both be true…

Then we asked about Highways England – what did they say about the methodology?

The response we got from MSDC was:
“Confirmation that the base model is of sufficient robustness, response to Regulation 18 consultation, and subsequent Technical Note which reviews the supporting evidence is appended.”

(It gets a bit complicated now, but it’s important).

That Technical Note was Technical Note 3, and it referred frequently to Notes 1 and 2, and SYSTRA’s response to Note 1. So we asked to see those 3 documents, because nothing can be properly understood or explained without them.

And the final response, just in from MSDC, was a cracker. Our request has been refused:

“It is not in the public interest for draft documents to be released because they will SET OFF DISCUSSION about matters that have been concluded in the final document. This outweighs any interest an individual might have in seeing all the workings before a document is completed.”

Heaven forbid that residents might want to discuss how conclusions were reached that will affect them for years to come.

Once again MSDC seek to conceal how and why they continue to push for the precious greenfields south of Folders Lane to be concreted over.

We have of course told MSDC that this refusal is unacceptable, and asking again for the documents. Next step will be the Information Commissioner – again…