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…

BURGESS HILL STITCHED UP…

More evidence that MSDC never intended to listen, they were always going to push hundreds more houses onto Burgess Hill…

There is a very interesting response from MSDC Planning to the application for 726 houses at Haywards Heath Golf Course. They appear to dismiss it out of hand, and make it clear that they have already made up their minds to go with Sites SA12/13.

Never mind about democracy – according to this document (dated 27th March) the Council Meeting originally scheduled for 1 April (and now provisionally listed for 13 May) was to “make the final approval of the draft Submission Plan” – forget about any real debate, it’s just a box ticking exercise.

More significantly, the response explains at length how the golf course site is not needed because the fields south of Folders Lane have been allocated in the Site Allocations DPD, reminding us that “The Golf Course was determined to be unnecessary to meet the spatial strategy.”

But surely this decision has not actually been made yet. Full Council has not met, and there is another round of public consultation to go through. But reading this document reveals that MDSC Planning just assume they will get their way. This whole consultation process is just a complete waste of time – the result has been preordained right from the very start.

And yet if this application for HH Golf Course is unnecessary because MSDC can meet the housing requirement by building at Folders Lane, logic dictates that the reverse must also be true. If the Golf Course application goes through, then Sites SA12/13 at Folders Lane would become “unnecessary to meet the spatial strategy.”

As MSDC’s Andrew Marsh stressed at the last Scrutiny Committee, isn’t it all supposed to be about deliverability? His exact words were: “What we need to be mindful of with all of the sites that we’re taking forward is their ultimate deliverability.”

HH golf course is deliverable now. Build there and the five-year housing land supply is more secure, and the pressure from developers to concrete over more greenfield sites is reduced.

But MSDC won’t change their minds, however strong the arguments. They are intent on insisting that Folders Lane is more deliverable, even though it hasn’t completed due scrutiny and there have been clear questions from councillors about this selection process from the start.

This whole process is unsound – watch this space for more soon…

LOCAL DEMOCRACY AT RISK?

Will vital Full Council Meeting happen behind closed doors?

The next stage of the MSDC’s Sites Allocation DPD, (which could lead to the green fields South of Folders Lane being destroyed for housing), should have been a meeting of the full Council on April 1st.

This meeting would have been open to the public, and the opportunity for all the councillors from Burgess Hill to have their say, not just those on the Scrutiny Committee. They could have proposed that sites SA12 and SA13 be removed from the list, with a vote and questions from the public.

This meeting was cancelled due to the Coronavirus lockdown, and has been provisionally rescheduled for May 13th, a delay of six weeks.

We wrote to MSDC asking what this means for the next round of consultation. Assuming the timetable they’d planned is the amount of time required for due process to be followed, the start of the consultation should also be delayed.

Sally Blomfield, Divisional Leader of Planning, responded:
the government has made new legal arrangements in these exceptional times for local authorities to continue to operate committee meetings through the Coronavirus Act 2020, and Mid Sussex District Council is reviewing the situation and timetable of all meetings“.

We have two main concerns with this:

We’re worried that MSDC will start holding important meetings behind closed doors or “online” only. This will disenfranchise anyone who is not computer savvy enough to participate, with serious consequences for local democracy.

In addition, MSDC could try to shorten the consultation period or the time allowed for review, making the process even more unsound than it already is.

13th May is next week, and still no word on if / how the Full Council meeting goes ahead.

We’ll keep you posted

29 March 2020 – News update

We hope all our supporters are safe and well at this difficult time.

Some things are of course much more important than planning, but while we are off work and safe at home, we have time to update you with a newsletter or two…

Since our last edition, Mid Sussex District Council revealed their intentions at another Scrutiny Committee for Housing and Economic Development (on 11 March).

Thank you so much to all those supporters who came along and packed the public gallery – I think they were quite surprised to have so many witnesses! And it was great to chat to some of you. We couldn’t do this without you. 

These are some of the things we’ve learned from what was said at the Committee – thanks mainly to some tough questioning of MSDC officers by Burgess Hill Councillors Robert Eggleston, Janice Henwood and Matt Cornish and also Sue Hatton from Hassocks. 


Saying one thing, meaning another.. Councillor Neville Walker announced at the Scrutiny Committee that the Council’s much vaunted 5 year housing land supply is “our insurance preventing unwanted development throughout our beautiful Mid-Sussex”.

This prompted snorts of derision from the public gallery and no surprise. It wasn’t long before council officers were explaining that once this site selection process is finished the review of the District Plan starts and they will have to “identify new sites to meet new targets” in a never-ending rolling process. And where will these sites be? Well it partly depends on which sites get through this round. Burgess Hill Councillor Robert Eggleston got MSDC officers to admit that if the fields South of Folders Lane are developed in this round, the “built up boundary” of Burgess Hill moves to the edge of the new housing. And current MSDC planning policy means that any land within 150 metres of that new boundary is fair game for developers. That’s all the fields between Keymer Road and Ditchling, and even south of Wellhouse Lane.

This is why we’re doing everything we can to fight it…


Getting closer to the truth about how and why the fields were chosen..

We’re waiting for the result of our appeal to the Information Commissioner over MSDC’s refusal to release the notes from the Site Selection Working Group that unexpectedly chose the fields South of Folders Lane for housing at their final meeting last summer.

At the Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Sue Hatton, the only member of the Committee who actually sat on that working group, raised serious issues about how it operated in its final weeks, and we share her concerns.

These are her exact words from the Committee meeting on March 11:

“As a member of the site selection group, and I think I’m the only one in this room that has sat on it from this committee, I was concerned that the final months’ deliberations were severely restricted as a result of last May’s election. The group had been set up specifically for all areas of the district to be represented equally by councillors with an in depth knowledge of their own areas and that was its strength. Unfortunately the group was depleted after the election, reduced by 3 including its chairman with no substitutes allowed. These were all members representing the south of the district. When its last meeting was called in August when I was away on holiday there were therefore no councillor to represent the south to take part in the deliberations at that meeting. Consequently the 300 site [SA13] was chosen over Haywards Heath Golf Club which I note now has been submitted as a planning application in its own right. In view of this I think the site south of Folders Lane should be taken out, and consideration be given to the inclusion of Haywards Heath Golf Club.”

It couldn’t be clearer…

The decision making process was not fit for purpose, with the final crucial recommendations being made by a depleted, unrepresentative, working group, and we believe MSDC are trying to hide the truth…


A SOFLAG dictionary of MSDC words and phrases…

Is it all part of MSDC’s plan? Confuse the public with technicalities so they can’t understand or argue against them?  

Luckily SOFLAG are here to help explain a couple of the more significant words and phrases used at the last Scrutiny Committee: 

ADDITIONALITY
This relates to traffic, and basically means that all that transport modelling they rely on so much is only measuring, (or rather modelling because they don’t actually go out and measure any actual traffic!), the additional impact of the new houses as allocated in the Site Allocations DPD.

So it doesn’t matter how congested a junction is already, it’s how additionally bad it’s going to get. Which presumably means that if like Folders Lane / Keymer Road it’s pretty much gridlocked already, making it a bit worse is ok.

To quote Andrew Marsh, Business Unit Leader for Planning Policy:
“What the transport model was doing, and what the results are showing which is that the additionality of the sites within the sites dpd, and that’s all 22 housing sites, employment sites and the science and technology park don’t cause a severe impact on that junction by virtue of the sites dpd itself”


ULTIMATE DELIVERABILITY
Another wonderful phrase courtesy of MSDC’s Andrew Marsh, used when talking about why certain sites were rejected again after the first consultation round. He said:
“What we need to be mindful of with all of the sites that we’re taking forward is their ultimate deliverability,”

We assume this means how likely these sites are to be delivered for housing, and how quickly.

This of course then begs the question, when Haywards Heath Golf Course is ready to go and now has a live planning application in progress, and there are clearly many, many issues with the fields south of Folders Lane, why on earth did they reject one and choose the other…?
 


What can you do? 


At the moment of course, the only truly important thing for all our supporters is to stay safe and follow the government’s advice on social distancing and staying at home.

We are local, and can offer help to anyone who needs it – email info@soflag.co.uk

We are waiting to hear what the Corona situation means for the planning process. The full Council Meeting on April 1 that would have debated the next stage of the site allocations process is listed as “postponed”. This should mean an extension to the timeframe, and we’ll let you know as soon as we do. 

Follow us on social media if you can for the latest updates (click on the links at the bottom of this email). If you can’t, we’ll be sending another newsletter soon..

7 March 2020 – News update

Mid Sussex District Council have published their second version of the Site Allocations DPD, but all the valid objections to Sites SA12 & SA13 have been ignored.

We are disappointed, but not surprised, to see that MSDC have ignored the indisputable case against the selection of Sites SA12 & SA13 for development.  Thank you for making your objections.  There were over 800 of them in the first round of consultation against the inclusion of Folders Lane sites. Despite this, and even though there is now a live planning application for a more suitable and sustainable alternative at Haywards Heath Golf Course, MSDC are proposing to rubber stamp their original proposal at their Scrutiny Committee meeting on Wednesday.

As well as your objections, Burgess Hill Town Council, Haywards Heath Town Council, Lewes & Eastbourne BC, Ditchling Parish Council, CPRE Sussex, Sussex Wildlife Trust, South Downs National Park, Historic England, and The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group all made strong representations against the MSDC proposals.  We were shocked that MSDC not only disregarded these, but, at the last Scrutiny Committee, they misleadingly announced that there were “NO OBJECTIONS FROM NEIGHBOURING AUTHORITIES”.
Their consultation called for your “comments” on the sites, but your opinion clearly doesn’t matter. For the hundreds of local residents who know the area, and the ecological damage and traffic chaos that would result, MSDC have ignored you all. They have their own agenda to push through and it feels like MSDC lie about, or ignore, any inconvenient truths presented to them.


What congested junction at Keymer Road/ Folders Lane?

SYSTRA, the MSDC appointed traffic surveyors, can’t (or have been told not to) see it, so therefore it doesn’t exist...”
 
What protected bats, birds and reptiles in a precious ancient field system?

According to the developers, apparently covering it in houses will “increase diversity.” It’s only Burgess Hill, after all…
 
This whole thing stinks and we can assure you SOFLAG will not give up. This feels like a pre-determined decision by MSDC, and we believe, we can show that the process has been incorrectly managed and is unsound.  
 
SOFLAG has a strong case, and all of the facts, and evidence, will be explicitly detailed for the Government Inspector during the second and last round of consultation. Those responsible, or indeed, complicit can expect to be called to account.

 


And then there’s Clayton Mills…
  The Clayton Mills site in Hassocks has now been formally granted planning permission for 500 new homes.  So, sadly, this will go ahead.  There is only one access road to this massive new estate: Ockley Lane.  Hundreds of cars will use it every day, many heading straight towards Burgess Hill via the already frequently gridlocked Keymer Road / Folders Lane junction.  


 What can you do? 

I know you’re all busy but it really is important that we work together and keep the pressure up. 

If you do have a spare few minutes, there are two ways you can help this week: 
 

  1. Support the Haywards Heath Golf Course Planning Application

Point out that there is now a suitable, sustainable and available site, that would deliver 725 new homes at Haywards Heath Golf Club.  You can do this by supporting the current planning application by clicking here and stating, preferably in your own words, that:

  • The site is available, sustainable and being actively promoted
  • It is on brownfield land and would save other potential greenfield sites
  • It will not lead to a massive loss of wildlife habitat, unlike other greenfield sites
  • It would not affect the South Downs National Park or reduce the strategic gaps as would be the case with other potential sites
  • Infrastructure would be provided which is not the case with other potential sites
  • Road safety would be improved with the provision of a new section of road being provided and access would not be a problem
  • The provision of 218 much needed affordable homes cannot be ignored
  1. Come and witness the next Scrutiny Committee Meeting

Wednesday 11th March 7pm, Haywards Heath
  It would also be fantastic if some of you could come along to the MSDC Scrutiny Committee meeting this Wednesday at 7pm.  It’s at the MSDC Council Chamber, Oaklands Rd, Haywards Heath RH16 1SS. 

We’re sure you’ll be shocked at the cavalier attitude of some of the councillors.  It’s the first issue on the agenda, so you won’t need to be there too long.  However, a show of local community attendance will put pressure on the councillors to reconsider – they notice when there’s a crowd in the public gallery!


and finally…

… SOFLAG is working on a number of fronts to continue the fight to protect the fields to the south of Folders Lane.  We are pursuing a number of Freedom of Information requests from MSDC.  The more they resist giving us the information we seek, the more we’re certain they have something to hide.  More of this in our next newsletter, but they really don’t want you to know how they operate.  They’re happy to throw away your money in pursuing their own politically motivated ends. 

In addition, we are building up our dossier on the developers who are intent on building on the fields.  We know they are only out to maximise their profits, as they have shown by their past behaviours and the ecological damage they have caused elsewhere.

Finally, we are working on a traffic study that we know will demonstrate the one carried out by SYSTRA on behalf of MSDC is utterly flawed. 

We will, of course, be attending the MSDC Scrutiny Committee meeting on Wednesday.  We have, in advance, contacted the members of that Committee explaining why we believe the Haywards Heath Golf Club site is more suitable for development, and pointing out the flaws in the site selection process so far.

Apologies for the length of this Newsletter, but we’re now at such a critical stage, we rely more than ever on your support.  We are certain this whole process has been ‘unsound’ and are prepared to prove it in order to ensure the local community gets the level of development that is right and proper.

Thank you for your support!

NEWS UPDATE FEB 2020

Mid Sussex District Council take the consultation to its next stage – and SOFLAG find serious issues with their procedures and transparency, some laughable traffic statements, and an unbelievable environmental claim from a developer…

There’s a lot going on with the Council’s site selection consultation at the moment and we want to make sure that those of you who can’t follow us on social media are kept up to date. So this update is long, but we don’t want you to miss anything.


Consultation – a questionable process

The Site Allocations DPD consultation closed at the end of November and now the next stage has started with a meeting of the Scrutiny Committee for Housing, Planning & Economic Growth on 22nd January.

When the report of the consultation responses was published online by MSDC, the SOFLAG response was missing from the document, as was that of the Broadlands Residents Association. Both these were highly critical of the selection of Sites SA12 & 13. We questioned this omission and were assured it was just a technical oversight. Oddly, the responses weren’t missing from the one hard copy placed in the Council Members room. The 57 missing pages were eventually added online, but not until after the Scrutiny Committee had met, so any councillors relying on the online version were scrutinising an incomplete document.

This doesn’t give us much confidence in the handling of whole consultation process. What else is being missed?


Request for information refused – more issues with transparency

SOFLAG has been trying to find out why the fields south of Folders Lane were preferred to Haywards Heath Golf Course. The Golf Course site seemed to perform better against the selection criteria. It also delivered a higher number of houses distributed more evenly across the district. We published the letter from golf course developer Fairfax Homes expressing their surprise at this decision. Their response to the consultation also makes interesting reading.

We have asked to see the notes from the Working Group which made that selection. This should be a simple way for MSDC to prove their decision was the right one. But MSDC have twice refused our Freedom of Information request. We have now been forced to escalate this to the Information Commissioner…


When is a traffic problem not a problem? When the SYSTRA computer says so…

It seems that MSDC would rather believe SYSTRA’s computer model than the evidence that we can all see with our own eyes on a daily basis.

The Keymer Road-Folders Lane roundabout  is jammed up every day, but the SYSTRA report doesn’t even mention this junction, let alone list it as assessed.


The consultation raised lots of questions surrounding SYSTRA’s assessment result, and in response MSDC state “The Strategic Transport Assessment will make clearer the localised impacts and associated mitigation within the next version.” .

Councillor Janice Henwood asked a question at the Scrutiny Committee: “How will this assessment address the east-west, north-south traffic flows in BH, with particular reference to the roundabout at Keymer Rd/ Folders Lane?”

Assistant Chief-Executive Judy Holmes read out a written response. It included the following gem about the SYSTRA traffic study, which provoked hoots of disbelief in the public gallery:  “The study concludes that the junctions at Folders Lane and Keymer Road, even without any mitigation, are not identified as being severely impacted by the site allocations DPD.”

Perhaps they think it’s so bad already that hundreds more cars every day won’t make any difference…


Developer’s magic trick for biodiversity…

We have spent several hours up at the Council offices looking at the detailed consultation responses that haven’t yet been published, including Persimmon’s – the main developer who wants to build on the fields.

Apparently they think that concreting over ancient fields can lead to an increase in biodiversity…

Their submission to the consultation contains this amazing statement from the consultants who wrote it:

“We can confirm the applicant’s agreement and commitment to ensure there is a NET GAIN IN BIODIVERSITY as a result of this development”


How does concreting over ancient ecosystems and replacing them with roads and houses possibly achieve this? Aren’t we supposed to be rewilding, not de-wilding? But of course adding one specimen of one native tree that isn’t currently onsite could be classified on paper as a statistical increase…

The submission included an “Environmental Concept Masterplan” and “Environment Landscape Statement” prepared by a company called CSA Environmental. Their website boasts of “a strong track record in delivering planning consents, and a long history of inquiry successes” which tells you all you need to know.

According to the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, protected species at this location include internationally protected species of bat, great crested newts, brown hairstreak moths, dormice, snakes and many varieties of bird. We included this information in our submission to MSDC.

The ecological devastation caused by developing this unspoiled site cannot be ignored – especially when there is a far less destructive option available now at Haywards Heath Golf Course…

Thank you for all your support.

We don’t need you to do anything at this stage. We’re hoping that MSDC see sense and withdraw Sites SA12 & SA13 before the next public consultation, but if they don’t we’ll have to object all over again.

We’ll keep you posted….

OVER 800 OBJECTIONS TO FIRST CONSULTATION

Mid Sussex have published their initial response to the Consultation. There were over 800 objections to Sites SA12 & SA13, the fields south of Folders Lane – hundreds more than for any other site or policy in the consultation. THANK YOU so much to everyone who responded.

Taken from MSDC’s summary of responses

West and East Sussex County Councils, as well as local parish and town councils, raised concerns about the Transport Assessment on which MSDC seem to rely so heavily.

The Consultation and Site Allocations will be discussed at the next Scrutiny Committee Meeting on WEDNESDAY 22nd JANUARY. The meeting is at 7pm at the Council Chamber in Haywards Heath – it is open the public and will be a chance to hear if Councillors are listening to the views of their residents and the important organisations such as CPRE, Sussex Wildlife Trust and the South Downs National Park.

You can read the Council’s summary of responses here: https://bit.ly/2NFyzew

That’s just their edited highlights of course. We have asked to view the actual responses (as the public are entitled to do) so we can get the full picture, but so far no response to our request.

We’ll keep you posted…