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…

Christmas Greetings

We wish our supporters a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Thank you all for your help and support this year, especially since the publication of the Site Selection DPD in September.
SOFLAG is now an important voice for residents in our area, and we couldn’t have achieved this without you.

2020 is going to be even busier – it is crunch time for the fields south of Folders Lane.

Will Mid Sussex District Council allow this important green gap to be destroyed, taking all the wildlife with it and creating gridlock and danger on local roads? Or will they see sense?

We will be doing everything we can to save the fields.

For the latest updates follow us on Facebook. We are also on Twitter – @soflag4

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LAST CHANCE – CONSULTATION CLOSES 20 NOVEMBER

WHY WERE THE FIELDS INCLUDED WHEN THERE IS A BETTER OPTION?

Mid Sussex District Council want you to accept that 343 houses “must” be built on the fields south of Folders Lane meaning this precious countryside would be lost forever.

THEY ARE NOT ACTING IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE DISTRICT – THEY HAVE REJECTED A BIGGER, MORE SUITABLE AND MORE SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE SITE.

It’s in Haywards Heath, which they believe should only take 25 additional houses, compared to over 500 in Burgess Hill. 

Haywards Heath Golf Club is a man made site, not an ancient field system full of wildlife, and it’s ready to take up to 900 houses, meaning other more precious greenfield sites could be saved.

PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR OBJECTION TO THIS NOW 
BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE…

Thank you if you’ve already objected, please do so again if you possibly can – you’re allowed to do it more than once!

PLEASE ACT NOW – HERE’S HOW…

You need to respond to the Council’s Site Allocations DPD consultation.  To object, you must state the reasons why there is a much better site available for development than fields south of Folders Lane (called sites SA12 & SA13 in the consultation).

You can object online by following this link
 https://www.midsussex.gov.uk/forms/?form=28943&w=1 
 – you are objecting to the Site Allocations DPD. 
Or you can object by sending an email to: 
LDFconsultation@midsussex.gov.uk 
 – state that you are objecting to the Site Allocations DPD 

Start your objection like this: 

I am objecting to site allocations SA12 and SA13 (pages 34 – 37), the fields south of Folders Lane, Burgess Hill, because there is a better, more suitable and more sustainable site available at Haywards Heath Golf Course, the site known as ID 503.

Then use any or all of the following points – in your own words if possible: 
  • The site ID 503 is available and the owners of the land would like to make it available for housing.
  • The developer promoting the site is ready to start.
  • The current users of the site, the Golf Club, want to move.
  • The site will provide more housing than MSDC are currently proposing, creating a larger ‘buffer’ which will reduce the pressure for more greenfield sites to be developed during the life of the District Plan.
  • The developers are planning on site infrastructure, including a school and doctor’s surgery, in their proposals for site ID 503.  These are not included in the proposals for sites SA12 & SA13, despite these being desperately needed.

We will only win this fight with your support.


PLEASE MAKE YOUR REPRESENTATION NOW

THE CONSULTATION CLOSES 20TH NOVEMBER



This could be the final battle in our fight to save this area from total urbanisation…

STOP 343 HOUSES – OBJECT TO CONSULTATION NOW

343 HOUSES ON FIELDS SOUTH OF FOLDERS LANE?
 
REGISTER YOUR OBJECTION NOW OR REGRET LATER…

Mid Sussex District Council want to destroy our local area by paving over the last significant green space to the south of Folders Lane with 343 houses. We believe this proposal would be the final nail in the coffin for our area.

THE OFFICIAL CONSULTATION HAS OPENED – PLEASE REGISTER YOUR OBJECTION NOW.

SOFLAG has fought for 12 years to prevent inappropriate development in this area.  This could be our final battle.  Lose it and the greenfield land we have tried to protect will be lost forever. We will do all we can to prevent this, but we will not succeed without your help.

It is vital you object.  If you don’t, it will be assumed that you approve

 
ACT NOW, HERE’S HOW:
It will only take a few minutes of your time.

We are asking you to object to the council’s Site Allocations DPD.  To object, you must state the reasons why the fields (called Sites SA12 and SA13) should not be allocated for housing. You must quote the relevant paragraph from the consultation document (they don’t want it to be easy!)
 You can object online by following this link https://www.midsussex.gov.uk/forms/?form=28943&w=1 

EXPLANATION OF ONLINE PROCESS

We think the form is unhelpful, so here are a couple of pointers:

The form asks you “Which document are you commenting on?

Select Site Allocations DPD .

Then it asks “Which part of the document are you commenting on?”

In the “Policy” box – put SA12 & SA13

leave the “Paragraph” box blank

In the “Page” box – put 34-37
 
Or you can object by email  by sending an email to: LDFconsultation@midsussex.gov.uk – state that you are objecting to the Site Allocations DPD
 
Use any or all of the following points – in your own words if possible:
 
“I am objecting to site allocations SA12 and SA13 (pages 34 – 37), the fields south of Folders Lane, Burgess Hill, because:

  • No relevant traffic study has been carried out to support this development despite this being a requirement imposed by MSDC in their three previous assessments of the area when they consistently rejected the idea of development (in 2007, 2013 and 2016)
  • The site is full of many protected wildlife species for which adequate protection would be impossible including bats, adders, slow worms, great crested newts, cuckoos, barn owls
  • It would seriously erode the already fragile strategic gap between Burgess Hill and the villages to the south
  • It would cause irreparable harm to the setting of the South Downs National Park
  • There are other more suitable sites which are available and deliverable which provide an equivalent or higher number of units and do not have any of the above constraints.”

We will only win this fight with your support.

Please object today. 
The consultation closes on 20th November.

TOWN MEETING 14 OCTOBER

There is to be a town meeting to discuss the new housing allocation on Monday 14th October, 7pm, St Wilfrid’s Parish Centre (behind the church). The meeting is organised by Burgess Hill Town Council.
It is important that as many residents as possible attend to make their feelings known – please come along if you can.
We will be there to make the case that hundreds more houses should not have been dumped on Burgess Hill, and MSDC’s site selection process must be revisited.