We attended the Hearings for 3 full days from 1 – 3 June 2021. This is quite a long report, but we wanted to let all our supporters know what happened, and how we think it went.
Firstly we have to say a huge thank you to our fantastic team from Cornerstone Barristers (who also hosted us for the sessions), Grace Machin planning consultants and GTA Civils Transport consultants who all spoke on behalf of SOFLAG and Burgess Hill Town Council in defence of the fields.
And of course an equally huge thank you to all those who donated to enable us to engage the team. It was clear that as “amateurs” we would not have been taken seriously if we had tried to speak ourselves – the barrister for MSDC was very forceful and we wouldn’t have been able to stand up to him.
On Tuesday Matters 1 and 2 were discussed. This dealt with lots of technicalities of the Development Plan Document as a whole such as whether certain policies are strategic or not.
Some questions relevant to Sites SA12 & SA13 came up, including the inexplicably few environmental considerations looked at by the DPD as it selected housing sites.
The fundamental issue of the unbalanced distribution of housing allocations was also raised, and this was discussed again under Matter 3 on Wednesday.
We have made the important point that Burgess Hill was allocated over 5,600 houses in the District Plan compared to 2,500 at East Grinstead and Haywards Heath. And Burgess Hill is the only one of the three to have “no residual requirement” ie it shouldn’t have to take any more – as shown in this table from the District Plan itself:
MSDC’s QC tried to counter this by making the staggering claim that the Northern Arc shouldn’t count towards Burgess Hill’s numbers!
The only way he could make the figures add up was to say that if you take that out then Burgess Hill is taking the same number as Haywards Heath and East Grinstead.
Which of course is technically true, but then if you take out Leicester’s goal the FA cup final was a draw…
The Inspector allocated the whole of Thursday to discuss sites SA12 & SA13.
The first person to speak was Arundel and South Downs MP Andrew Griffith who explained his support for removing sites SA12 & SA13 from the DPD. He highlighted how damaging developing the fields would be to the National Park and the local community:
“We cannot have a National Park that resembles Central Park, Manhattan, with development right up to the boundary. If we allow communities to coalesce, we actually destroy what makes people want to live there in the first place.”
Next came the representatives from the South Downs National Park Authority who were firm in their opposition to building hundreds of houses on these sites. The MSDC barrister seemed unwilling to accept what they were saying.
Our barrister, planning consultant and transport consultant then all had their chance to present our case, and to respond to the MSDC barrister and others who tried to contradict what we said.
We think our case came across well. We showed the Inspector that to allocate Sites SA12 and SA13 causes harm to the landscape and biodiversity, damages the setting of the National Park and would affect the whole of Burgess Hill through the serious traffic issues.
Critically, he was also shown that he can remove these sites and the DPD will still provide the level of housing required – there are “reasonable alternatives.”
There’s no more for us to do at the Hearings until June 15th when the National Park and infrastructure issues including traffic will be discussed. Our expert transport consultant will appear again on that day and we expect more opposition from MSDC.
And then we just wait for the Inspector’s final report.
We can do no more. We did our best, and thanks to all our generous donors and by joining forces with Burgess Hill Town Council that best was as good as it could have been…
Thanks again for all your support.