Extra-Ordinary Meeting 5 December 2023
On Tuesday the 5th of December 2023, Thakeham Parish Council (TPC) met with what has been – the largest turn out of residents at one of our public meetings ever – in order to hear their views, prior to the council commenting on an information leaflet that had been delivered to some of Thakeham’s residents in the previous week.
The leaflet was seeking public comments on a proposal that Bellway Homes was suggesting for a development on the former Mushroom Farm that they called the Storrington Road Engagement Survey (SRES).
Thakeham Parish Council had been offered the opportunity to comment on the contents of the survey and the meeting was called so that Councillors could provide input to the Parish response in an open and transparent manner. As with all TPC meetings, this one was open to the public and Councillors appreciated the opportunity to hear from the electorate regarding the information sent out.
TPC has previously discussed the site in question within their Thakeham Neighbourhood Plan Document (TNP). This document was crafted with the aid of all of the residents and had been subjected to a public six week consultation period after many years of investigation. After which followed a local referendum where 93% of local voters endorsed the Thakeham Neighbourhood Plan (TNP).
The Council and many of the participants who had spoken before the committee wished to use the TNP as a starting point. Until March 2020 Thakeham Mushroom had been an active agricultural site providing employment and growing food. Therefore no housing development is allocated to this site in either the former or current draft Horsham District Local Plan. In lieu of any official planning document from the Local Planning Authority, the TNP should provide planning and development guidance. The TNP covers development until 2031 and specifically covers how the site should be developed if it ceased to function as a mushroom farm. Bellways are aware of the TNP and its main provisions were highlighted to them by PC representatives when they were shown the site on an informal visit on the 11th October.
The Council’s comments follow the TNP which aims to ensure that:
· the rural landscape and local character of the parish is preserved;
· future developments are appropriately located, limited in scale and sustainable;
· the local economy is supported;
· local infrastructure, facilities and services are retained and enhanced;
· the countryside environment and ecosystems are protected.
Some of the comments that the Parish Council make below, will be using the language contained within the leaflet. This is for contextual purposes only and should not been seen as an outright full endorsement of the scheme and any and all decisions about the scheme, now and in the future, will be appropriately made through the planning process.
The SRES states that the site is currently not being used and buildings are redundant, thus presenting an excellent opportunity to transform this previously developed land and deliver new homes.
The Council would like to point out that the SRES makes no reference as to whether reasonable efforts have been made to secure an agricultural and horticultural use of the site. The proposal makes no reference to a D2 recreational use compatible with the countryside location; a solar array use; or a B1 light industrial/commercial use and/or tourism use within the existing developed area of the site with the remainder returned to an open agricultural use.
The Thakeham Mushroom Farm is an established horticultural site on the edge of Thakeham village. TPC wishes to promote the continuation of that site in a similar context. What we feel is acceptable usage now the existing business left, would be a development footprint being no larger, building height no greater, number of traffic movements no greater, in order to maintain the rural character of the local area.
Bellway have drafted a scheme in the SRES which includes around 400 new homes, including affordable properties and a local centre, with a small space for a shop or commercial space. This would clearly represent over-development of a small village with no infrastructure which has already taken a disproportionately high proportion of new homes in recent years.
The Council would expect a revision of the proportions of the areas marked for development.
The proposal indicates that it will remove approximately 11.7ha of potential employment space and replace this with approximately 15ha of housing with the area earmarked for Community space (not Green Space) where commercial space that would allow for employment to be is approximately 1.5% of the developed space instead of the previous 100%.
To support the local economy through its existing businesses and to encourage expansion of local employment within settlements, the Council would request that adequate land be developed into light industrial/commercial which can be used for appropriate, low impact, small scale and sustainable business uses.
The lack of public transport impacts on Thakeham and its sustainability within the local economy.
The SERS states that the “development would include a range of homes and sizes, with smaller individual and family-sized homes (1, 2, 3, & 4 bed homes). Homes will include apartments and houses, for market sale, affordable rent, shared ownership and discount sale”.
In order to move into these dwellings or afford them, the existing and new residents would need more and better paid jobs than currently exist in Thakeham or they will have to commute. Thakeham already has a large number of 4/5 bedroom properties. It has a paucity of smaller rental properties and homes designed to the life times home standard for elderly or disabled people.
Rail connections to London and the south coast are provided via the nearby towns of Pulborough and Billingshurst, although parking at these stations is difficult and they are not served by convenient public transport (see below).
The Council notes that the only access to the site is through the existing entrance. As pointed out in a recent independent traffic survey undertaken by Motion for TPC because of existing traffic problems, the B2139 road which the development would use is hazardous and prone to speeding. The Council would like to see what mitigation the developer would propose to alleviate congestion and improve safety along Storrington Road as the development would substantially increase the already high number of vehicles using it.
Major centres of employment such as Horsham (10 miles to the north) and Worthing (12 miles to the south) are both within commuting distance by road.
As stated, “A good supply of quality new homes” will “encourage new people to move to an area”.
As Thakeham does not have employment opportunities and in acknowledging the employment opportunities in Horsham and Worthing – has the developer considered adding alternative road/highways routes to the A24 to alleviate the B2139 and the other neighboring parishes that traffic would pass through?
Within the site, the developer has earmarked the small percentage of commercial space as locations for a centre and for additional shops and services. (Smaller than currently available on the Abingworth estate)
What mitigations would the developer put in to ensure the sustainability of any retail space proposed? Fully realized commercial rents will not ensure the long term viability of units within Thakeham due to the footfall being lower than in neighbouring villages. Would the developer consider forms of community ownership instead of empty units due to commercial landlord terms and conditions?
The developer is intending to create a living landscape of accessible green spaces, high quality homes and new facilities set within an enriched natural environment which respects the rural setting and delivers biodiversity improvements. The plans would be landscape-led delivering community parkland with connected green corridors, tree lined streets and significant areas of new planting.
The Council notes that, housing would be situated where there is currently farm buildings. However, the SRES depicts a further expansion of hard area to the west of the PROW corridor which is currently green agricultural space. Thus the footprint of the developed site will increase by 50%. The Council is concerned that the increase of the hard surfaces and positioning of the development would sit in the lowest part of the site without any drainage of surface water. The considerable flow of surface water would flow down from the north and the west and accumulate around the development and to the housing on adjacent sites.
The Council would expect if more detailed plans are submitted for further consultation, areas to the south utilised for SUDS or pumping stations in order to protect the development and properties in the surrounding area capable of managing at least 2-7 l/s/15HA run off.
Large areas of the site has been wild for many years and since the farm closed, residents have seen increased levels of biodiversity in the disused area. The developer will need to get a reputable independent survey of the current range to ensure that there is a genuine increase post development. Proposals should be submitted in how to protect species of bats etc or how to provide alternative environments within the site to accommodate the newer eco system that has emerged since the site’s economic decline.
Green corridors mentioned would also have to provide safe provisions in terms of East/West travel across the B2139 to link the community cohesion and the council would suggest construction of either bridges or underpasses or investment in an appropriate Pegasus Crossing.
By mirroring development across from the previous Bellway development known as the Abingworth Nurseries development, the developer is placing the B2139 in the middle of the parish where people would need to cross to access facilities and vice versa.
The Council stresses that a pelican crossing would be inadequate for the area given the types of vehicle movements and sightline issues surrounding the development. As a minimum, the developer should look at a Puffin Crossing, but the preferred choice is a Pegasus Crossing.
Also known as an Equestrian Crossings, Pegasus crossings are designed for pedestrians and horses to cross the road safely together. Thakeham has a large equine population and this economy and the tourism it brings should be encouraged.
Furthermore, the council would recommend that given the number of houses and families needing to access the existing facilities in the Abingworth development, investment is sought to create footpaths on either side of the B2139 opposite the entrance to the development.
The footpaths should have railings alongside them, to protect the young children of the new families who are at risk of the dangerous road.
Should the development include a care home/rest home facility, then dropped kerb and wider pavements should be considered for mobility scooter access as well as upgraded bridleways in line with TPC footpath renewal specifications.
The SRES states that “Homes will be constructed with an energy efficient building fabric and using technologies such as solar PV panels, EV charging points and heat pumps”.
Given the climate emergency recognised by Horsham District Council all future housing should be to the highest standards, ideally passive. The Council would like to see an expansion of solar power on the site (as mentioned in the TNP). An inclusion of a solar farm would help provide energy security to the area.
Furthermore, a solar farm would help with the local ecology as farms provide space underneath for flora and fauna and the potential for animal grazing.
Rather than expand the hard standing site to the west which would sacrifice A2 quality land, the Council would suggest that a solar farm would be a good use of the site and also assist with surface water mitigation as the panels would not be on concrete.
Any development should make sure that the materials and architecture would be influenced by the local character. This local character is exemplified in the surrounding area to the proposed site and would need to be reflected and protected.
Nearly the whole of Thakeham village’s northern built-up boundary area lies within the Thakeham Conservation Area recognised by HDC. The Thakeham Mushroom Farm area would border to the south west.
There is a Site of Archaeological Importance located to the west of Duke’s Hill B2139 and Storrington Road B2139, next to the Conservation Area in the northern part of the village.
The Council would welcome chance to review housing types and designs to see how they fit in with the street scene of this area.
The additional development delivering offerings such as a new school or NHS facility (doctors/dentists) would be welcomed as there are limited places available within the local education system. It is unclear how this would fit in the schematic provided. The Council would presume as it cannot encroach beyond the current built up area there would have to be a consequential reduction in housing.
If the development would provide these facilities, then additional new transport infrastructure would need to be established.
Potential funds to subsidize public transport and encourage that transport to operate within Thakeham would be required as well as bus stops and parking facilities for any public transport.
The Council was surprised that there is no provision within the outline plan for recreation activity or buildings for teenagers.
Thakeham is known for its night skies and the Council, in line with the TNP would like to encourage any developer to respect this and develop a scheme that would not pollute the night sky. Low level street bollards and clear corridors away from the green areas where the protected nocturnal population resides would need to be kept.
The Council also wish to know how tall the apartment blocks would be. Given the areas proximity to the South Down – Thakeham, as well as our neighbouring parishes, have concerns about the impact of high rise buildings would have on the ridge line of the hills that the development would sit in. The Abingworth development opposite was designed to reflect these ridge line protections.