Horsham District Council will imminently have to decide on whether to support the proposed Local Plan. Few issues produce such emotion - and for good reason - development has a permanent impact on our environment and our sense of place.
However because of the need for housing a halt to all development is not an option.
Legislation passed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition requires that planning numbers are set for each planning authority. If the Council can show that it has allocated enough land to provide these homes this prevents other large developments being built. The principle is that it is for the Local Council to determine where building should be permitted.
Given the population increase (some 11 million in my lifetime) successive Governments of every description have set targets for housing to ensure people have a chance to own or rent their own home. This is the right aspiration but in supporting making housing available one has to recognise that requires more housing to be built, not all of which is capable of being provided on brownfield sites.
The question is where to build. Last year I heavily engaged with fellow Ministers on proposed changes which would have very substantially increased still further the housing numbers required in our aeea. As a Minister I am absolutely able to raise concerns on behalf of constituents- and such concerns are taken seriously. I was not alone and we succeeded. The “algorithm” was scrapped, our housing numbers were not increased.
However despite earlier efforts alongside my then parliamentary colleagues, Nick Herbert and Nicholas Soames, our local Councils continue to have to find large numbers
I absolutely recognise the heavy burden this places on District Councillors. Those who undertake the role do so because they are seeking to represent and serve their communities. Determining a local plan is the most important and difficult task they have to undertake. They deserve our support in a process in which they need to fully understand the decisions presented to them and their implications.
MPs need to work out how they can support colleagues of all party backgrounds elected to the Council in undertaking the most difficult job they face.
Attacking the Council for even considering the sites put forward is clearly the “easy” option and if I were to do so I would have a much easier time in the letters pages of the County Times!
However I do not think that is fair. I am conscious that Parliament has required targets to be met by the District Council. Councillors have to take these difficult decisions on grounds of evidence. MPs telling them simultaneously to build houses but opposing the means to do so places Councillors in an even harder position in carrying out what are their responsibilities.
It is not only wholly reasonable but right that any plan put up for approval is subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny by Councillors.
Every Councillor is answerable, ultimately, to the constituents who elect them, as are all of us who are elected. Every Councillor in whatever party political group they sit (or none) needs to decide how to vote and should be respected for the decision they take.
There is a need for a plan to be put in place in a timely manner but I recognise the concerns being raised on the current proposal. It is for the Council as a whole to decide whether to support the plan proposed.