Monday, 2 July 2018

Urgent action needed - act by 20 July 2018 to help save Friars Oak Fields

Rydon Homes has submitted a completely new planning application to build a major housing estate on Friars Oak Fields. Any comments that you made on Rydon’s previous application no longer count. In order to save the fields and prevent further over-development of Hassocks, it is essential for as many people to object as possible. Talk to your family and friends. Please tell Mid Sussex District Council in your own words what you think about the new application ­- by 20 July 2018.

This new application has been made even though:

  • the site does not form part of the now-confirmed Mid Sussex District Plan, which allows for plenty of new homes (16,390 in the district from 2014 to 2031). 
  • the site was opposed by Hassocks Parish Council and was not included in its Neighbourhood Plan, for which the public voted the site 13th out of 15 possible housing sites.
  • the site was allocated as a Local Green Space in the Neighbourhood Plan, which was submitted to MSDC for approval in summer 2016.
  • the site was opposed by the local MP, Nick Herbert.
  • Hassocks already faces around 800 new homes in the next few years, on top of the large number that have been built in recent years. The total will far exceed the number that Hassocks can reasonably take, given the fact that there is only one road across the railway dividing the village, and no plan for new schools.
  • Two other major estates are going ahead on a short stretch of London Rd alone - the golf course opposite the proposed entrance to the new site, and Ham Fields, next to Stonepound Crossroads.
  • Stonepound Crossroads is the only Air Quality Management Area (pollution zone) in Mid Sussex. Nitrogen dioxide levels have been illegal there for years, and MSDC has a moral and legal duty to reduce pollution there, not increase it by permitting several new housing estates on the road leading to it.
  • The site is a flood plain and floods during wet winters; there are also concerns that flood mitigation at the new site will effectively dam the Herring Stream, making flooding in the Shepherds Walk area more likely.

To see all the relevant documents, go to https://www.midsussex.gov.uk/planning-building/view-and-comment-on-planning-applications/ and use the reference number DM/18/2342.

Rydon’s previous application was rejected by the independent planning inspector and by the housing minister. They were concerned about the safety of the open railway foot-crossing right next to the site. Rydon’s new application suggests that this could be solved with a footbridge. However, this is unlikely to be a practical solution: in order to clear the bank and the trains on the mainline track, and to provide access for pushchairs and wheelchairs, it would have to be extraordinarily high and wide.

In any event, since the site is not necessary according to MSDC’s own District Plan, residents’ concerns about traffic, schools, flooding etc will have to carry much more weight now that the ‘presumption of development’ specified by national planning guidelines no longer applies (it applies when local authorities do not have an up-to-date district plan, but Mid Sussex now does). Councillors on the MSDC planning committee would make an absolute mockery of their own District Plan (and common sense, and local democracy) if they passed the application.

Friars Oak Fields Residents Association is asking as many people as possible to object to this latest plan. Please write in your own words, highlighting issues that are of concern to you. The title of your letter or email should be Planning reference number: DM/18/2342. Email: steven.king@midsussex.gov.uk. Post: Planning Department, MSDC, Oaklands Road, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1SS. Please include your name and address on any correspondence. Please copy your letter to Nick Herbert MP (see www.nickherbert.com for contact details) and to your district councillors (see http://mid-sussex.cmis.uk.com/mid-sussex/Councillors.aspx). Thank you!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Friars Oak Fields planning application 'call-in' hearing to be held summer 2017 - act now!



The latest stage in the fight to stop Rydon Homes destroying Friars Oak Fields (and, in the process, wrecking Hassocks Parish Council's Neighbourhood Plan) is that with the help of our MP, Nick Herbert, we alerted the government to the fact that there is a clear case for it to 'call in' the planning application, which was approved by Mid Sussex District Council last autumn.


This means that Gavin Barwell MP, the minister for housing, has asked the national Planning Inspectorate to set up a public inquiry. An inspector will hold inquiry meetings over a few days, perhaps as early as this June, at the MSDC offices in Haywards Heath. The inspector will then make a recommendation to the minister (formally, his boss the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) who will decide whether or not to approve Rydon Homes' application.

Local residents are also awaiting the result of a call-in on the nearby Ham Fields application, next to Stonepound. And the golf course housing estate application has been approved and looks like it will be built. We don't need to remind anyone of the dramatic effect on traffic, school places etc of having more than one additional large estate built on London Rd in Hassocks. There is no plan for another local school.

The Friars Oak Fields Residents Association committee is still working hard to fight for what is right. What we are asking residents to do now (by 24 February) is to write to the Planning Inspectorate to make your views clear. Please write to:

Helen Skinner
Planning Inspectorate
Room 3/0
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Bristol BS1 6PN
or email: helen.skinner@pins.gsi.gov.uk

Please quote reference APP/D3830/V/17/3166992

Please say politely and in your own words why you think building on Friars Oak Fields is a bad idea. You might like to mention: 
  • the increased traffic congestion and pollution - even more traffic would be forced through Stonepound crossroads, which is the only access route to the village and the only pollution blackspot in Mid Sussex with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide
  • the increased risk of flooding to existing properties by constructing an access road that will put a 'dam' across the floodplain
  • the increased danger to local children by the estate being built right next to an open rail crossing with an exposed electrified rail, on the other side of the tracks from Hassock's schools, playgrounds and shops
  • the fact that there will be nowhere for children from yet another new estate to go to school, and there is no plan for a new school
  • the fact that the fields are a surprisingly rare accessible local green space that is much-loved by families, walkers and dog-walkers
  • the fact that the site was explicitly rejected by local people in a democratic vote for the Neighbourhood Plan 
  • the fact that to ignore the Neighbourhood Plan is against the intentions of the government's own Localism Act 2011.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Mid Sussex Planning Committee votes to allow Rydon Homes' application


Councillors on the Mid Sussex planning committee made a shameful decision on 13 October. To shouts of disbelief from the public gallery, they decided to pass an application by Rydon Homes to build an estate on lovely Friars Oak Fields, Hassocks. 

Many people will think: so what - houses need to be built and they have to go somewhere, don't they? 

But why require parish councils to spend tens of thousands of pounds on Neighbourhood Plans and then ignore them? 

Hassocks' NP named Friars Oak Fields as local green space, and allocated other areas as more suitable sites for homes. Local residents voted heavily against Friars Oak Fields being a housing site because they are a notorious floodplain, are next to a dangerous unmanned rail crossing, and are a much-loved area of local green space. 

The NP is nearly complete, at 'examination' stage, yet councillors decided it 'carries little weight', as planning jargon has it. Why? Because the same councillors have for several years now left Mid Sussex completely exposed to over-development. They have failed to produce a '5-year housing land supply document' and to prepare a sound District Plan, so under our current government's planning law, there is a 'presumption of development'. 

In fact, councillors can refuse unsuitable developments if their 'adverse impacts' would 'significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits'. The adverse impacts of building a large estate on the other side of the railway from the village's schools, shops and main park include the danger of children getting hurt on the dangerous, open foot crossing. Furthermore, building an elevated access road from London Rd to a new estate will obviously create a barrier to the flooding that results every winter from the Herring Stream and from groundwater. This dam will put existing housing at higher risk of flooding. 

Furthermore, the Rydon application makes no provision whatsoever for a desperately-needed new school. It can only ensure that yet more rush-hour traffic goes through Stonepound, which is Mid Sussex's only official pollution blackspot. 

How much more unsustainable do estates have to be before they are rejected? 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Fofra appeals to Mid Sussex District Council planning committee to reject Rydon Homes’ plan DM/15/0626 on 13 October

The amended application for outline permission for a 130-home, 383-bedroom estate on a green-field site at Friars Oak Fields (FOF), Hassocks, should be refused. The adverse effects of building there ‘would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’ under the terms of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), making it an unsustainable development. Further to our submission to MSDC of 28 September 2015, we summarise here the reasons that, taken together, add up to an overwhelming case for the application to be rejected:

1. It is strongly opposed by Hassocks residents and the parish council (which unanimously rejected the amended application in the strongest terms), and was explicitly rejected as a housing site in the Neighbourhood Plan (NP), which is in an advanced stage of development. To approve the planning application would therefore be an injustice that would make a mockery of local democracy. The draft NP has allocated building sites to meet of all Hassocks’ housing needs as part of the MSDC local planning process. There is therefore simply no need to build on a site that the residents of Hassocks have overwhelmingly decided they don't want developed. Out of 20 possible housing sites voted on by the public, FOF came 3rd from bottom, despite the fact that majority of Hassocks residents live on the other side of the railway that divides the village (in other words, many Hassocks residents live some distance from the proposed development but are still strongly opposed to it).

2. The lack of any provision for a school or other facilities would not only put excessive pressure on already-oversubscribed local schools but would force yet more traffic through Stonepound crossroads, not least to gain access to the village’s shops and schools. This is the only Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in Mid Sussex and as such it is inconceivable that building on FOF can be justified. Real-world vehicle pollution is subject to many variables such as traffic growth, the unknown effectiveness of new vehicle emissions tests and legal changes in public health legislation. This uncertainty is reflected in growing concerns about air quality among eminent national and international bodies. But it is absolutely certain that the proposed development cannot have a positive effect on the AQMA, where MSDC has reported exceeding the annual mean air quality objective since 2006. Consequently, this is in conflict with Policy CS22 of the Local Plan, the provisions of paragraphs 109, 120 and 124 of the NPPF and UK and EU Air Quality legislation compliance for the protection of health. Defra states that an AQMA can only be revoked once the local authority has considered measurements carried out over several years or more. Rydon is attempting to get around the AQMA problem by delaying the availability of the planned housing at FOF until 2019, because it claims that by then pollution will have reduced to legal levels; an extraordinary claim that it cannot prove with the measured data required to officially revoke an AQMA. A new estate can only increase traffic congestion, there being only one road crossing point on the railway for several miles (ie between Clayton and Burgess Hill). FOFRA’s reports to MSDC dated 30 April, 10 May and 19 May 2016 explain these issues in more detail.

3. As well as the AQMA, the planning inspector cited the local planning gap as a reason to refuse the nearby Ham Fields appeal last year. The decision was informed by the decision of the Secretary of State in relation to a further application to build in Hurstpierpoint. Building on FOF would clearly contravene MSDC’s local gap between Hassocks and Burgess Hill. It would be too far out from the village centre to do anything but damage village cohesion and identity, and instead would lead to coalescence with Burgess Hill, which is explicitly guarded against in the current MSDC local plan.

4. The proposed access road will only make London Rd more hazardous, as it is on a stretch of road where traffic approaches the bend north of Friars Oak pub at speeds of 50-60mph, the current speed limits notwithstanding. Furthermore, the application makes no provision to improve non-car access to the village or to public transport networks. Indeed, West Sussex County Council’s consultation response dated 29 September 2015 stated: “I struggle to reconcile that with the view expressed in the transport assessment at paragraph 3.5.5 that ‘…all local facilities including bus stops, shops and services and schools are within easy walking and cycle distance of the school.’  Similarly I struggle with the reference in paragraph 3.7.1 to ‘…local facilities within Hassocks are within easy walk or cycle distances…’  These statements of easy access by walking are found throughout the transport assessment and I think misrepresent the position. This is the weakest component of the accessibility assessment of the site. The length of the walking distance could justify a reason for refusal of the application…”

5. FOF is a floodplain and the development’s design would actually cause an increased risk of flooding, as well as damaging the ecology of the Herring Stream. FOFRA’s reports to MSDC dated 30 April 2016 show that a) The site is fundamentally unsuitable for residential development due to the Herring Stream floodplain and the amount of ground water / surface water endemic on the site; b) The proposed design, particularly the raised access road embankment across the entire width of the floodplain and the addition of a man-made compensatory extension to the existing flooded area, will cause an unacceptable increase in flood risk to existing dwellings in Shepherds Walk; c) The modelled flood extents do not tally with empirical evidence which shows that there is a real risk that fluvial flooding could extend over greater areas than predicted by the models, thus creating flood risk that is not revealed in the Flood Risk Assessment. In this respect, the Environment Agency accept that the developer’s flood model predictions do not match photographic evidence of actual upstream flooding in back gardens of houses in Shepherds Walk and Friars Oak Road. d) The proposals will cause ecological damage to the Herring stream due to loss of earth bank habitat, destabilisation of the earth banks and the introduction of waterborne pollutants caused by run-off water disposal into the river.

6. The site is right next to a dangerous open foot-crossing (Woodside) over the London-Brighton main railway line. Rydon argues that putting 130 family homes on the other side of the railway from the village’s schools, shops and bulk of housing will only increase foot crossings by two crossings per day, and that no one will ever use the crossing during the peak pedestrian period of 8am to 9am, but do not give any reason for this claim. Rydon also says that 98.81% of pedestrian journeys from the estate will never go via the crossing despite it offering the shortest pedestrian route to almost all the amenities in Hassocks. This is cynical nonsense that puts the lives of children in danger. FOFRA estimates that at least 50 more crossings per day will result from the development. Please see FOFRA’s analysis of Rydon’s predictions, dated 13 May 2016.


7. It is a surprisingly rare area of accessible green space for the well-being of local families and walkers, and is a haven for wildlife. The development would destroy a well-used site near to and with views of the South Downs National Park. Hassocks Parish Council supports this view and has decided to allocate Local Green Space status to FOF.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Time to support the Neighbourhood Plan!


Rydon Homes' proposal to rip up much-needed accessible green space at Friars Oak Fields and build a 383-bedroom estate on a floodplain, right next to a dangerous railway crossing, is NOT going before Mid Sussex District Planning Committee in September, so there is still time to make sure the planning officer Steven King, your local councillors and Nick Herbert MP are aware of your objections - see below. In the meantime, please support Hassocks Parish Council's Neighbourhood Plan, which designates the fields as Local Green Space. 
Follow this link: http://www.midsussex.gov.uk/planning-licensing-building-control/planning-policy/neighbourhood-plans/hassocks-neighbourhood-plan/
Thank you!   

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Rydon amends planning application and council asks for comments by 20 May

Rydon has amended its planning application, which is now for a 383-bedroom estate rather than a 405-bedroom one. It is now worded:

"Hybrid planning application comprising outline application for access only for residential development of 130 dwellings consisting of 12 x 1 bed apartments, 27 x 2 bed houses, 47 x 3 bed houses and 44 x 4 bed houses and associated access ... Revised plans received 18/4/16 showing a reduction in the number of proposed dwellings, an amended access plan, a revised Flood Risk Assessment and a Revised Flood Modelling report."

Mid Sussex District Council has asked for comments on the plans by 20 May, indicating that the plan could go to councillors for a decision very soon. Friars Oak Fields Residents Association is examining the changed proposals, but it is vital that as many people as possible make their objections clear as soon as possible. Objections that have been raised include:

  • There is no provision for extra school places, despite the fact that there is already a crisis in Hassocks (the small village infant school has been forced to take 4-class entry this September). 
  • The plan will also increase traffic in the area, forcing even more cars through Stonepound crossroads, which is the only pollution blackspot in Mid Sussex.
  • The plan could increase the risk of flooding at existing properties due to the fact that Friars Oak Fields are a floodplain and the Rydon plans would adversely affect the stream.
  • The plan would put houses right next to the dangerous rail foot crossing and there are no plans to build a bridge. Rydon makes the ludicrous claim that their estate will not lead to more people using the crossing.  
  • The site has been rejected by Hassocks parish council and by residents in the Neighbourhood Plan. 
  • The site is a rare area of accessible green space and is a haven for wildlife.
  • The plan will increase the number of commuters attempting to park around streets near the station, as the distance from the station will put off many commuters from walking.
  • The application is "outline", meaning that if it is approved, the actual housing estate could contain many more homes than the 130 proposed. 
To see the latest documents, see www.midsussex.gov.uk/planningregister - search for DM/15/0626 and then click on "related documents", then "view associated documents", then "date received" to put them in date order. This highly damaging plan will go ahead unless local people object: if you haven't already done so, email planninginfo@midsussex.gov.uk quoting DM/15/0626 by 20 May 2016.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Building 405-bedroom estate next to dangerous rail crossing would not lead to more people using it? Really?




Hassocks residents have expressed disbelief at a developer's claim that building a 405-bedroom housing estate will not cause more children to use an unguarded rail crossing next to the site.

Rydon Homes' claim that only two more crossings will be made per day is ludicrous, said Friars Oak Fields Residents Association (Fofra). A Fofra spokesman said: "This is madness. Putting a big housing estate the other side of the tracks from all of Hassocks' schools and shops, and most of its housing, can only mean one thing: lots more people using it.

"Kids will use it as it is the quickest way to go to school or Adastra Park, or to see friends. The possible consequences don't bear thinking about. Rydon Homes' claim is nothing short of irresponsible nonsense."

Woodside crossing is just north of Hassocks station on the London-Brighton mainline, carrying 332 trains a day at up to 90mph. The electrified rail is just a few feet from the footpath and there are no barriers to stop children trespassing.

At present Woodside is used infrequently by ramblers and dog-walkers using the public footpath. But when plans were unveiled for a large housing development at Friars Oak, north of Shepherds Walk, local people were quick to spot the potential danger and alerted Network Rail, who are responsible for the safety of the crossing.

Incredibly, Network Rail has declined to object to the development. It has apparently accepted the findings of Rydon's consultants, who claim that no children - in fact nobody at all - will use the crossing between 8am and 9am.

Fofra added: "It's time Network Rail took its responsibilities seriously. And since Friars Oak Fields has been rejected by local people as a housing site in the Neighbourhood Plan process, Mid Sussex councillors must surely reject this planning application. To do anything else will make a mockery of local democracy."