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.