In summer 2019, Mid Sussex District Council’s Conservative administration passed Rydon's third application for a large housing estate on the fields north of Shepherds Walk, Hassocks. They did at least agree that no building work should take place until a safe railway foot crossing is built next to the site.
Later in 2019, a planning inspector also approved Rydon's appeal on its second application, which had been refused by a previous planning committee. He said that the housing estate could go ahead with either a bridge or a tunnel at the railway foot crossing. We await news on this from Network Rail.
It's worth reminding ourselves that local people had been saying for years that the crossing is dangerous, and that building a housing estate on the other side of the mainline railway to Hassocks' schools, parks and shops can only lead to a lot more people using it. This simple fact was apparently denied or ignored by the developer (Rydon) and by many Conservative councillors.
The inspector, many Conservative councillors and planning officials had decided not to agree with most of the points put to them by Friars Oak Fields Residents Association (FOFRA) over several years.
Approval was given in spite of the fact that the applications were also opposed by Hassocks Parish Council, Hassocks' district and county councillors, local residents and our then MP, Nick Herbert. The plans also contravened the well-developed Neighbourhood Plan (which MSDC had held since 2016) and indeed MSDC's own District Plan!
The District Plan for 2014-2031 clearly said: "Some settlements (including ... Hassocks) have already identified sufficient commitments/completions to meet their minimum housing requirement for the full plan period and will not be expected to identify further sites."
The emerging Neighbourhood Plan clearly designated the fields as much-needed Local Green Space, as requested by Hassocks residents.
FOFRA opposed Rydon's plan not because we are NIMBYs, but because the fields are an unsuitable site. They flood in wet winters. There are few employers or facilities in the area, so residents will travel to work, school, the rail station and shops by car on already-congested roads. Local schools have already been expanded beyond their reasonable capacity. Road infrastructure is inadequate: the village is cut in half by the mainline railway, with only one road crossing for several miles, which produces congestion at Mid Sussex's only pollution blackspot. The village has already had hundreds of new homes built, many on the same stretch of London Road, leading to that blackspot at the notorious Stonepound crossroads.
A thousand new homes in the space of a few years is simply not sustainable. Nearby Burgess Hill will also have 3,500 new homes built in the near future, making the lack of local infrastructure even more stark. London Road is already far, far busier than it was only a few years ago.
The whole sorry saga (see our articles below) highlights a broken planning system that is designed to maximise developers' massive profits (building on green fields is cheap) rather than meet people's needs in a sustainable and sensible way. After a decade of Conservative planning policy, the government claims it now wants to encourage brownfield development to regenerate cities, nearer to where most people actually want to live and work. Even if this change of heart is real, for communities such as Hassocks, it is simply too late.