Still waiting for a cycle path to Haywards Heath

Plans to turn Theobalds Road and the bridleway leading to Fox Hill Village into a cycleway are I understand now considered not viable by the Council and it has returned to looking at alternatives. Whilst capital and maintenance costs were the barrier, many local residents were concerned about the environmental cost of the route.

Certainly, there are good reasons for making Rocky Lane and Issacs Lane safer for pedestrians and cyclists as well as taking a stand with the owners of the Heaseland Estate who could provide a more straightforward route to Haywards Heath at very little inconvenience to themselves. Anyone who has tried to walk between Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill knows this is putting their lives in danger given the sharp bends and straight roads where even the grass verges are not always wide enough to walk on.

Work is nearing completion to widen the cycle path link to Fairbridge Way at Blackstone Way (albeit completion is currently delayed). This is part of the Place and Connectivity Programme, and I look forward to an all-weather cycle and footpath between St Wilfrids Road and Leylands Road, as well as improvements to the “bumpy bridge” to make it less bumpy! However, the plan also needs to consider a more permanent upgrade to the footpath to the north of Leylands Road leading to Maple Close to allow cyclists to use it.

The Town Council always advised against the so called “eastern route” to Fox Hill Village given the environmental concerns, and I understand they are now considering our proposal for a pedestrian crossing at or near the Mill Road junction given the need for a safe route across Leylands Road here.

Supporting the Town Centre

Well done to the market traders that braved the town centre this morning, and thanks for the cheese man for letting me off the 2p I owed him (promise to pay you next month). Slowly increasing my shopping at Scrapless, the plastic free store, today refilled the porridge oats, handwash and eggs, today. Did notice the main post office has limited opening hours and is currently closed on Saturdays and open from 11am during the week, although of course the suboffices in London Road and Worlds End remain open as usual.

Clair Hall joins the Martlets Hall – closed by Mid Sussex District Council without replacement

Demolition of the old library is due to start shortly after Burgess Hill Councillors pressed the District Council for action, after they previously left the job half finished. However why did they demolish this perfectly good building in the first place? This summary of last week’s Scrutiny Committee on the District Council, which was called after Liberal Democrats objected to the closure of Clair Hall in Haywards Heath, shows just how intolerant the Conservatives are of opposition. Of course Burgess Hill already knows what it is like to lose our main arts and performance venue without any provision of a replacement, given the Council not only closed the Martlets Hall, but hastily demolished it to prevent any further use. https://www.facebook.com/saveclairhall/videos/1294088457635484

Test and Trace support payments now available in Mid Sussex

New ‘Test and Trace Support payments’ were announced today in Mid Sussex for those having to self-isolate if asked to do so by NHS Track and Trace. This could be necessary due to having tested positive for COVID19 or being in contact with someone who has tested positive. Whilst the number of cases is relatively low locally, it is vitally important any possible transmission is identified and acted upon, and the payment of a Test and Trace support payment of £500 is available not just for those on benefits but also now as a discretionary payment for those in work or self employed on low incomes. Applications should be made whilst in self-isolation or within two weeks of its end. See https://midsussex.grantapproval.co.uk/.

Support for balanced language in asylum debate

Mid Sussex District Council’s meeting on Wednesday expressed it pride in the UK tradition of providing sanctuary to refugees who have been displaced by conflict and persecution.  Members from all parties voted for a Liberal Democrat motion acknowledging that the issue of asylum and international migration is a highly complex issue without simple solutions.  Whilst issues relating to asylum seekers can be controversial it is important that whatever our opinions that we not use dehumanising language and recognise that asylum seekers have just as much right to safety, family, and opportunity.  I was pleased the motion passed with support from some Conservative councillors after a similar motion was agreed at West Sussex County Council put forward by Liberal Democrat Kirsty Lord. 

Speaking after the debate in the County Council. Cllr Lord said, “When we look beyond the lurid media headlines, we find local government, foster families and humanitarian charities working tirelessly to help give some of the most vulnerable people on the planet a new start. I am proud to be a member of a council that has gone above and beyond its minimum statutory obligations. It is a very polarised time in politics, especially on issues like this. However County Councillors have shown leadership and demonstrated that we can hold different views but still find common ground in our commitment to treating refugees and asylum seekers with dignity, compassion and respect, and I was pleased to hear that the Council is looking at how to extend some of the funding in this area beyond June 2021.

The motions are one element of a month of awareness raising about the plight of refugees that is being led by the Liberal Democrat District Councillor Benedict Dempsey will led a debate at Mid Sussex District Council on the need to treat asylum seekers and refugees with dignity, compassion and respect and throughout September, a team of Liberal Democrats have been taking part in the Red Cross’s ‘Miles for Refugees’ sponsored event. By running, cycling, and walking hundreds of miles, they hope to raise more than £2,000. Support the campaign here – https://miles-for-refugees-2020.everydayhero.com/uk/mid-sussex-lib-dems

Government giving Mid-Sussex houses back to developers rather than the homeless

I was pleased that at last nights Council meeting was able to agree my amended motion criticising Government planning changes, thanks to Cllr Pete Bradbury from the Conservatives for seconding the revised composite motion which was supported by all members of Mid Sussex District Council. The motion outlines some of the reason why councillors from all parties are concerned about the government proposals, and is reinforced by the evidence the Council circulated Tuesday which highlighted some of the shortcomings of the government proposals outlined in Changes to the Current Planning System.

Where is the rationale for these changes?  We know our planning department is efficient, application timescales are kept to, and 90% of applications are agreed – in line with most other local authorities.  The Council’s own submission says developers are sitting on landbanks sufficient to build one million houses, none of the proposals provide an incentive for developers to build more houses, indeed zoning could allow them to cherry pick the most profitable sites. 

Government proposals for housing targets replace a locally agreed assessment of housing need with a nationally set one size fits all formula that sets a target regardless of local circumstances.   New housing targets are based on a formula that takes no account of housing need, the availability of employment, environmental constraints, or any consideration about the local infrastructure required to support new housing.     

The proposal to allow developers of up to 50 units to no longer make s106 contributions for social housing for “an initial period of 18 months”, will further undermine the link between new development and any benefit to the wider community.  Last year 94% of the 211 residential applications in Mid Sussex were on sites below 50 units.  The proposals effectively end the development of new social housing from this source of funding for our villages. Since 2015/16, Mid Sussex has itself obtained 146 affordable homes from sites with less than 50 units – NOW THE GOVERNMENT IS PROPOSING TO GIVE ANY FUTURE HOMES BACK TO DEVELOPERS INSTEAD OF THE HOMELESS!

Indeed as the Council’s response to the proposal testifies this change could even be counterproductive to its stated aim of helping smaller developers given the likely knock on effect of increased land prices reducing their ability to compete for such sites.  As the Council acknowledges, if the government is serious in aiming to build more houses, the best way would be “to introduce financial penalties for developers who sit on sites with planning permission instead of building on them.

At the same time the proposals in the Planning White Paper significantly reduce any local say in planning.  The proposed changes will remove any consultation on the detail of planning applications, the new zoning system will mean an area is approved for development without oversight of any detail relating to an individual planning application’s nature or layout.  Residents will have one chance to comment on a district plan outlining basic principle, and then eight years later may wake up to a new development they have had no say in.  The impact of new development can often be substantially improved by altering small details– changing the exact siting of an access road or the aspect of new houses overlooking their neighbours – can significantly improve a scheme, both for its neighbours and its new occupants.  Denying local people their say on the detail of new development is fundamentally anti-democratic.

We already know housing developers have the ear of the housing secretary, Kingswood, a scheme for 2,850 homes in Horsham, is being proposed by a hedge fund billionaire who has given £4.6m to the Conservatives.

Further the existing means of requiring developers to pay for local infrastructure will be replaced, the proposed new nationally set one size fits all levy would replace locally negotiated s106 payments, losing the flexibility of the current system and potentially meaning developers pay less.    The new levy will not be site specific and therefore the infrastructure required for new developments may not necessarily be funded by the developers who profit from it, and therefore we are more likely to see infrastructure added as an afterthought, not as an integral part of any new housing development.

None of these changes will necessarily mean more houses will be built. They will allow more choice for developers on which site they build, and bigger profits for their shareholders.  They will take power away from local councils, and from the local people they serve, and they will mean less sustainable more divided local communities. The Royal Institute for British Architects called the proposals shameful and suggested that they will do almost nothing to guarantee delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes, let us hope the government and our local MP’s will listen and ditch these ill-thought out proposals.

Conservative planning changes mean subsidy for housing developers and less low cost housing

The proposed changes outlined in the “planning for the future” White Paper issued earlier this month raise more questions than answers and gives no compelling reason that current processes need for fundamental reforms.  Whilst it is clear the changes will mean bigger profits for developers, less community involvement in local planning processes, and reduced funding for local infrastructure (e.g. the related roads, schools and open space) – which will be more likely delivered after new housing is developed, not before it.  There is no evidence provided that the changes will lead to the development of more new houses, and the key issue of developers currently sitting on land banks that are estimated to comprise planning permissions for 500,000 houses is unaddressed.

Often even minor changes to planning proposals implemented during a detailed planning consultation can make a huge difference to local residents and the people destined to live in these developments.  The exact layout of the road network, the spacing of the houses and the incorporation of open spaces has a huge difference on how a development is perceived, and can be beneficial to the developer, as well as those who live in or next to it.  Why are local people to be shut out of this process?  The pre-approved “design codes” that new developments will need to comply with will never be able to respond to the complexity of local planning needs, local people are being asked to agree a blank cheque to the new growth zones without any say over the exact nature of the development.

The immediate exemption proposed for sites of under fifty housing units to be exempt from making any contribution to local infrastructure is a massive subsidy for housing developers who already make billions in annual profits (and incidentally bankroll the Conservative Party with £11 million donated since Boris Johnson became PM).  Current s106 funding is incorporated within new housing development and means affordable housing is delivered as part of any new scheme.  The proposed changes will end this, and be based on a national formula, less flexible than the current system, which will only provide funding after a development has been built.   Last week’s failures in water supply is an example where without adequate planning for future growth such water shortages are likely to get worse.   With the removal of the Mid Sussex requirement to build 30%  of affordable housing as part of new developments, those who want to rent or get on the housing ladder through shared ownership are likely to be disappointed (its replacement by a generalised financial contribution is open to diversion for a range of other purposes).

Perhaps our local MP could explain her support for the proposal, did she receive any contribution from housing developers for election expenses, why is the Conservative Party removing the right of local people to comment not just on the principle but on the detail of new developments, and can you explain why housing developers will no longer be required to provide affordable housing as part of a new scheme or pay for the infrastructure required for new developments?

Finally! Leisure Centres reopen but Liberal Democrats Voice Concerns About Clair Hall’s Future

Triangle Leisure Centre reopening 1st September

District councillors voted last night to reopen Mid Sussex’s three leisure centres with a phased reopening from 1st September. Customers will be asked to book all activities in advance via the Places Locker app or the Places Leisure website. There will be a 15-30 minute changeover period between each session to allow customers time to exit their activity safely and Places Leisure staff to clean the facilities. Signage will be in place to help people follow social distancing, there will be hand sanitising and cleaning stations, the number of people taking part in each activity will be reduced and cleaning regimes will be greatly enhanced. Initially not all facilities will be available such as the popular leisure swimming, so you are advised to check the Places Leisure website for updates when it was updated https://www.placesleisure.org/centres/the-triangle/

Liberal Democrats joined other councillors in voting to reopen the District’s three leisure centres. The decision was taken last night at a special meeting of Mid Sussex District Council following weeks of delay.  

The deal comes with a high price tag. The Council will forgo its monthly management fee of £120,000 and instead pay an estimated £2.5 million subsidy between now and April 2021 to its leisure contractor Places Leisure, funded from the Council’s reserves. A further condition of the proposal is that the Haywards Heath community venue Clair Hall come out of the Places Leisure contract and the future of the ‘site’ be considered at ‘some future point’.

At the meeting the Liberal Democrats voted to reopen the leisure centres from 1st September, but sought to strengthen and improve it by tabling three amendments.

The first amendment sought reassurance that the future of Clair Hall would be properly assessed and that the people of Haywards Heath would not be left deprived of a valuable community asset. The other two amendments would have reassured the public that should the arrangement prove to be unviable, alternatives be scoped and robust cross-party oversight put in place. In what turned into a very ill-tempered meeting, the Conservatives vehemently opposed all three amendments wrongly describing them as ‘wrecking motions.’

Cllr Alison Bennett, Liberal Democrat Group Leader said: “It’s great news that our leisure centres will open after a frustrating summer of delays. Opening is only possible by spending millions of pounds of Council reserves. This comes with significant risk and drain on tax payers’ money. The solution agreed last night is not financially sustainable in the medium term, and will need to be revisited in the coming months. Regrettably, the Conservatives misinterpreted our amendments which would have given the public further assurance that the ongoing provision of leisure in the District is being rigorously planned and overseen.”

Cllr Richard Bates, Liberal Democrat (Haywards Heath Ashenground) who proposed the amendment on Clair Hall commented, “As a keen swimmer and member of the Dolphin Leisure Centre, I was happy to support the proposal last night and understand the need to remove Clair Hall from the contract to get leisure centres open. However, without additional reassurances I am very worried that this will be the thin end of the wedge, and we risk losing Clair Hall as a community asset. Incredibly, Conservative councillors from Haywards Heath voted against an amendment that would have made sure that the town does not lose its largest community venue.”

Cllr Robert Eggleston, Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader commented, “Once again we see that the Mid Sussex Conservatives seem willing to sacrifice culture and the arts. In 2018 the Martlets Hall was closed and Clair Hall was cited as an alternative venue. Indeed £35,000 of the Martlets relocation fund was used to pay for refurbishments at Clair Hall. Now it looks as though Clair Hall is also going to be chucked under a bus by the Tories.”

Our manifesto for Burgess Hill

We want to stand up for local people on planning issues

We want to ensure that the planning of homes meets the needs of the community, not the interests of developers. We want to increase the proportion of affordable and social housing, and push for developers to pay more to improve our overburdened infrastructure. We want to protect the green countryside between Burgess Hill,  Haywards Heath and Hassocks.

We will work to improve our environment

We will adopt policies to reduce fly tipping and reduce and recycle food waste so that less goes into landfill.  We want to promote community transport schemes to reduce traffic congestion and improve cycling infrastructure. We will make the environment central to planning decisions and new developments. We want to see zero carbon housing, and for developers to include simple measures to improve biodiversity, such as hedgehog holes, swift boxes and wildlife planting areas.  We will promote the Green Circle Network and protect Bedelands Nature Reserve.

Rebuild the local community and economy

We will continue the work to replace the Martlets Hall and resist measures to downgrade the town’s library and other public facilities.  We want to breathe new life into the Burgess Hill Town Centre Partnership and consult on measures to improve trading in the town, such as a Town £ or Town Discount Card.

Improve decision making

We will break the single-party domination of Mid Sussex and on Burgess Hill Town Council. Whatever your political views, this is bad for local democracy. We will scrutinise the Council in the interests of local people and make our decisions based on what is best for our community.   

How We’ll Work We will keep listening to you so we can represent your views.  We will be accessible so that you can talk to us about the issues that concern you and we can represent you better. We’ll deliver regular newsletters and use social media to keep you updated on how we are working for you. We will consult with you more on issues that affect the town and be more open and accountable.

 We will hold surgeries to help deal with your concerns and promote community involvement in the work of the town council by encouraging the active participation of local residents. 

We will work with others when it is in the interests of the local community. We will not simply oppose for the sake of opposing, but make case-by-case judgements to deliver the best outcomes for our town.    ent 4