Open Public Meeting Q&A Session Notes

Q&A session

These are the questions raised, answers given and general points made during the BHAG Open Public Meeting of the 1st October. It does not include any of the 'take away' questions that both members of the public and BHAG ran out of time to ask the Leader of Burgess Hill Town Council, Andrew Barrett-Miles. They are documented elsewhere on the BHAG website.

• How much of the promised S106/CIL and additional developer contributions would Burgess Hill actually receive? Despite Cllr Andrew Barrett-Miles twice giving an unequivocal “cast iron guarantee” that Burgess Hill would receive 100% of this £80m, many of the audience remained highly sceptical;

• The ability or otherwise of the current personnel at MSDC to enforce payment and collection of the levies;

• Honouring the provision of additional infrastructure and facilities to accommodate the new houses. Many questioned both Town and District Council’s ability to actually achieve it, citing numerous instances of historical shortcomings. Bolnore Village was one example quoted, where promised amenities were either delivered late or not at all. This raises serious concerns around whether the Town and District Councils are up to the job of overseeing a strategic project of this size. What happened to the Bolnore funding, and why did the amenities not materialise?

• The council’s refusal to listen to their residents, and the contempt with which the council handed-off the public with highly questionable ‘consultation’ questionnaires;

• The council and developers not having or displaying any real regard for the countryside that we love and which will be lost under these plans;

• Planning applications. The speed of progress, with Kings Way this year with Northern Arc expected next year. Are both the councils and developers rushing these applications through before legislation changes, and/or before residents can prove that they are flawed?

• What evidence will we need to be able to challenge these planning applications? CPRE highlighted two ‘opportunity’ areas to investigate, namely the ecological aspect and the housing density. Some developers may have started ecology reports, so we should use this as our starting point, and lobby groups and councillors. There are lots of powers and Acts to protect ecological elements that MSDC can use. If we can get the proper buy-in from MSDC, we can protect the character of our area.

• District can refuse planning applications if we have good enough reasons. Applications would then go to planning inspectors. ‘Unfair’ will not be good enough, we need evidence.

• It was asked whether lay people can be involved officially to ensure fair play during council progress meetings around any new developments. There was no definitive answer, but the Town Council have recently moved to allow access to some meetings for community reporters, or ‘bloggers’.

• The Burgess Hill Action Group (BHAG - formerly the ‘No Northern Arc’ group), officially registered themselves as an interested party with the Mid Sussex District Council. This should have ensured that the group were included in all applicable communications and notifications by MSDC. This has failed to happen, and to date, no communication has occurred at all.

• A member of BHAG asked if they could have a representative on the board that governs this strategy moving forward. Andrew Barrett-Miles advised that the setting up of a board to take the Burgess Hill Town Wide Strategy forward, rests with district council. BHAG have subsequently written to Garry Wall at MSDC to request this. BHAG were also advised by Andrew Barrett-Miles that a Burgess Hill Community Interest Company has also been set up to look after the additional £40m infrastructure monies, and this will have lay members. BHAG have already formally requested representation on the board of that company.

• A very important point was raised regarding ecological networks and their potential inter-connectivity. Currently, Ditchling Common to the east, river networks within the Northern Arc, Ashenground, Bolnore, Blunts Wood and Page Meadows could all be linked effectively and at low cost. If the Northern Arc development goes ahead, this opportunity will be lost. The council were urged to take such matters more seriously.

• As Ditchling Common is not even in West Sussex, why are we spending funds raised in West Sussex over the border? A question was posed regarding whether East Sussex County Council would ever consider spending money in West Sussex, given the fact that they are planning more and more development right on the edge of our town.

• People think that our councillors are not fighting for us.

• People think that councillors are not even listening to us.

• Many people think that councillors are not the slightest bit interested in what the residents want with regards to future development.

• ‘Fishy’ and ‘hope’ are worrying words when used by the leader of our Town Council. It doesn’t inspire any confidence or support.

• Falkland Islanders got what they wanted and needed....what we want is totally different from what everyone else is telling us.

• Residents think that they are being misrepresented and misled on these issues. Resident’s trust in their own Town Council has been seriously damaged and eroded over this.

• The point was made that Andrew Barrett-Miles appeared to be saying that these two major ‘strategic’ developments were already a done deal; that the message to the public was “Thank you for turning up, but really, it’s going to happen whatever you say or do”. We have 3 layers of local authority - County, District and Town councils, at enormous expense. What is their combined strategy to represent local people? CPRE and BHAG seem to have more of a ‘Dunkirk spirit’ about them.

• Councillors were advised to stop bickering about party politics, get a combined strategy and represent the views of the people of Burgess Hill

• A very specific question came from the audience regarding the Friends of Burgess Hill Green Circle Network, and how they were apparently bullied into agreeing with the town plans, or risk not getting any money to complete the ‘Green Circle’ around Burgess Hill. A letter from the Council to the FoBHGCN implying this is already in the public domain.

• Andrew Barrett-Miles was asked to confirm or deny whether all Town Councillors were told to ‘sell the benefits’ of the Town Wide Strategy and not to speak out against the plans. Andrew Barrett-Miles categorically stated that this was not the case. One Town Councillor in the audience confirmed that statement, whilst one other (now an ex-councillor) confirmed that it was in fact true.

• It was highlighted that the District Council have not had a proper planning strategy in place for years. If they had, we wouldn’t be facing this current crisis. District councillors have shirked their responsibilities for too long. Several comments highlighted concerns around effectiveness of the planning department, and current staffing levels.

• District council have an opportunity to prove their support for sustainability, protecting our countryside and ecology. Residents can successfully apply pressure to ensure that MSDC support these things.

• A former vice-chairman of the committee at MSDC (the committee that oversaw the last big development in the west of Burgess Hill) said that District councillors can and do decide where they want a development. • A point was made regarding ‘urban sprawl’.

• An interesting point was raised regarding whether we should be requesting monies from landowners and not developers, as was done with the West Burgess Hill development.

• Andrew Barrett-Miles states there are cast iron guarantees that £80m will be spent in the Burgess Hill area. Post meeting we have requested evidence to support this statement, and question if this amount is sufficient, or whether an infrastructure deficit will exist.

• Reference was made to how councillors can be on both Town and District Councils e.g. Andrew Barrett-Miles is Leader of Burgess Hill Town Council and Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee for Planning and Economic Development at Mid-Sussex District Council. Is there a conflict of interest? Do councillors end up approving their own proposals?

• Justin French-Brooks, the CPRE representative, said that West Sussex Highways Department are pro-development and wave everything through. County councillors were challenged: ”Please knock your transport department into shape”.