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13th October 2014

We have been very busy over the past few weeks and are pleased to tell you that stage one of our contribution to the Appeal is now complete – we have submitted all of the PFAG documents to the Planning Inspectorate. These are:

  1. A detailed report from our own Landscape Consultant (who we hired a few months ago) - We are really pleased with this work. It gives a detailed, yet clear account of the situation, with strong evidence based arguments, and includes some good and, we think, very convincing illustrations and photographs.
  2. Our own PFAG community Statement - In this we have stated some of the major concerns people still have with the proposed development. Although many of these have sadly previously been dismissed as they fall outside the remit of the planning process, we felt it important that the concerns of the local communities and PFAG are voiced at the Inquiry.

We will be making these documents available for you to view on our website very soon.

As you are aware, we had originally hoped to take part in the Appeal as a Rule 6 Party with a Barrister to give our point of view, but sadly, we were unable to raise the circa £30,000 which would have been needed to pay for this. We are, however, very pleased with the work we have been able to do and the documents we have submitted. We are also very encouraged that MSDC have engaged an experienced and successful Barrister and high calibre planning, landscape and heritage consultants.

Unfortunately though, it has become apparent that our current funds will not cover what we need to see us through the Inquiry – at present we are forecasting a shortfall close to £2,500.

So please, we wondered, could you help us and consider running a fundraising event. It needn’t be a grand affair - if every household in our group could raise even just £10.00, that would really, really help. We will send out a list of ideas as soon as possible. There are two great celebration dates coming up which you could use as a theme perhaps – Halloween and Bonfire Night?

Finally, the Inquiry begins on Tuesday, October 21st and we believe is likely to run for about 6 days. Public Inquires are quite formal affairs (a bit like a court of law) with the Planning Inspector being referred to as “Sir” - our Landscape Consultant will read his report out and will be cross-examined, likewise, a member of the Steering Committee will read the PFAG community Statement and may also be cross-examined.

It would be great to have a good turnout on Day 1 – but equally important is continued support throughout, even if only for a few hours a day

Please attend if you are able and encourage your friends to join you. It will be held at MSDC Council Chambers, Oakland Road, Haywards Heath (Where the District Planning Committee meeting was held back in April), between the hours 10.00 and 17.00 with a one-hour break for lunch.

We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible there, a good number in the public gallery will give the Planning Inspector a clear indication of local public concern and show that we are still prepared to fight!

Where is Penland Farm?

Penland Farm is a 72.15 acre area of attractive rolling countryside on the fringe of the High Weald AONB and the Grade II* listed Borde Hill Parkland. The area is part agricultural (at least grade 3) and part woodland (some of which is designated Ancient). It lies on the western side of Penland Road and runs from Harlands School, north to Hanlye Lane (click here to see a map). It is the northern part of a region of open countryside which provides and enhances the distinctiveness between the victorian town of Haywards Heath and the medieval village of Cuckfield.

What is being proposed?

Borde Hill Estate, the owners of Penland Farm, are seeking to build a very substantial housing development of 210 houses on the site. They have engaged three companies to push this development forward (Catesby Property Group, Barton Willmore and Curtin & Co) which demonstrates how determined they are!

Why now?

On 25 March 2013 the South East Plan was (partially) revoked by the government. The revoked elements are to be replaced by council District and Neighbourhood Plans.

The SE Plan contained a requirement for MSDC to provide 17,100 new homes within the district. The Mid Sussex District Plan proposes a reduction in this number to 10,600. However, in the absence of adopted District and Neighbourhood Plans, there exists a planning “void”. Developers are able to propose developments on sites not included in these plans by pushing the requirement to meet the old number of new homes and that is what they are doing throughout the Mid Sussex area.

Greenfield sites are particularly attractive to developers as they provide the maximum profit and landowners are eager to realise the value of land they own by putting it forward for development.

We have already controversially seen planning permission granted for housing on greenfield sites in Lindfield, Lucastes Road and Ardingly Rd in Cuckfield.

More worrying is the current rash of planning applications for land on the north of Haywards Heath. Other local sites are under threat; Sunte House - where Banner Homes have tried to get planning permission to build houses on the south of the site (this was refused by MSCD but Banner may yet appeal) and Birchen Fields where Crest Nicholson have submitted an application to build 48 dwellings. Borde Hill were also, until recently, looking to develop Sugworth Farm and have another parcel of land for sale too. If the Penland Farm planning applications is approved it will set a dangerous precendent  and will open the flood gates to other developments in the area and the greenfields on the northern edge of our town will be lost forever.

Why shouldn't Penland Farm be built on?

In 2007 MSDC & WSCC reviewed the Penland Farm site. To quote their report (which you can read here), they concluded that...

"Development in this location would not be acceptable for the following reasons:-

  • Impact on strategic gap.
  • No evidence that flood risk issues can be resolved satisfactorily on site.
  • No evidence that development could be carried out without harming sensitive ecological interests in the vicinity of the site.
  • No evidence that the development could be assessed safely or that significant highway issues on the surrounding network could be easily addressed."

None of those reasons have changed in the six years since. Although it is recognised that demand for housing in SE of England has continued to grow, the emerging Neighbourhood Plan for Haywards Heath demonstrates that housing requirements can be meet by building only on brownfield sites and not on our important greenfield sites.

Penland Farm is an attractive landscape of mixed arable fields and woodland not far from the designated Nature Reserve of Blunts Wood and Paige’s Meadow. The site itself has a significant area of ancient woodland and a variety of valuable habitats which are home to many rare species of plants, animals and birds. For more details of the ecological value of the site, please click here to see a brief summary of a report recently written on the area by the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The site borders the High Weald AONB and the Grade II* listed Borde Hill Parkland. Indeed, the Local Plan inspector commented in 2007 that he considered the site scored badly in sustainability terms, would entail the loss of good quality agricultural land and would be "a highly obtrusive and obvious outward expansion of Haywards Heath in to an area of attractive countryside, causing serious damage to the character and appearance of the area".

It is a valuable stretch of countryside, forming an important expanse of open countryside between victorian Haywards Heath and medieval Cuckfield village. The gap, at its widest, is less than a mile and should not be reduced further if we are to prevent coalescence of the two settlements and preserve their character and individuality.

The site itself is prone to flooding from natural underground springs and streams. These streams feed down into the Scrase Bridge Stream which has been the cause of flooding in Harlands Road and Burell Road in recent years. It is highly probable that development of the site may exacerbate these problems

Both Balcombe Road and Hanlye Lane already take large volumes of traffic, particularly at peak times. In 2007, West Sussex County Council stated that "On the basis of the information provided by the Head of Highways and Transport, [it] is not satisfied that the site is sustainable in transport terms or that adequate access can be provided to the existing highway". Traffic volumes have since increased with the development of Bolnore Village and the opening of junction 10A on the M23. Accidents are becoming a frequent occurrence on Balcombe Road and the London Road roundabout in Cuckfield is already at capacity. Add to this another 400 plus cars and you can see that things can only get worse.

Additionally there is the negative impact on our other local infrastructure. Our schools are already oversubscribed, as are our health services. The condition of our roads continues to deteriorate and train services to London are full to the brim with commuters. What will adding even more households do to these already overstretched facilities?

What is being done to oppose the development?

Penland Farm Action Group (PFAG) has been formed, comprising local residents as well as others who use the footpaths, enjoy the area and recognise the importance of preserving the landscape. We are now a group of over 500 families representing around 2000 people and growing steadily as more people become aware of the situation and pledge their support.

We are actively engaging with parish councils, residents groups, CPRE and numerous other societies and associations and are generating support for our cause. We have written many letters to our local councillors and MPs stating our concerns and reason for objection. We are also working on a formal submission in opposition to the planning application when it is submitted.

If you would like to join us and help us fight this planning travesty please register your interest  here.

Thank you – The Penland Farm Action Group.

A carpet of bluebells in the forest area of Penland Farm, Two children walking through Penland Farm, Penland Farm in the snow, View through an archway of forest