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More accessible open space and enhanced wildlife habitats proposed for Rookwood

23 Sep 2020

The Government has mandated a step change in housing delivery and as part of that Horsham District Council must produce a Local Plan allocating sites for 1000+ homes per year to be built across the District. If that requirement is not met a target of over 1700 homes is likely to be imposed on the District. To have no Local Plan would mean that even if the Council refused ad-hoc planning applications from developers, an appeal would be heard by a Government appointed inspector and almost certainly be allowed with far less contributions towards local infrastructure and public amenity.

In January the Council published a consultation document listing potential sites for future housing. The document included nine larger sites in Horsham District and one of those is at Rookwood where an outline plan showing what could be built there was issued. Comments received about Rookwood in response to that consultation highlighted two main points. Firstly, concern about protection for Warnham Local Nature Reserve and secondly a wish to have publicly accessible natural green space for recreation in the locality. In response to those comments, the Council is now considering an alternative scheme that opens up the area to wider public recreational use - it is currently primarily limited to golf use - while enhancing wildlife and biodiversity adjacent to the Nature Reserve.

Both options would provide much needed affordable housing in an area within reasonable access to the town centre (35% of the total) but the original proposal would deliver 1100 homes while the newer alternative would have a reduced range of 750-870 homes. Housing would be focused on areas of current low biodiversity along the managed fairways of the golf course and on protection of existing trees and sensitive corridors such as Boldings Brook and the Riverside Walk. Additional buffer zones would be created to protect and extend the Nature Reserve providing new habitats. In the alternative plan only 30% of the 70 ha site would be used for housing and the fairways  closest to the Nature Reserve would be allowed  to revert to more natural green space offering opportunity for recreational space for  much wider  use than now alongside rewilding and tree planting.

Proposals for the alternative scheme are at an early stage but the main differences from the current plan are:

  • provide the opportunity to increase biodiversity and extend habitats on the area adjoining the Warnham Local Nature Reserve;
  • provide around 45-50 ha of publicly accessible green space;
  • release the land north of the link between the Walnut Tree plantation and the Nature Reserve for public recreational access rather than only golf;
  • maintain the integrity of Boldings Brook;
  • allow the fairways closest to the Nature Reserve to have much greater flora and fauna; and,
  • limit housing development to the remaining fairways in a reduced development area primarily focused on land to the south of Warnham Road.

In drawing up an alternative plan, the Council will engage with Sussex Wildlife Trust, The Friends of Warnham Nature Reserve and other stakeholders to discuss the proposals.

The next version of the Local Plan (Regulation 19) will be published for consultation early next year.

In commenting on the alternative plan, Councillor Jonathan Chowen, Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture said:

“For me, this alternative plan, though reducing the number of houses that can be provided, delivers our corporate ambitions on the environment and would help our wilder Horsham District initiative.

"It opens up the northern part of the Rookwood site, which for many years has been reserved for golf, into a large area of easily accessible green space for full public recreation.

"Equally importantly, I believe it would provide an opportunity for us to enhance Warnham Local Nature Reserve and I now want to talk to Sussex Wildlife Trust, our friends at Warnham Local Nature Reserve and others to look at what sort of measures we can take to increase the biodiversity of this area."

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