Labour succeeds in persuading councillors to call for continued support for new rail station at Kilnwood Vale in face of proposed U-turn by county council
West Sussex Labour councillors have succeeded in persuading the County Council’s committee who scrutinise issues relating to public transport, to call on the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport to drop a key recommendation which would have meant expressing a preference for any new station on the Arun Valley Line to be at North Horsham, rather than at Kilnwood Vale.
The issue arose at a meeting last Thursday of the county council’s Environmental and Community Services Select Committee, where officers had put forward a new policy for any response by the county council to the issue of new parkway stations on the Arun Valley line, which runs between Three Bridges and Barnham.
While the county council is not the final decision maker on whether to grant a new station licence, the Government is likely to formally request the County Council’s views regarding the proposals.
In a surprise move, which would have been a reversal of previous stated county council policy, the report proposed that the council should express a preference to have only one new station, located “adjacent to the [proposed] North Horsham Business Park due to the potentially greater economic growth benefits”.
Councillor Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) was the only member who spoke out in opposition to the sidelining of the Kilnwood Vale station proposals, with several Tory county councillors speaking in support of prioritising North Horsham.
The Kilnwood Vale station proposal already has outline planning permission, whereas none of the North Horsham proposals have been through this process.
- North Horsham already has Littlehaven station, which compared to where the proposed new station is set to be sited is only one and three quarter kilometres away – much nearer than the alternative to the proposed Kilnwood Vale station, which is two and a half kilometres to the current Ifield station.
- It is clear from the report that the main reason the county council wanted to prioritise this station was solely for to serve any new North Horsham business park that went ahead as part of the overall development there, despite the fact that the North Horsham station would be right on the periphery of any housing development that may accompany this.
- If the needs of residents moving into the new developments were to be considered first, the Kilnwood Vale station would be right in the heart of the new community, meaning that many could walk to that station in a few minutes. Indeed, for the large majority of the proposed new housing in the residential area for North Horsham, the current Littlehaven station will remain as near to get to as the new station – or indeed, Warnham station will be much nearer for any of those new North Horsham residents looking to get into central Horsham.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Michael Jones said,
"I read this report with dismay. Surely the conclusion on which is the most important station to prioritise should be about who has the most need for it, not what might better suit an unrelated county council aspiration?
“Kilnwood Vale is going up and being lived in now! It was always intended, when it was designed, to have a station. If it doesn’t, there is no direct communications route to the centre of town, it risks becoming an isolated ghetto when it is fully built. It would be utterly irresponsible of the county council to abandon that.
“To accept this recommendation to express a preference for North Horsham first over Kilnwood Vale will be putting a few dozen businesses’ interests above the needs of potentially thousands of current and future local residents in Kilnwood Vale. I thought this council was supposed to put people first?”
Cllr Jones also took issue with claims in the report and argued that the scope for population growth adjacent to Kilnwood Vale is significant and far higher than currently envisaged at North Horsham.
Cllr Jones continued:
“The assertions made in the report are questionable. The view it takes is very short term, the station that will be built will be there for decades. To say that development around Kilnwood Vale, particularly to the north, is not going to occur is wrong. The councils are continuing to explore and unlock the infrastructure problems in these areas. Horsham’s planning framework only has a 5 year land supply for housing currently in its plan. They will need to find the remainder for a further ten years’ worth because what they have is not sufficient, or it will be rejected.
“Additionally, the report makes the error of using population figures based on Horsham’s projections for numbers per household, not the Crawley figures, where household sizes are likely to be higher. That means that it is not an equal size of populations to choose from, Kilnwood Vale will be larger.”
However, following the end of the discussions, a cross-party majority of Tory, UKIP and Lib Dem councillors joined Cllr Jones in calling on the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport John O’Brien (Con, East Grinstead South and Ashurst Wood) and voted 6 -3 to remove from the response any expression of a preference between the two possible locations for the stations and to merely emphasise that both stations would bring potential benefits to the area.
While the vote of the Select Committee is not binding on the final decision of the Cabinet Member, for him to fail to amend the council’s policy in light of it, would be controversial and risk him being accused of failing to listen to the democratic will of elected councillors.
Cllr Jones’ arguments were supported by Labour Borough councillor and Cabinet Member at Crawley Borough Council for Planning and Economic Development, Cllr Peter Smith:
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Smith (Lab, Ifield) added:
"This is a real success for Crawley’s Labour county councillors working together with Borough councillors. It is more than a pity that Crawley’s Tory councillors seemed to be so ready to allow Kilnwood Vale to be forgotten.
“There is a social side to this as well, it is provable that people from Crawley Borough are more likely to need to use public transport. The majority of Kilnwood Vale residents are likely to have lived and worked in Crawley prior to moving there.
“As Crawley’s unmet housing need is so high, and this new development is going to be the nearest to Crawley’s boundaries, this is likely to be where the priority for good public transport links is highest, because people will have their ties there.
“The way Kilnwood Vale is built, we need that station to make it sustainable for residents to get into Crawley town centre and Manor Royal. My hope is that the Cabinet Member listens to the strong message coming from these councillors, otherwise it will make for incredibly poor urban planning. The strength of the argument for the Kilnwood Vale station is compelling.”