A view of the South Downs from the field north of Sandy Lane

Henfield is a rural village. Walk into it from the Downs Link: stroll along a leafy lane, past some 17th and 18th century cottages, along a twitten, around a pond, down a pretty lane and arrive in the High Street without ever feeling you have left the countryside.

Our heritage was built on market gardening and flower nurseries, before Beeching axed the railway that made them economically viable. Now traces remain in the street names, like Flower Farm Close, and in the Downs Link which follows the line of the old railway.

The village has changed a lot over the years. Many erstwhile fields are now housing estates. Some 200 new homes have been added in the last two years alone and another 70 are under construction. Quiet country lanes have become commuter runs while traffic pinch points, blind bends and junctions have become accidents waiting to happen. Yet the rural pull of our village remains. Many people choose to live here precisely because of that rural environment. It is what makes Henfield special and generates the 'spirit of place' that makes us such a strong community.

We recognise that if the village is to thrive it must continue to evolve. We need new homes for youngsters growing up in the village. Older people want opportunities to downsize without having to leave the village they cherish. So we see the importance of planning for future development yet at the same time doing it in a way that preserves and enhances the best of Henfield.

That is why we strongly support the Neighbourhood Planning process. Since 2013 many of our most active community members have been working hard to produce a plan for future housebuilding that gives locals a say in what development should happen where in Henfield. In 2016 the first Neighbourhood Plan was put to a referendum with 94.3% of voters in favour and it was duly adopted.

Even as the Neighbourhood Plan was being finalised, a developer put forward a proposal to build 160 new houses on a field in open countryside, west of the Downs Link and outside the Built Up Area Boundary of the village. The proposal was opposed by both the Parish Council and Horsham District Council but the developer won the case on appeal. Apparently the 650 letters of objection counted for nothing.

The damage did not stop there. A second developer, also wanting to build west of the village, took Horsham District Council to the High Court, arguing that the precedent set by the West End Lane decision made the Neighbourhood Plan invalid. The Plan was overturned, wasting thousands of hours of work by the community and disregarding totally the will of the people.

So Henfield started again. Another team began the lengthy formal process. A 'Call for Sites' went out, public consultation meetings were held, sites were evaluated and expert sustainability assessments commissioned.

Yet even as this process was moving forward another developer proposed to build a new housing estate on a field outside the Built Up Area Boundary on a site which had been rejected for development in the last Neighbourhood Plan. The proposal to build on the 'Land to the North of Sandy Lane" in the south-west of the village sparked the creation of the Campaign to Protect Rural Henfield. The entire village swung behind the campagn and the proposal was refused planning permission in February 2019. The developer then appealed and a public inquiry was held in August 2019. Thankfully, Henfield won the case. Yet only 6 months later, the same developer applied again with a slightly modified scheme to build on the same field.

The actions by this developer have inspired many of us who care about our village to speak out. Ad hoc, speculative development risks putting housing in the wrong places and threatens to destroy the rural character and heritage of our village. Soon we will have a proposal for a new Neighbourhood Plan but it will take months more to go through the necessary independent examination and another local referendum before the Plan can be adopted.

If you care about the future of Henfield, help us make the case for proper planning. We want local residents to have their say. Support our emerging Neighbourhood Plan.

Email us on protecthenfield@gmail.com, or follow us on Facebook.