The next consultation about plans to build 3,250 homes west of Ifield will not take place until later this year.
The development – the first of three proposed neighbourhoods which could see 10,000 homes built over the next 30 years – has received strong opposition from residents and councillors alike.
Hundreds of people took part in two consultations since January 2020 – with Covid forcing the second to be held online.
But people were left wondering what was going on when the anticipated third consultation was withdrawn.
Indicative impression of how 10,000 homes could be built west of Ifield
A spokesman for Homes England, the government’s housing agency, said: “Our next planned public consultation on the West of Ifield development is due to take place later this year, to allow for further work to be carried out on the draft proposals and to take into account the nationwide need to address water neutrality for all developments.”
The water neutrality issue reared its head in September when Natural England published a position statement on the matter.
Crawley and Horsham have been identified by the Environment Agency as being in an area of serious water stress.
Water is supplied to the borough and district by Southern Water from its Sussex North Water Resource Zone.
Essentially, the fear is that the current rate of water abstraction – the process of taking water from surface or underground sources – is having an impact on protected sites in the Arun Valley.
So now applicants have to show that their developments would not increase demand on water supplies.
The West of Ifield issue was raised by Crawley MP Henry Smith in the House of Commons last week.
Mr Smith said: “May I have an assurance from the Prime Minister that as we update planning legislation, we will enshrine the ‘brownfield first’ principle for new developments, and save our environments and our services?”
While Boris Johnson replied that the government’s policy was ‘brownfield first, everywhere and always’, West of Ifield is not a new development.
The plans have been in the pipeline for years.
A spokesman for Homes England said: “Homes England seeks to build on brownfield land as a priority and to make use of publicly owned land.
“Active brownfield Homes England developments include York Central (up to 2,500 homes) and Northstowe (10,000 homes).
“The proposals for West of Ifield are not a new scheme, it has been under development for a number of years.
“This scheme is largely on government owned land and none of the proposed homes are in the flood plain.
“Homes England is actively supporting the government in its mission to level up our economy, but we must not ignore the very real need for affordable new homes of all tenures in the South East.
“The population of West Sussex is forecast to grow by 20.4 per cent over the next 20 years yet housing affordability in Crawley is some of the worst in the UK.
“As a government agency, Homes England takes a longer-term view on creating new communities and ensuring that new infrastructure is delivered early to create high quality places.