INformation related to greenway between Burgess HIll and Haywards Heath

Robin Walker made this Freedom of Information request to Mid Sussex District Council

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Dear Mid Sussex District Council,
Request 1: Origins of the plan
Minutes of meetings and other official documents, discussion between elected Councillors and officers related to the original high level “ambition. We want to understand when those discussions took place and whether it was, indeed, a wish expressed by elected Councillors or was it driven by Officers from the outset.

Request 2: Original evaluation or modelling of need and demand
There must have been some sort of demand study carried out, to confirm that the rather hazy “wish” was interrogated, evaluated and supported by real demand or need.
We either want to see that original analysis, or receive a written confirmation that the Council did not do any demand analysis first.

Request 3. Original route evaluation and decision to buy the necessary land
We know that MSDC bought the strips of land alongside the western side of the railway together; titles WSX356047 together with several segments forming WSX3305705, and paid £20,000 + VAT for them together, paying the money on the 16th March, 2013. Together with segments which could have been taken from the large area WSX135684, which had been in MSDC ownership since 1988, this would constitute most of the necessary route (although there are two others required, see below)
The two parts missing are a crossing point required over the river at the Valebridge Viaduct, which was (and still is) owned by Heaselands Estate (title WSX26342), and along a short river section at the very northern area (almost at Haywards Heath) in the same title/ownership.
The final section is a clear “spoiler strip”, title WSX330760, owned by Birkbeck Estates Ltd and paid for (the price being £4,500 + VAT) on 15th March, 2013.
Specific questions related to Request 3:
a. Who within MSDC decided to buy these strips of land, when and for what purpose?
b. Council meeting minutes or minutes of other discussions and/or email exchanges where this expenditure was authorised
c. Who (role, the name is not important) did the evaluation that resulted in these purchases?
d. Why, given that MSDC bought all the “rest of the route” the day after Birkbeck Estates bought their spoiler strip, what approaches (letters, minutes of meetings, council discussions etc.) are there related to efforts to procure this strip? (again, please remove names and sums proposed).
e. Given (d) above, what approaches were made – if any- to Heaselands Estate (who own that land) to achieve this (in fact there is also a strip of apparently unallocated land immediately to the west of the Birkbeck strip- was this considered)?
f. What approaches (if any) were made to the Heaselands Estate to secure a river crossing and along-river connection at the northern end? If such an approach was made, when did that occur?
g. At what point did MSDC decide to abandon the central route, and where are the minutes of the meeting that took place to agree it (given that £20,000 + VAT + legal fees and costs had already been spent on the project)?
h. It seems that the two titles being purchased on sequential days is beyond the realm of coincidence. What communications, if any, took place between any officer or councillor at MSDC and the Reza family, who own Birkbeck Estates, either shortly before or in the period after the purchase dates of payment for the two titles (15th and 16th March, 2013), say for January – end 2013?

Request 4: The second Sustrans engagement and Feasibility study
We know that Sustrans were engaged again to consider the various options outlined in Policy SA37 as part of a larger engagement looking at the entire “Place and Connectivity” plan.
Specific questions related to Request 4:
a. In the context of these titles and the “central route” they mostly comprise, what communications took place between MSDC and Sustrans in relation to the initial report, including scope or terms of reference or any particular reference to the MSDC owned strips of land (unless it pre-dated the 2013 purchase)?
b. What were the terms of reference for the second engagement and what instructions requests or recommendations were issued by MSDC officers to Sustrans in respect of the second study (the Feasibility study) in 2018 or 2019?
c. The recommendations contained in the feasibility study are in sharp contrast to the views expressed by Mr Young (who did both the research and authored the report); in the email summarising the agreed findings quoted above.We want to know why this disparity happened, and whether it was a decision taken by Sustrans’ management or whether at the behest of MSDC? Specifically, what did the first drafts of the feasibility study look like and what further requests/ instructions/ recommendations were sent by any MSDC officer (including Mr Spilsted or any of his department) to Sustrans or to Mr Young, to ensure the design changed?
d. We had been promised sight of the report in December or January before it was published, by Mr Spilsted. What instructions did Mr Spilsted receive or send to ensure this did not happen?

When WSCC (Highways) submitted its comments to the second round of public engagement, they said:

“Need to avoid dumping cyclists out on to busy roads. N.B. The West Sussex Walking & Cycling Strategy does not include any proposals for Fox Hill. Fox Hill is a bus route and so reducing the carriageway width may be challenging.

e. What commitments have been secured to complete the eastern route along both Fox Hill (see comments above) and Valebridge Road, in the context of the above comments?

Request five: Information rooted out by us and submitted to MSDC
When the feasibility report was made public, and was error-checked, we created and submitted to MSDC a comprehensive file of the errors, misleading information and omissions it contained, including a carefully defined evaluation of demand.
Specific questions related to Request 5:
a. What communications passed between Mr Spilsted, Ms Sally Blomfield, Cllr Llewellyn-Burke (or other elected Councillors) and other Officers of MSDC when this information was received? What meetings were held and what consideration given to the lack of demand for the route? What efforts were undertaken at this late stage to determine what the demand would actually be?
b. What communications and information were provided to elected councillors, either of MSDC, BHTC or indeed HHTC and WSCC concerning the lack of demand analysis, the errors in the feasibility report, potential for a central route, or any rebuttal of the facts laid out in the reports attached to the email of 11th June, 2020?
c. After I submitted the clear evidence that MSDC owned the majority of the central route, what work was done to evaluate this data in advance of the workshop on the 13th August or thereabouts? Where are the minutes of that workshop, which should also be in the public domain?
d. What were the terms of reference between MSDC and CJ Founds Associates related to the feedback report to the second public consultation on the Place and Connectivity Programme? Were CJ Founds Associates made aware of the fact that MSDC owned the majority of the Central route? When did Mr Spilsted receive the initial draft of the Engagement Report form CJ Founds Associates?

Request Six: Confirm whether MSDC have considered the legality of this project
We have on multiple occasions reminded MSDC of the provisions of the Countryside Act, 1968, Chapter 41 Section 30 (1).
Our question is: What requests and checks has MDSC made, either from Mr Spilsted or any other MSDC officer, to gives them any comfort that what would seem on the face of it to be an action contrary to the legal statute quoted above?

Yours faithfully,

Robin Walker

Freedom of Information, Mid Sussex District Council

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Freedom of Information, Mid Sussex District Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Walker,

Thank you for your request. Please find our response below.

Request 1: Origins of the plan

Minutes of meetings and other official documents, discussion between elected Councillors and officers related to the original high level “ambition. We want to understand when those discussions took place and whether it was, indeed, a wish expressed by elected Councillors or was it driven by Officers from the outset.

The ambition to achieve a link between Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath is an ambition expressed in both the Burgess Hill (2015) and Haywards Heath (2016) Neighbourhood Plans and the Mid Sussex District Plan (2018).

Request 2: Original evaluation or modelling of need and demand.
There must have been some sort of demand study carried out, to confirm that the rather hazy “wish” was interrogated, evaluated and supported by real demand or need.

We either want to see that original analysis, or receive a written confirmation that the Council did not do any demand analysis first.
The demand for a link between Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath was made by the Town Councils in their respective Neighbourhood Plans.

The WSCC multi-criteria assessment framework was used to support the inclusion of a Burgess Hill to Haywards Heath link in the Place and Connectivity Programme.
(Please note we have attached the table in a Word document as the system you are using only uses plain text and does not support tables).

Request 3. Original route evaluation and decision to buy the necessary land

We know that MSDC bought the strips of land alongside the western side of the railway together; titles WSX356047 together with several segments forming WSX3305705, and paid £20,000 + VAT for them together, paying the money on the 16th March, 2013. Together with segments which could have been taken from the large area WSX135684, which had been in MSDC ownership since 1988, this would constitute most of the necessary route (although there are two others required, see below)

The two parts missing are a crossing point required over the river at the Valebridge Viaduct, which was (and still is) owned by Heaselands Estate (title WSX26342), and along a short river section at the very northern area (almost at Haywards Heath) in the same title/ownership.

The final section is a clear “spoiler strip”, title WSX330760, owned by Birkbeck Estates Ltd and paid for (the price being £4,500 + VAT) on 15th March, 2013.

Specific questions related to Request 3:

a. Who within MSDC decided to buy these strips of land, when and for what purpose?

The land purchase was agreed at Cabinet on 12th February 2013. The land referred to in this FOI was one parcel in a series of parcels acquired along the Brighton Main Line and was unrelated to the achievement of a cycle route. The Council’s work on exploring a cycle route did not commence until 2016.

b. Council meeting minutes or minutes of other discussions and/or email exchanges where this expenditure was authorised

Cabinet on 12th February 2013.

c. Who (role, the name is not important) did the evaluation that resulted in these purchases?
The evaluation was undertaken by the MSDC Head of Property.

d. Why, given that MSDC bought all the “rest of the route” the day after Birkbeck Estates bought their spoiler strip, what approaches (letters, minutes of meetings, council discussions etc.) are there related to efforts to procure this strip? (again, please remove names and sums proposed).
The Council has made no efforts to procure this land you refer to.

e. Given (d) above, what approaches were made – if any- to Heaselands Estate (who own that land) to achieve this (in fact there is also a strip of apparently unallocated land immediately to the west of the Birkbeck strip- was this considered)?
Not relevant, see above.

f. What approaches (if any) were made to the Heaselands Estate to secure a river crossing and along-river connection at the northern end? If such an approach was made, when did that occur?
Not relevant within the context of this request, see above.

g. At what point did MSDC decide to abandon the central route, and where are the minutes of the meeting that took place to agree it (given that £20,000 + VAT + legal fees and costs had already been spent on the project)?
In the context of this request, procuring the land referred to was not related to delivery of a cycle route. In July 2018 the central route was de-prioritised by the Members’ Steering Group. The minutes of this meeting are not public.

h. It seems that the two titles being purchased on sequential days is beyond the realm of coincidence. What communications, if any, took place between any officer or councillor at MSDC and the Reza family, who own Birkbeck Estates, either shortly before or in the period after the purchase dates of payment for the two titles (15th and 16th March, 2013), say for January – end 2013?
No communications have taken place with the Reza family.

Request 4: The second Sustrans engagement and Feasibility study

We know that Sustrans were engaged again to consider the various options outlined in Policy SA37 as part of a larger engagement looking at the entire “Place and Connectivity” plan.

Specific questions related to Request 4:

a.In the context of these titles and the “central route” they mostly comprise, what communications took place between MSDC and Sustrans in relation to the initial report, including scope or terms of reference or any particular reference to the MSDC owned strips of land (unless it pre-dated the 2013 purchase)?
There was no communication between MSDC and Sustrans regarding the aforementioned land.

b. What were the terms of reference for the second engagement and what instructions requests or recommendations were issued by MSDC officers to Sustrans in respect of the second study (the Feasibility study) in 2018 or 2019?
Consultants were instructed to undertake feasibility and concept design for an interurban multi-functional network between Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath.

The assessment was based on the ambition to deliver an interurban multi-functional network between the towns consisting of two north-south routes located to the east and west of the London-Brighton railway line (the ‘east’ and ‘west’ routes) with an east-west connection between the two routes to the south of Haywards Heath (as per policy SA37 in the Site Allocations DPD).

The assessment was required to be reflective of related projects being progressed though the Burgess Hill Growth Programme and the Burgess Hill Place and Connectivity Programme. This includes proposals for:

•The Northern Arc Strategic Development;
•Emerging proposals for wider pedestrian and cycle connection through the Townwide Connectivity Project;
•Improvements to Wivelsfield Railway Station – Phases 1 and 2;
•Emerging proposals for wider pedestrian and cycle connections through the Townwide Connectivity Project.

The first phase of the project was to determine north-south route priority by comparing deliverability setting out the required processes, timeline, costs and risks to delivery to allow comparison.

The second phase will progress the priority route to outline design.

c. The recommendations contained in the feasibility study are in sharp contrast to the views expressed by Mr Young (who did both the research and authored the report); in the email summarising the agreed findings quoted above.We want to know why this disparity happened, and whether it was a decision taken by Sustrans’ management or whether at the behest of MSDC? Specifically, what did the first drafts of the feasibility study look like and what further requests/ instructions/ recommendations were sent by any MSDC officer (including Mr Spilsted or any of his department) to Sustrans or to Mr Young, to ensure the design changed?

No such instruction ‘to ensure the design changed’ was issued to Sustrans.

d. We had been promised sight of the report in December or January before it was published, by Mr Spilsted. What instructions did Mr Spilsted receive or send to ensure this did not happen?

Draft reports are not issued to the general public until they are agreed via the relevant governance process and issued into the public domain through agreed channels. No such instruction was issued.

When WSCC (Highways) submitted its comments to the second round of public engagement, they said:

“Need to avoid dumping cyclists out on to busy roads. N.B. The West Sussex Walking & Cycling Strategy does not include any proposals for Fox Hill. Fox Hill is a bus route and so reducing the carriageway width may be challenging.

e. What commitments have been secured to complete the eastern route along both Fox Hill (see comments above) and Valebridge Road, in the context of the above comments?

Discussions are on-going between MSDC and the relevant highway authorities.

Request five: Information rooted out by us and submitted to MSDC

When the feasibility report was made public, and was error-checked, we created and submitted to MSDC a comprehensive file of the errors, misleading information and omissions it contained, including a carefully defined evaluation of demand.

Specific questions related to Request 5:

a. What communications passed between Mr Spilsted, Ms Sally Blomfield, Cllr Llewellyn-Burke (or other elected Councillors) and other Officers of MSDC when this information was received? What meetings were held and what consideration given to the lack of demand for the route? What efforts were undertaken at this late stage to determine what the demand would actually be?

The results of the public engagement were fedback to the Burgess Hill Member Steering Group on 13th August 2020.

The results of the public engagement were considered in the Place and Connectivity - Public Engagement Summary Report September 2020 and are available in the public domain at www.burgesshill.net

The results of the public engagement are being taken forward as part of an assessment of all alternative routes submitted during the public engagement.

b. What communications and information were provided to elected councillors, either of MSDC, BHTC or indeed HHTC and WSCC concerning the lack of demand analysis, the errors in the feasibility report, potential for a central route, or any rebuttal of the facts laid out in the reports attached to the email of 11th June, 2020?

The results of the public engagement were fedback to the Burgess Hill Member Steering Group on 13th August 2020.

The results of the public engagement were considered in the Place and Connectivity - Public Engagement Summary Report September 2020 and are available in the public domain at www.burgesshill.net

The results of the public engagement are being taken forward as part of an assessment of all alternative routes submitted during the public engagement.

c. After I submitted the clear evidence that MSDC owned the majority of the central route, what work was done to evaluate this data in advance of the workshop on the 13th August or thereabouts? Where are the minutes of that workshop, which should also be in the public domain?

The results of the public engagement on the proposed routes and alternative routes submitted were reported to the Burgess Hill Members’ Steering Group on 13th August 2020.

The Burgess Hill Members’ Steering Group recommended that officers assess the feasibility and deliverability of all the alternative Burgess Hill to Haywards Heath routes submitted during public engagement and to assess the west and east routes to take account of the responses received during the public engagement.

The notes of Steering Group meetings are not published. However, the outcomes of this Group meeting were communicated widely to interested parties following the meeting and the results of the public engagement are available in the public domain at www.burgesshill.net

d. What were the terms of reference between MSDC and CJ Founds Associates related to the feedback report to the second public consultation on the Place and Connectivity Programme? Were CJ Founds Associates made aware of the fact that MSDC owned the majority of the Central route? When did Mr Spilsted receive the initial draft of the Engagement Report form CJ Founds Associates?

CJ Founds Associates were commissioned by MSDC to produce the Public Engagement Summary Report, to capture a factual account of the public engagement held May-June 2020 and to provide an initial design team response.

The Activities and Tasks requested of the Consultant are listed as follows:

1.Collate and Appraise all responses received
2.Summarise the consultation carried out
3.Assess demographics of respondents and responses
4.Provide a detailed narrative of responses for each individual project
5.Provide a summary and illustrative figures to explain the responses
6.Provide suitable information for the Delivery Team to act upon in developing each project
7.Identify the next steps that could be appropriate for Mid Sussex to consider
8.Liaise with the Council Lead Officer
9.Provide regular progress reports and support any internal MSDC reporting as necessary

The Consultants were made aware of all the Consultation documentation used for the Public Engagement.

The Consultants were not provided with any specific details regarding land ownership, and have not been involved to the point when the detailed feasibility work was completed by Sustrans.

The first draft of the Public Engagement Report was received by MSDC on 5th August 2020

Request Six: Confirm whether MSDC have considered the legality of this project

We have on multiple occasions reminded MSDC of the provisions of the Countryside Act, 1968, Chapter 41 Section 30 (1).

Our question is: What requests and checks has MDSC made, either from Mr Spilsted or any other MSDC officer, to gives them any comfort that what would seem on the face of it to be an action contrary to the legal statute quoted above?

There is no intention of changing the legal status of the bridleway. No concerns have been raised by the public rights of way authorities concerning the legality of the proposals.

If for whatever reason you are unhappy with our response you are entitled to pursue any dissatisfaction, in the first instance, by contacting Tom Clark, Solicitor to the Council, Mid Sussex District Council, Oaklands, Oaklands Road, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1SS, email: [email address], quoting your Reference Number.

If you still remain dissatisfied with the response you can complain to the Information Commissioner - details available at: https://ico.org.uk/concerns/.

Information provided under the FOI Act 2000 or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 may be not be re-used, except for personal study and non-commercial research or for news reporting and reviews, without the permission of the Council. Please see the Council website https://www.midsussex.gov.uk/about-us/op..., for further information or contact the FOI Team on 01444 477422.

yours sincerely,

FOI/DPA Team
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