National park calls in plan for Midhurst homes

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The new South Downs National Park has flexed its muscles and called in plans for homes at the Grange Leisure Centre in Midhurst after growing concerns over poor design and lack of car parking.

Midhurst town councillors have restated their objections to the 16 houses, describing them as resembling ‘army barracks.’

They were looking at amended plans from Chichester District Council (CDC) for homes next to the new Grange Leisure Centre to be built on the site of the current centre after its demolition.

Eight affordable one to four-bedroom houses are planned alongside another eight homes for sale on the private market. Twenty-five car parking spaces are planned for the residential development, pictured above in artist’s impressions.

CDC is relying on selling the land with planning permission to help pay for the new leisure centre which comes with an estimated £8m price tag.

It is not yet known whether the national park authority’s decision to call in the plan will now delay the start of building the new leisure centre. This was granted planning permission in June subject to West Sussex County Council highways issues being addressed.

Midhurst town councillors stressed they had no objection in principle to residential development on the site but still felt the design and layout of the proposed homes was ‘unacceptable’.

Town councillor Wyn Passmore told the Observer: “The houses look awful, they look like army barracks. There isn’t enough room there for all these houses, what we desperately need is more parking and less houses.”

Fellow town councillor Glenn Jones said CDC had failed to answer their concerns over car parking.

“We want to know how the limited number of car parking spaces are going to be managed – if they are not managed there will be a free-for-all.”

He said the eight private houses proposed were likely to have two spaces allocated to each one, which left only nine spaces for the eight affordable houses planned.

He was also concerned about the poor design: “It’s marginally better than the factory-like buildings proposed before, but they are still not in keeping with the conservation area of Midhurst. They need to be more individual and imaginative.”

The South Downs Society has lodged strong objections.

Planning officer Steve Ankers complained the plan did not reflect the design and character of homes close by.

He urged the national park authority to refuse the plan and asked for a new scheme to be designed in keeping with the character of the Midhurst Conservation Area.

Even Chichester District Council’s design and implementation team expressed concerns about its own planning application, commenting ‘the overall scale and height of development fails to reflect the character of the conservation area’.

In June, head of planning for the national park authority Jim Redwood authorised CDC to decide the plan, saying: “The scale and nature of the development are such that it is not considered likely it will affect the purposes for which the South Downs National Park has been established.”

With a change of heart he has now announced the park would take over the decision-making, saying: “As presently proposed, the scheme has failed to deliver the improvements that were needed to bring it up to the required standard.”

Mr Redwood told the Observer he thought it likely the application would go before the park authority planning committee’s October meeting.