VOTE: Cash fears over homes scheme

New figures from financial experts show controversial plans to restore the listed historic buildings at King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, by building 220 new homes, could leave a funding shortfall of £25m to £35m.

The news was broken to more than 100 people who crowded into a public briefing session on the proposed development by the City and Country Group.

And it has led to fears that developers may apply to build even more new houses to meet the restoration costs.

Senior planning officer for Chichester District Council (CDC) David Few told the meeting the independent district valuer’s report was received last Thursday.

This meant, he said, the volume of new building proposed might not be enough: “And we need to be satisfied from the applicants that it is and that they won’t propose more development than you see before you now.” Mr Few said CDC would be posing more questions to the developers and re-consulting English Heritage and the South Downs National Park, ‘bearing in mind the financial ramifications which are critical’.

Many objectors believe the development would come at a high cost to the community in terms of pressure on local services including roads, doctors, schools, water and sewerage systems.

Richard Southall of Lickfold told the meeting: “English Heritage’s job is to preserve buildings, it’s for the community and the district council to decide whether the cost, to the community, of preserving them, warrants a planning permission.

Ian Heustice, chairman of Easebourne Parish Council, said the current volume of new homes proposed was excessive, putting added pressure on already stretched services – ‘and 380 new units will increase the population of Easebourne by between one third and a half’.

“The access is also rather inadequate for the site with somewhere in the region of 650 more vehicles a day using it.”

Fernhurst parish councillor John Self was concerned about a second massive development ‘on the blocks’ at the former Syngenta site which proposed something like 300 new homes.

Concerns were also expressed by Michael Foster from Haslemere Town Council’s planning committee: “Seven hundred new homes are going to produce many commuters heading for Haslemere station and jamming the place up.”

Anne Dare, chairman of the Midhurst Society, said members welcomed moves to restore the historic hospital buildings. But she pleaded for action to provide more parking in Midhurst where the situation was ‘already dire’.

Helen Moore, managing director of City and Country, said developers estimated a £24m conservation deficit, but the company was a specialist with 25 years’ experience in restoring historic buildings and she was confident the plans proposed were appropriate for the site.

“The risk is with us,” she said.

“We are legally bound to restore the historic buildings and we believe we can do it.”

There was a ‘standard set of figures’, she said, for calculating conservation deficit, but developers had built contingencies into its proposals which it believed would minimise costs.

But she warned time was of the essence. As each month went by the buildings deteriorated further and the cost of restoration rose: “The longer we leave it the more challenging the issue becomes.”

She said she hoped for planning permission at the April meeting of CDC’s development planning control committee: “Clearly if we don’t get to that situation, we could be forced to appeal and propose more development.”

And she told the meeting: “Consider very carefully, if you reject this scheme, what is your solution to restoring these listed buildings.”

Planners have warned they are not yet clear whether the South Downs National Park will call in the planning application and decide it themselves as they become the planning authority in the area on April 1.

The plan includes the provision of 143 assisted care units in the original hospital building, with 220 new homes and further units provided through the conversion of existing buildings.