I have rarely agreed with anything Robert Serman (president of the Haslemere Society) has had to say on planning matters.
However, I do share his concern about the support that members of the Chichester district planning committee recently gave for the development of hundreds of houses on the King Edward VII site, near Midhurst – supposedly, on the basis of ‘securing the long-term future of the listed buildings there.
Having said that, unlike Mr Serman, I would never impugn ‘the intellectual capacity’ of the committee on account of them coming to a contrary decision.
For that is exactly what it is.
Far better and more constructive to find out what motivates the committee, rather than affront them.
A clue to the councillors’ actions was recently given at a public meeting held to discuss another large site near Fernhurst, the former Syngenta building.
A senior Chichester District Council planning officer effectively told the assembled Fernhurst residents that although former government housing targets had been ‘abandoned’, CDC was still under pressure to find sites.
If the housing numbers were not accommodated at Syngenta then effectively they would be coming to a back garden near them.
Some sites had allegedly already been identified. Nimby reflexes kicked in and, like a flash, the opposition to the scheme that one would have normally expected, evaporated.
I believe it is the same with King Edward VII. Members and officers would rather dump hundreds of homes out of sight there than face the opprobrium of the voters were they to spread the homes more sustainably across the district, where they are actually needed.
The need to secure the future of the listed buildings at the cost of £70m, enabling consent is just a red herring.
After all, the council has the ability under Section 48 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to demand the estate is maintained, and indeed returned, to good condition.
As the ultimate owner is a multi-billion-pound bank, there isn’t the usual problem about being able to afford it.
I am afraid what you see is not what you get.
It is a fact councillors usually make the most important decisions over tea and biscuits at pre-planning meetings.
What Mr Serman witnessed in the room wasn’t, as he put it, ‘largely simply emotional trivia’, but pure and simple window-dressing intended for the crowd.
Tony Lawson Nonsuch Bay