THE recent decision by the South Downs National Park authority to grant planning approval for the KEVII site is truly shocking.
A few months ago when permission was refused, many people thought that at last we had a principled authority, unlike Chichester, who had the courage to stand up to tenacious developers. Now we know that they have feet of clay and have set a precedent they will live to regret.
In addition they have inflicted on themselves much damage to their infant reputation.
What has changed in only a few months?
Only a slight weighting towards completing the refurbishment of part of the existing buildings before starting on the new build.
This many sound sensible in theory, but in practice it will only delay the developers’ sales schedule, already wildly optimistic, and thereby add further risk to what was always going to be a high-risk venture.
There was no material change of plans between the dates of these two meetings, so why the switch of votes? Was pressure applied from above?
Were the full-time officers simply ground down by the tenacity of the developers? And why did those voting members who switched their vote not explain their change of mind at the meeting?
With one exception, voting members spoke without conviction and seemed to have no grasp of the financial risks and consequences involved.
The exception was an American member of the panel. He was lucid, brief and full of common sense. It was in his opinion an unjustifiable risk to put the preservation of an historic building before the conservation, preservation and enhancement of the local environment.
In particular the building of such a large and unsustainable development in a remote and isolated location which the public would only be allowed to visit twice a year! He could not have summed it up better. How ironic that it should be an American citizen to point out the error of our ways and the shortcomings of his colleagues.
Turning back to events before the vote, we were told by the four main objectors allowed to speak at the meeting, that some 15 local councils and parishes had all objected to the development.
Why does the fledging SDNPA think it can ride roughshod over the views of democratically-elected bodies, many of whom have been in existence for 100 years.
In contrast, members of the SDNPA are not elected by public vote but are nominated by various bodies.
So much for localism!
The objectors also highlighted the financial risks of such a speculative project in these uncertain times. They did so in a careful and professional manner, pointing out among other things, that should the project fail then the SDNPA will be left to clear up the mess.
Some members of the panel seemed to think otherwise – one saying the risk lies with the developer and not the authority. Like the two previous developers who went bust, this one in all probability will put the venture into a ‘shelf’ company with no assets and in the event of failure will walk away nursing a manageable loss to its parent or group holding company.
By contrast the SDNPA will be left with a liability running into millions of pounds. What happens then?
In summary the authority has shown itself to be spineless, financially naive and short-sighted.
The hall was full, over 200 people in attendance, and barely a handful of those present were in favour of development.
What does that say about the way democracy works in our country today?