Maybe the greatest tribute to the Chichester Society as it celebrates its 40th anniversary is chairman Richard Childs’ nightmare vision of a Chichester without it.
“If we hadn’t had the Chichester Society, Chichester would have been even more your annoyingly-cloned town with an excess of concrete shopping malls and all the sorts of things that make it difficult to differentiate one town from another,” Richard believes.
“What makes Chichester so special is that we have managed to preserve so much despite the continual problem of developers trying to change the city.
“But our job is never done. At the moment, we are fighting the district council over the proposed massive housing developments which are included in their draft local plan.
“There are economic pressures from large retailers to have footfall in any urban area, but what the society likes to encourage is a good number of independent shops and traders in the city centre.”
How far it will succeed, in our era of homogenised cities, remains to be seen, but without resting on its laurels, the society – if you challenge it – can point to no great failures in its four decades of existence.
Even better, it can point to significant successes. Tim Rooth, the society’s first secretary, singles out the scrapping of plans for the dualling of Orchard Street.
He also points to the respect in which the society is now held.
“It has been a change in culture. The County Council was completely unapproachable in the early months of the Chichester Society. There was a complete arrogance that has changed.”
Tim recalls going with Chichester Society founder, the late David Goodman, to meet a senior West Sussex County Council officer who responded: “Tell me, Mr Goodman, what is it that is troubling your society?’
“But it has been a broader cultural change. It was something you could see in Bath and Bristol through the 1970s, the increasing recognition of the social entity of a city.”
It fell to societies such as the Chichester Society to look at the city as a whole – a role it continues to see as central to this day.
“David was very much the instigator,” Tim recalls. “He was the one that called the (first) meeting. He had a tremendous visual sense of what you expect a city to be and how it should work, but he could also speak so well and write so well.”
Richard agrees: “When I arrived in 1993, David’s reputation was still there. He could really get under the skin of quite a few elected members and officers for good or ill. He was good at being an irritant.”
Is being an irritant an acknowledged Chichester Society aim?
“There are two things I think we ought to do: to preserve what is good about Chichester and to celebrate what is good about Chichester.”
If you have to be an irritant to do either, then Richard is happy to be one. And a NIMBY, too.
“I am proud to be a NIMBY. If you go up Centurion Way and suddenly see 1,500 new houses rather than nice fields. then it is good to say very clearly ‘No! Not in my backyard!”