THERE was expected to be standing room only this morning (December 12) when members of the South Downs National Park Authority’s planning committee face one of their toughest decisions.
Planning officers are recommending members of the planning committee to refuse the Durand Academy application for the former St Cuthman’s School.
Their report says: “It has not been satisfactorily demonstrated that there is no scope to meet the need outside the South Downs National Park”. It also said there was no evidence that the harm to the landscape character both from the school both in use and under construction, can be moderated.
But the report adds that the recommendation was made notwithstanding the acknowledged need for the development, the fact it would bring a listed building back into use, the fall back position on traffic movements and pupil numbers and the reduced built form.
“Officers recognise this is a finely-balanced recommendation,” development management lead Pat Aird will tell the planning committee this morning.
But the recommendation has already been branded ‘political’ rather than based on planning grounds.
Gordan McAra, Chichester district councillor, said: “I was disappointed at the very weak recommendation for refusal.
“By suggesting that the decision was ‘finely balanced’, the planning officers have given any subsequent public inquiry inspector a ‘shoo in’ if they should decide to grant consent.
“I’ve served on various planning committees for over 17 years and have rarely seen such a cast iron case to refuse the application.
“I know that there is already a body of opinion amongst the parishes that this is a ‘political’ recommendation rather than a planning one.”
More than 400 individuals have registered their objections and some 1,440 people have signed a petition opposing the plans.
In addition planners have received objections from organisations including The National Trust, CPRE Sussex Countryside Trust, the South Downs Society and The Sussex Gardens Trust as well as a raft of town and parish councils.
There has also been high- profile political pressure in support of the plan from education secretary Michael Gove who wrote to NPA chief executive Trevor Beattie saying although permission rightly remained a matter for the NPA, he thought it would be helpful to highlight the significant educational benefit the school would offer pupils many of whom from deprived backgrounds.”
And in a handwritten note at the end of his typed letter he added: “Please ensure everything (underlined) is done in accordance with due process to help these children.”