LOCAL PLAN: Curtain rises on examination of Chichester’s future

Just a tiny section of the newly proposed development site, West of Chichester from White House Farm.  '''Picture by Louise Adams C130350-1 Chi Local Plan ENGSUS00120131203144700
Just a tiny section of the newly proposed development site, West of Chichester from White House Farm. '''Picture by Louise Adams C130350-1 Chi Local Plan ENGSUS00120131203144700

THERE was no ‘showstopper’ on day one of Chichester local plan’s inspection, as it overcame its first hurdle.

The blueprint for the area’s future sets out how many homes can be built in certain places and is being analysed by a government inspector.

If approved, the plan will act as a shield against developers submitting planning applications left, right and centre for smaller developments in the area.

“We consider that it’s been positively prepared in terms of sustainable development,” planning policy manager at Chichester District Council Mike Allgrove told the inspector.

“It does represent a significant increase in the number of housing that will be delivered within the plan area and the council has very positively allocated strategic development sites to help 
meet that need and also allocated housing numbers 
to parishes that will be delivered through the neighbourhood plans.”

Planners at the council have gone out on a limb as they seek to prove the district is unable to take the burden of housing it should build to meet government housing targets.

As it is constrained by the South Downs National Park Authority, which is creating its own plan, as well as the area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) at Chichester Harbour, development has had to be crammed into the east-west strip, with four major housing sites proposed at Tangmere, Shopwyke Lakes, Whitehouse Farm (west of Chichester) and Old Place Farm at Westhampnett (north-east Chichester).

The plan, if it came into force, would last until 2029 and currently talks of delivering 6,973 new homes in this time.

The local plan suggests building 410 homes per year in the district as a sensible housing target.

Its objective target should be between 560 and 575.

The council has to argue in the next few weeks that its case is strong enough to warrant a lower number.

Inspector Sue Turner opened analysis on Tuesday morning (September 30) at East Pallant House, saying her role was to ensure the plan was ‘sound’.

There were contrasting views on day one, as developers questioned why certain areas were excluded from housing.

The council also came under fire from 20’s Plenty and ChiCycle, which accused it of neglecting its green transport obligations.

Nevertheless, the council appeared to ride out the storm as the legal obligations of the plan were examined.

Initial obligations fulfilled

A KEY discussion on the first morning focused around whether Chichester had submitted sufficiently robust evidence to show it met the ‘duty to co-operate’.

The duty was described by chairman of the Chichester Society Richard Childs as a potential ‘showstopper’.

If the council was unable to provide ‘robust’ evidence to show it took all reasonable steps to meet development needs that could not be met in the district, then the plan could have been thrown out.

This also included engagement with the South Downs National Park Authority.

The Chichester Society had sought to show the council had not done this, highlighting communications with Havant Borough Council over the Whitehouse Farm site.

However, the arguments did not convince the inspector, Sue Turner.

“If I was going to stop it, I would have stopped it by now,” she told Mr Childs at the end of the first morning, after he enquired when

they would know if the ‘show has stopped’.

Earlier, Mr Childs said: “The Chichester Society has serious doubts that the district council has met its obligations in the duty to co-operate.”

The society’s concerns related immediately to the proposed 1,600 homes on the Whitehouse Farm site, know as west of Chichester strategic site.

He said: “It’s the equivalent of putting a town whose population size is the equivalent of Midhurst slap bang on the western edge of Chichester.”

He said it had ‘serious consequences’ for the city and claimed there was a lack of evidence of communication with Havant Borough Council as well as Network Rail and health officials.

Fishbourne homes

AT THE inspection, a developers’ representative said more homes should have been considered for Fishbourne.

Leona Quigley, from Iceni Projects, representing Fishbourne Developments, queried why a sustainability appraisal had not identified Fishbourne as n alternative for development.

“I have serious concerns that in this plan the council hasn’t considered all reasonable alternatives,” she told the inspector.

She said the council had originally considered Fishbourne, along with Whitehouse Farm, but both were discounted on several grounds.

“The council do acknowledge in the sustainability appraisal that there’s a solution for the wastewater infrastructure at the west of Chichester site and also that there have been discussions with Natural England with regards to Chichester Harbour,” she said, then querying why the council never ‘went back’ to looking at development in Fishbourne.

In response, environmental co-ordinator at Chichester District Council, Tom Day, said a proposal to upgrade the wastewater treatment works at Tangmere had led the Whitehouse Farm site to be brought back into consideration, but he said Fishbourne was ‘somewhat further away’ to be connected to Tangmere.