Multi-million pound plans to transform the site of Midhurst’s former King Edward VII Hospital won the backing of Chichester district councillors - after a warning that this was the last chance to save the historic building.
Voting at a meeting of the northern area development control committee was 10-0 in favour of pressing for approval The decision will take the form of a recommendation to the South Downs National Park Authority, which will make a final ruling on May 9.
Councillors are also recommending that a formal legal agreement should be made, stipulating conservation of the historic assets.
A report by planning officers urged that a recommendation to refuse the scheme should be made to the park authority, because they were not convinced there was sufficient certainty that the scheme would be delivered.
Proposals for the site include:
*Re-use and conversion of the original hospital building to 143 assisted care apartments, and the change of use and conversion of other buildings on the site to homes.
*Erection of 220 new houses and apartments within the grounds.
Officers said the proposals were against the provisions of the development plan and against national planning policy, because they featured a large amount of new residential development outside any area allocated for that purpose.
They would also have a harmful impact on the character, appearance and settings of listed buildings, the historic park and garden, and the character and appearance of the national park.
Helen Moore, managing director of applicants City and Country Group, asked the committee for support to bring the site’s ‘torrid planning history’ to an end.
“We ask you to send an unequivocal message to the National Park Authority,” she declared. “We have the expertise, the enthusiasm and the track record to deliver this challenging project.”
She added in response to questions: “We will bring the hospital back to its former glory and its former beauty.”
Easebourne representative Cllr Elizabeth Hamilton said the ‘well researched’ application was from a company with a good track record on repairing historic buildings.
And Cllr Rob Field said: “This is our last chance - we will not get another. If we want to save that building we have to make a positive decision.”
Cllr Andrew Smith said there was a danger the district council would be drawn into making a commercial judgment it was not qualified to make.
“On balance, I would recommend approval of this scheme. We should let the developers take the commercial risk if they are prepared to do so,” he added,.
Cllr Brian Weekes told the committee: “This is an iconic building it would be terrible to lose.” He had every faith the developers would deliver.
But Cllr Heather Caird said a listed building was only worth saving if it was for the benefit of the community, and she did not believe this was being offered for the benefit of the community. “I think the cost of saving the building is too high - the cost is 220 new dwellings, and it may be more. This is too high a price to pay in this very special environment.”
Cllr Julie Tassell said they were lucky to have such a high quality developer, and the preservation of the listed building outweighed the proposal to refuse. The committee should recommend permission.
“These buildings are deteriorating at such a rate that this is our last chance to save them,” she warned.
Cllr John Cherry said: “Do you want to save the hospital building or not? If so, this is the cost. I think it is worth saving, and I line up with those in favour of the proposal.”