Fears of funding shortfall likely to sink Midhurst homes plan

CONTROVERSIAL plans to restore the listed historic buildings at King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, by building 240 new homes look set to get the thumbs-down from Chichester district councillors.

The plans from the City and Country Group are due to go before the north area development committee on Wednesday for comments.

But the final decision will be one of the first plans to be decided by the new South Downs National Park Authority.

In their report to the committee next week officers are recommending refusal of the plans, pointing to concerns after advice from the district valuer.

The financial expert has advised the number of new homes proposed to pay for the historic building restoration work would leave a funding shortfall of up to £35m.

And planners fear developers may need to build many more new homes to pay for the scheme.

Under normal planning rules the proposed King Edward VII development in its remote and sensitive rural area would be thrown out, but it is being considered under ‘enabling development‘ policy which allow plans otherwise unacceptable if they safeguard heritage assets.

In their report to councillors next week, planners say the district valuer believed ‘the prospect of delivering the scheme does not appear unrealistic’.

But although English Heritage officers acknowledged City and Country’s good track record, they believed ‘there is a real problem with this application’.

“English Heritage have formed the view the application does not meet enabling development policy and they cannot therefore be certain the level of development proposed is the minimum necessary.”

District council planning officers believe the proposal would be harmful to the rural setting, but the harm was potentially outweighed by the overall benefits.

However officers said they believed there was no certainty the benefits the scheme sought to deliver would be achieved, and they feared there would be a requirement for further new development to pay for the restoration.

Helen Moore, Residential Managing Director of City & Country Group, said: “We have produced a sensitive and high-quality scheme that offers a comprehensive solution to preserving one of the district’s best loved heritage assets.

The proposals have been supported by Natural England, English Heritage has acknowledged that the design is a substantial improvement on previously approved schemes on the site, and the District Valuer has confirmed that this is a vision that can be delivered.

“The mistakes of previous developers should not be allowed to influence the judgement of CDC’s planners and English Heritage, who are looking for more comfort than they have required in the past. City & Country Group is a specialist in the conversion of historic and listed buildings, and our final proposals have taken into account a number of technical factors that we believe from previous experience will guarantee the scheme’s deliverability, including the potential for market conditions to improve during the life of the development, which could lead to increased prices, increased sales rate and a shortened construction programme that would reduce construction costs, holding costs and finance charges.

“We will enter into a legally binding Section 106 Agreement with CDC/SDNPA that clearly defines the repairs to be undertaken, when they will be completed and ensures that the repairs will come before the new build on site, in a phased manner. Thus the historic assets will always be restored ahead of any development. With this legally binding agreement in place, frankly we cannot see how the deliverability concern from English Heritage is justified.”