Midhurst’s views ‘totally ignored’ over sale of former Grange site

Margaret Guest, pictured in 2014, criticised the decision to sell the former Grange site so a care home can be built
Margaret Guest, pictured in 2014, criticised the decision to sell the former Grange site so a care home can be built

A town councillor has accused Chichester District Council of ignoring the views of the people of Midhurst over the sale of the former Grange site.

Margaret Guest spoke after the district council opted to sell the parcel of land for potential use as a care home, rather than the supermarket which the majority of residents would have preferred.

Tony Dignum, leader of Chichester District Council, defended his chairing of a cabinet meeting where the sale of the former Grange site in Midhurst was agreed

Tony Dignum, leader of Chichester District Council, defended his chairing of a cabinet meeting where the sale of the former Grange site in Midhurst was agreed

And she criticised the way council leader Tony Dignum (Con, Chichester North) handled the portion of a cabinet meeting which allowed members of the public to ask questions about options for the former Grange site.

During the meeting, on Tuesday (September 4), Mr Dignum insisted speakers stuck to asking questions, allowing them relatively little time to add to what they had to say.

Mrs Guest, who stressed that she was not speaking on behalf of Midhurst Town Council, said she was ‘appalled’ that she was not allowed to make a full statement about the issue.

She added: “This is a tremendously important issue for our community.

“The community wants and needs, among other things, another larger food store and more properly affordable housing.

“It does not need another care home, especially inappropriate on this site, contrary to Cllr Dignum’s assertion that such a development would meet a genuine need.

“Local views are being totally ignored.”

Mr Dignum said the council’s decision had been taken ‘in accordance with the law and Chichester District Council’s constitution’.

He added: “A cabinet meeting is not a forum for public debate with non-members of the cabinet.

“I allowed Mrs Guest to make quite a long introduction to her question, as I did the other questioners.

“I also permitted the four non-cabinet councillors to make statements as they had requested my permission to speak.”

The council has always intended to use the proceeds from the sale of the site to partly offset the £6.7m spent on the new Grange Centre, in Bepton Road.

However, Mrs Guest was not happy that the final decision had been based ‘solely on cash considerations’ and ‘a narrow interpretation of best value’.

She added: “The site has gone to the highest bidder irrespective of the viability of their project or the views or the (un)likely benefit to the local community- a community which over many years invested its own resources, including many personal financial contributions, into the old Grange.

“This is not a good outcome for local democracy.

“Cllr Dignum and his colleagues should be ashamed.”

Declaring that the community would ‘not be so easily ignored’, Mrs Guest called on people to make their views known when plans for the site eventually reached the planning stage.

Mr Dignum rejected any implication that he was not committed to the Midhurst Vision – a partnership set up to lay out the aspirations and needs of the town – and announced that he would be proposing the tripling next year’s Vision budget from £50,000 to £150,000.

The money would cover the Selsey, Petworth and Chichester visions, as well as Midhurst’s.