Prospects of a ‘Lavchester’ conurbation, with Lavant becoming a suburb of the city in future years, have moved closer after a decision by district councillors.
That is the fear of many local residents after plans for new housing which they claim will ‘violate’ the narrow countryside gap, illustrated below, separating city and village were approved by the district’s northern area development control committee.
There were warnings that the approval – which is subject to completion of a formal legal agreement – would set a precedent for other development in the gap, eventually resulting in a merger of the two built-up areas.
Voting was 9-3 in favour of the scheme.
Cllr Tony Dignum, who represents Chichester North, said this was the smallest strategic gap in West Sussex, and only 800m long.
Ten per cent of it would be lost if the development went ahead.
Seaward Properties Ltd sought planning permission for 24 new homes – 22 houses and two flats – on land at Hunters Rest, in Lavant Road, which is in the parish of Lavant but borders on Summersdale.
There was strong opposition from both the city council and the parish council, and large numbers of objectors crowded into a committee room for the debate.
Recommending approval, planning officers said any adverse impacts from the development were ‘not of sufficient harm’ to outweigh the benefits of a housing site in a sustainable location.
Cllr Dignum said plans to provide up to 500 new homes at Shopwyke, and the district’s new development plan, would eliminate a five-year housing shortfall - totally removing the one compelling circumstance for approving the application.
Ian Hutton, representing the parish council, said any erosion of the gap would be thoroughly detrimental to Lavant, and a complete denial of the village’s wishes. Cllr Mike Hall, county councillor for the local area, warned that the scheme would set a precedent for development of adjoining sites in the gap. He also warned about severe problems for the local sewerage network.
Jeremy Hunt, chairman of Summersdale Residents’ Association, said the development would result in the actual or perceived coalescence of Chichester and Lavant, if it was allowed. There were other more suitable sites which would not compromise the integrity of the strategic gap.
Mark Luken, representing Seawards, said the application met all criteria in the council’s policy. There would be no unacceptable impacts on the local area, or the strategic gap.
The site was already enclosed – it did not extend into open countryside – and there would not be a coalescence of any settlements.
Cllr Philippa Hardwick said she did not believe this specific application threatened the gap, or that it would lead to coalescence.
Cllr Heather Caird said the ‘realistic boundary’ for the gap was not where it was drawn on the map – it was in the wooded area to the north of the local petrol filling station. Because of its ‘contained nature,’ this development would not be harmful to the gap at all.
It was ‘significantly untrue’ to say strategic gaps would not be kept.
“We will protect important strategic gaps for the benefit of both communities,” she declared.
But Cllr Henry Potter said the sewerage system in the Lavant Valley was appalling, and he strongly opposed the scheme.
Lavant representative Cllr Andrew Smith, the committee’s chairman, said he was inclined to support the officers’ recommendation. Planning policy goalposts had been moved by the national policy planning framework – a housing shortfall remained.
Reasons for giving permission in this case were arguments which could be used to refuse any application from Taylor Wimpey for the open ground on the other site of the road, where the character of the land was very different.