Revealed: Chichester’s secret deal with Crooked Lane landowner

A controversial agreement between a landowner and Chichester District Council has come to light after an angry outburst from a resident at Birdham Parish Council’s meeting.

During a debate on Monday, June 18, on affordable housing, resident Andrew Wilson explained a contract had been drawn up which involved the council and the landowner of a site at Crooked Lane in Birdham.

Part of the contract, seen by the Observer, stated the council could not ‘object to or allow any objection to be made’ to any future application by the landowner for the site.

Another part of Crooked Lane is also the subject of a long debate between the parish council and residents about whether 15 affordable homes should be built there.

“The reason people have no confidence is the obvious elephant in the room, which is that two years ago Chichester District Council entered into a contract to buy land at Crooked Lane,” he said.

“One condition was that it would not object to future planning application on the remainder of the land.

“This was done by a councillor who was on the parish council at the time. We have all seen the documents.”

Negotiations

The documents Mr Wilson referred to include the contract and other email communications between the council and other parties relating to Crooked Lane.

They were obtained by a resident under the Freedom of Information Act.

A Chichester District Council spokesman said: “The negotiations were a three-way process between the council, the landowner and a Registered Provider (RP) partner.

“As with all negotiations of these sorts, it was a confidential negotiation between the parties involved.

“The council entered the negotiations to secure the site and pass on to the RP.

“Rural areas within the Chichester District, such as Birdham, are some of the most unaffordable areas to live in the UK, with high average house prices and low average wages. Most of the housing stock is out of reach of those in typical local rural employment.

“The council does not own the site, nor would it be involved in the development of the housing. The intention was for the council to acquire the site before passing it on to the RP.

“The council was acting as the housing authority and under these responsibilities was seeking to enable new affordable housing development, bring forward a site with the RP and secure funding for their development, to meet local needs.

“The negotiations took place in the council’s role as a housing authority, not as a planning authority.

“There is now no subsisting contract with the council and the site is still privately owned.

“There remains the possibility that Hyde Martlet, the council’s current rural Registered Provider partner, will purchase the site directly and will submit a planning application in due course.

“This will be subject to the same rigorous and stringent testing that any development of this nature would be, by the Local Planning Authority.

“The council’s obligations as a planning authority are entirely independent of its role as a landowner or as a housing authority.

“The contract became void due to time constraints relating to disposal.”