ANOTHER chapter in the story of the former Portfield football ground unfurled this month with councillors voting to resubmit an application to extend planning permission for the site.
Members of Chichester District Council’s cabinet also agreed to start marketing the site with its current permission for 80 homes and look at working with a housing association.
However, discussions during the meeting showed a gulf between the opinions of cabinet members and nearby residents.
Lynne Friel, chairman of the Westhampnett Road and Church Road Residents’ Association urged members to set an example to other landowners by going back to the drawing board and coming up with a new plan with fewer homes on the Chichester site.
However, cabinet members felt they could best serve the ‘citizens of the district’ as a whole by getting a good price from developers for the site – and that meant having planning permission in place.
Speaking at the meeting, Mrs Friel asked: “Given Chichester District Council’s own planning committee effectively threw out the existing Portfield planning application last month, how can the cabinet morally and responsibly do anything other than set the old application aside and submit a new one?”
She asked cabinet members to set an example to other land owners with their actions.
“This council is not like any other landowner,” she said.
“The land you hold is public property, held on behalf of the citizens of Chichester.
“We rely on you, our district councillors to represent us and you have a responsibility to the people who elected you to behave in a moral and upright way.
“You should be setting an example to other landowners.
“This application is not just about getting the maximum money for the council but about building homes that our children and grandchildren will be pleased to live in.
“And they need to be on roads that do not have cars parked all over the pavements – as is happening in developments with similar parking provision in the north of the city.”
She said residents were not against housing on the site – just the density and lack of parking.
“Of course there is a need for more houses and Portfield will deliver much needed affordable homes,” she said.
“Of course, the council needs more money, especially in these financially difficult times but there is a balance to be struck here. As a landowner you have been sent a message by the planning committee that this application is not acceptable.
“There may be a legal way of circumventing it but that does not make it right.
“We look to our democratic representatives to set a good example to other landowners by seeking to improve, rather than degrade, our local environment.”
However, cabinet member for corporate services and communication Josef Ransley said it was not the role of cabinet to comment on applications determined by the planning committee.
“This council has a duty to act in a manner like any other landowner, I believe that is proper and correct and provides for transparency of process as well as assure all stakeholders, including all of the district’s residents, that the council is seeking to deliver best value for the wider benefit of all,” he said.
Mr Ransley said views on appropriate standards for housing for generations to come were ‘varied and subjective’ and housing standards were decided by a ‘democratic process of majority consent’.
“We are agreed that there is a need for more housing in the city and affordable units, which constitutes 50 per cent of the units on this site,” he said.
“Whilst this council is not as financially stressed as some, it is aiming to recover approximately £2m of reserves already invested in the reprovision of local sporting and leisure facilities at Florence Road and Oaklands Park whilst at the same time providing land for an extension of the adjoining Portfield Cemetery.
“The scheme also addresses some of the road and access issues in Church and Westhampnett Road and would deliver a considerable improvement to the local environment around the River Lavant.”
Although the value of the land has not been released by the council, Cllr Ransley said it was about securing ‘best value’.
“Best value might not be obtained if the council were to simply offer the land for sale,” he said. “A planning permission provides certainty to a purchaser that the land can be developed in a particular way.
“Without that commitment the council is unlikely to achieve a contractual commitment from the purchaser or, if it does, it would be a significantly reduced value that reflects the risk perceived by the developer.”
However, he said the planning permission was part of the sale process and it was ‘most unlikely’ to be what was actually built when a full planning application was submitted by a developer.
Responding to calls to go back to the drawing board, he said: “A consultant was appointed to advise the council in this matter in 1999 and it has already taken 15 years to progress to the point where we would have been in a position to market the land if the planning committee had approved the application in January.
“The prospect of going right back through the planning process with a new application and extending this time scale even further is very unattractive to the council.”
Rocky road to planning permission
THE site which has caused so much debate was leased by the former Portfield Football Club until September, 1999.
When it was vacated the council approved funding to the newly formed Chichester City United Football Club to build a new clubhouse on its Oaklands Park site and for restoration of the Florence Road football pitch, including a clubhouse, children’s play space, multi-use games area and jogging track.
The work cost around £2m.
In a report, officers said the funding was in expectation that the former football ground would get planning permission and be sold.
However, it has been a rocky road since then and the scheme was not granted outline planning permission – granted to provisional applications without design details – until 2010.
That permission runs out in July.
If the planning committee does not grant an extension of time before then a new application will have to be submitted.
Victory for democracy?
IN January campaigners were celebrating a ‘victory for local democracy’ when Chichester District Council’s planning committee voted against a bid to extend planning permission for the Portfield site.
Backing residents in their call for fewer houses and more parking spaces, committee member Janet Duncton said: “We could stop being so greedy like any other developer and have fewer houses and more space.”
Fellow committee member Henry Potter described the ‘whole principle’ of the development as ‘fraught with problems’.
Speaking after the vote, residents association chairman Lynne Friel said: “It restored my faith in local democracy. And Chichester District Council as applicant can hardly appeal against the resounding decision of their own councillors.”
However, before the resolution was recorded the application for a time extension was withdrawn to ‘avoid a planning refusal on the books’.