Politicians must take firm action on housebuilding and support efforts to save our harbour
Political pundits all agree on one point. The Tories suffered the brutal loss of their ultra-safe Chesham and Amersham constituency in last week’s by-election because of public anger at their planning free for all.
The issue there was amplified through the lens of the hated HS2 rail route - which will ruin glorious countryside and has been largely rendered irrelevant by the pandemic-born switch to working from home.
But the government’s obsession to effectively let developers run riot over huge swathes of land while ‘streamlining’ the current time-honoured system of public debate has added to the sense of despair in middle England.
Politicians in Sussex could be equally vulnerable to this growing sense of outrage.
Across Sussex the headlines are dominated week after week by incredulity at the scale of house building being proposed on previously sacrosanct land.
Nor is there substantive evidence that these homes are for local people.
The problem is compounded by the failure to invest in decent infrastructure.
The people of Chichester were promised hundreds of millions of pounds worth of improvements to that giant car park known as the A27 around the city but none has materialised.
The city itself, as it emerges from lockdown, is already jammed with traffic - not helped by the antiquated rail and level crossing system in the heart of Chichester which needs a dramatic overhaul. Forget HS2 - it’s the existing creaky rail infrastructure in the engine house of the UK, the South East, that is in desperate need of investment.
All the while, building continues apace.
Only one major development - of 1,300 homes at Tangmere - shows the hallmark of an holistic and shared beneficial approach and that is largely due to the vision of its excellent parish council.
Most troubling across the region is the total dereliction of responsibility to protect the wildlife corridors around the jewel that is Chichester Harbour.
In all of this, it has been down to local people to voice their protests - our leaders seem to pay nothing more than lip service to the crisis that is engulfing the region.
John Nelson, chairman of Chichester Harbour Trust, has been one of those speaking most vociferously on the subject. History and the environment will be indebted to him in equal measure for his efforts.
This week after a highly successful summit - at which there were the first fledgling signs of political support - he wrote to MP Gillian Keegan calling for a pause on major housing plans and asking her to support a ministerial visit.
We urge Mrs Keegan as well as our councils to respond positively to these concerns and suggestions. Mrs Keegan’s column in this week’s Observer and initiative on housing, and the district council’s Q&A are very welcome and positive steps.
But they must be followed by firm action and decisive leadership if they wish to avoid a repeat here of Chesham and Amersham.
The overriding lesson from all this is clear. Central government must stop dictating housing numbers and policy and putting district councils in an entirely untenable position over their local plans. These should be matters delegated in their entirety to the communities. London and central government have no business declaring a planning free for all in Chichester or any other part of this great nation - it should be for local people alone to be free to balance the local need for homes with vital infrastructure investment, economic growth and protecting the environment.
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