Call for urgent action to avoid irreparable damage to Chichester Harbour’s natural environment

Pressure is mounting on Chichester District Council to act now to avoid irreparable damage to the natural environment.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 4:09 pm

With the current local plan out of date, the council produced an interim position statement on housing last year to guide development until the review is completed.

But this has not stopped developers lodging speculative planning applications in the past year.

The revised timetable for the local plan review, which is due to be signed off at a meeting on Friday (March 12), shows that it may not be adopted until March 2023.

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One of the biggest concerns with any speculative development is the impact this would have on Chichester Harbour and the AONB.

Prior to tomorrow’s meeting, John Nelson, chairman of the Chichester Harbour Trust, has written to all councillors outlining the ‘water quality crisis’ affecting the harbour, which has been caused by a significant number of recent new developments being connected to the network, combined with climate change increasing rainfall and storm discharges. He describes how the infrastructure is unable to cope with this ‘due to years of under investment and poor management’.

The harbour trust and other organisations are continuing to press CDC to push the government for a moratorium on all new large housing development until the local plan can be completed.

Mr Nelson went on to highlight how the delay in the local plan timetable is already ‘leading to open season for developers’.

They would like to see leadership from the council in ensuring a change of approach such as a willingness to be assertive to government and a ‘recasting’ of the local plan to avoid environmental consequences.

Meanwhile Save our South Coast Alliance believes the district’s coastal plain is at ‘tipping point’.

In the absence of an up to date local plan the campaign group argues that the current ‘ad hoc planning will quickly destroy the most important assets in the district – tourism, farming and its incredible marine and wetland ecosystem’.

SOSCA has written to all councillors asking them to introduce a planning condition to ensure permission for new homes is only granted if infrastructure is adequate and in place for each application.

Libby Alexander, founder of SOSCA, said: “There has to be recognition by our Government representatives that their actions, or lack of action, is going to create an environmental disaster within our lifetime.”

Stand Up for Chichester has also written to all councillors requesting the group leaders work together jointly to seek a moratorium on all planning applications for developments in excess of 25 homes until issues of housing numbers and the adequacy of both the sewage and highways infrastructure have been properly addressed.

These warnings come as a Natural England review describes Chichester Harbour’s designated areas as now being in an ‘unfavourable and declining’ condition.

It highlights declines of features ‘so large’ that extra conservation measures are urgently required and recommends these increased efforts should happen ‘as soon as possible’.

Last week, the council’s Lib Dems accused the ruling Conservative administration of ‘refusing to act decisively in support of local communities’.

Their main concern is that CDC is not pushing statutory agencies such as Southern Water, the Environment Agency and Natural England hard enough to provide evidence and information on how, if at all possible, the district can provide enough infrastructure to support the number of houses central government has allocated.

Adrian Moss, Lib Dem group leader, said: “We called for a joint political approach to be taken but the Conservative leadership told us that now is not the right time. We do not accept that. Now is exactly the right time. For the sake of our district, we have to take action now. The emerging evidence is clear. We call on the statutory agencies to work with us to reach an urgent conclusion, and we call on the Conservative cabinet to learn from the mistakes that have led to a further local plan delay and act before it is too late.”

In response Conservative Susan Taylor, deputy leader and cabinet member for planning at the council, pointed out that as chairman of overview and scrutiny Cllr Moss has the power to call the organisations to appear before the committee, while the Lib Dems have had the opportunity to put forward concerns and suggest alternative solutions. She said the only suggestion they have made to date is a moratorium on new development, with the planning advisory service advising the council it cannot do that.

Cllr Taylor acknowledged that wastewater has been an ongoing problem for the south of the district and something they had been lobbying Southern Water about ‘for some time’.

They have raised an official complaint with regulator OFWAT and written directly to Southern Water which resulted in constructive meetings with the company and the Environment Agency. Following on from this Southern Water has agreed to work with CDC on identifying the improvements that need to be made.

Cllr Taylor pointed out that Cllr Moss attended the joint meeting and had the opportunity to challenge Southern Water and the Environment Agency ‘but did not do so’. She said the council would be meeting the two organisations again in April and over the coming months to ensure their commitment to progress and engagement in wastewater issues and the required evidence work on wastewater disposal will be completed effectively.

She added: “In recognition of the unique challenges facing CDC there has been and continues to be political leadership by the cabinet and engagement at both ministerial and senior civil servant level with MCHLG as we argue the case for our local plan. We have held regular meetings with our MP Gillian Keegan, who articulated CDC’s case with both the Secretary of State and the housing minister and has facilitated meetings with Southern Water, the Environment Agency and Highways England at the highest level.”

Cllr Moss has disputed two of these points. Firstly as chair of Overview and Scrutiny he is inviting representatives from the EA, Southern Water and Natural England to a special meeting in April.

Meanwhile at the joint meeting Cllr Moss said he did challenge Southern Water directly and was told by the utility company they were engaging and ‘could do nothing about housing’, which he suggested was ‘fundamentally not true’.