Fresh calls to review the district’s local plan have been made following the elections earlier this month to ‘prevent the enormous damage’ to Chichester Harbour.
The Tory-controlled Chichester District Council has been reviewing its planning framework, which selects sites for development over the next 15 years.
However major concerns have been raised about the impact of proposed developments on the Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), one of the great conservation areas of Britain.
At council elections held earlier this month the Tories lost their commanding majority and now only have exactly half the number of seats, leaving the authority with no overall control.
This week the Chichester Harbour Conservancy (CHC) and Chichester Harbour Trust (CHT) have called for a ‘fundamental review’ of the local plan in a joint open letter to all the council’s group leaders.
In response the council said officers are currently reviewing responses to a consultation on its draft preferred approach and updating the document so the draft plan is likely to change based on this information.
The council is also gathering further evidence to help council members with their decision making as the process moves forward.
Jeremy Hunt and John Nelson, chairs of the CHC and CHT respectively, wrote: “You will be very aware of the campaign that has been mounted by us and others to prevent the enormous damage the proposed local plan would inflict on Chichester Harbour, the AONB, and the surrounding South Downs landscape.
“It would damage permanently the environment, wildlife and the beauty of the whole area which is so important to the local economy. It would destroy the identity of local communities and villages.
“This plan can be modified to mitigate these effects, while providing for more housing in the area.
“The previous council administration showed little inclination to do the work on an imaginative basis in order to provide the right answer for the community.
“The local election results clearly demonstrated the views of the electorate.”
They have asked to meet each of the group leaders to discuss their concerns and discuss how they can work together to resolve this issue.
The Observer has contacted the political groups at the district council.
The Lib Dems described how during the campaign many residents expressed concerns about proposed developments around Chichester and the impact they would have on the harbour, AONB and surrounding South Downs landscape, and over the coming weeks new councillors would become acquainted with the issues and were looking forward to having an open dialogue with all concerned organisations and residents.
Adrian Moss, leader of the Lib Dem group, said: “We welcome the letter from the conservancy and the harbour trust and are happy to meet with them to discuss their concerns. In fact we will happily meet with all concerned residents and organisations as part of an important debate with our community.
“It is very important to us that the entire community feel that they have been fully consulted.
“On the council we will be working hard to ensure that we first of all deliver the local plan on time but also a local plan that the community agrees protects the AONB, farm land and our communities. The comments submitted by the community must be looked at in detail and residents concerns taken into account.”
Kevin Hughes, leader of the Labour group, said: “As newly elected councillors, the Labour group on the council will be scrutinising the entire local plan to identify the thinking behind Chichester District Council’s strategy. We will certainly expect rational explanations as to why these locations were chosen.
“At face value, and based on conversations with local parish councillors, this level of development has the potential to do lasting damage to all the communities in the affected villages. Apart from causing immense harm to the harbour, landscape, wildlife and biodiversity, it would be extremely dangerous to build on low-lying land. A major worry, too, is that sustainable transport is barely mentioned.
“We feel that it is essential that the plan is thoroughly reviewed when it comes back to council and revisions made to avoid irreparable harm.
“We would be very happy to meet with the conservancy and discuss ways in which the plan can be modified to mitigate these effects and still provide the required level of housing in the area.”
The Chichester and Bognor Green Party says it supports the key messages presented in the open letter to CDC.
A spokesman said: “We stand at a crossroads which irreversibly dictates the future of this area and we appreciate the gravity of planning decisions for such a historically and geographically important part of the UK.
“The recent local elections have amplified public dissatisfaction surrounding the developments taking shape. There is no question that environmental considerations should be driving the planning and delivery of housing needs.
“It is not enough to avoid land allocations for development within the AONB when thousands of homes are then built around its boundaries. There must be recognition that it is not just the destruction of landscapes, but also the secondary effects caused by waste water and increased traffic.”
Michael Neville, Green Party spokesman for Harbour Villages ward, said: “The Chichester and Bognor Green Party would like to reinforce strongly the message delivered in the open letter from the Chichester Harbour Trust and Chichester Harbour Conservancy, and make a passionate case for a full review of the CDC’s local plan.
“The new composition of CDC represents a long-awaited opportunity to embrace the challenge of meeting housing needs, with a creative and energetic approach, one which ensures an outcome that satisfies social fairness and environmental protection.”
He added: “The Green Party would once again urge our local council to formally acknowledge a climate emergency and put this at the forefront of all future decisions. We occupy one of the most beautiful, yet vulnerable parts of the UK and we have a responsibility to show others how it is possible to meet development targets and boost local business whilst protecting our environment for future generations. Safeguarding of biodiversity and prioritising sustainable transport simply must dictate the agenda.”
The Green Party would encourage the scheduling of a public meeting by the Chichester Harbour Conservancy and Chichester Harbour Trust, which would allow newly-elected councillors to engage with the concerns raised in the open letter.
A spokesman for CDC said: “The local plan review is one of the council’s key priorities over the months ahead and the involvement of our local residents, businesses and communities is a vital part of this work.
“Prior to the elections, we carried out an extensive consultation exercise asking for people’s views on the draft local plan review. The point of this process was to gather the views of our communities and statutory bodies to help shape the local plan review moving forward.
“Our officers are currently reviewing the responses that we received and are updating the draft local plan review to take account of this and so the draft plan is likely to change based on this information. We are also gathering further evidence to help council members with their decision making as this process moves forward.
“All of the work carried out to date, along with all feedback received, is available on our website, so that it is transparent and accessible to everyone.
“Once we have updated the draft plan this will be considered by the cabinet and then the full council. Residents, businesses and community groups will then have another opportunity to have their say, before a formal examination of the plan. The whole process is designed to involve our residents and community groups every step of the way.
“What is important to stress is that the Chichester Harbour is incredibly important to the council, its residents and visitors – and it’s our intention to continue to protect this area in accordance with national policy. It’s also important to point out that the council has not proposed any allocations of land for development within the Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty within the draft local plan review.
“Our officers have been meeting with the Chichester Harbour Conservancy, and will continue to do so, in order to reassure them of the process, update them on where we are up to, and respond to any concerns they may have.”