Chichester local plan unlikely to meet government housing target due to infrastructure and funding issues

Chichester has been ‘well and truly screwed over’ on the issue of improvements to the A27, a councillor has said.

Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 4:30 pm
Housebuilding in the Chichester area

During an online meeting last week, district councillors were given an update on the implications to the emerging Local Plan of transport and infrastructure issues.

Top of the list was the declaration that the plan was unlikely to meet housing targets set by the government because of a lack of external funding for improvements such as the A27 Chichester bypass.

A report to the meeting also said plans for the Stockbridge Link Road, south of the A27, would not be progressed as part of the plan.

Lib Dem group leader Adrian Moss called for the cabinet member for planning to be replaced

Susan Taylor, cabinet member for planning, said: “The most recent estimated cost for delivering improvements to the A27 bypass, which would be required to deliver the level of housing we are expected to take, would be around £65million.

“As things stand, we may be able to secure £33-£45million of this from developer contributions, and so the remainder would have to come from external infrastructure providers.

“Following discussions with all partners involved, there just isn’t the money available to cover this funding gap.

“It’s also worth explaining that this isn’t the long-awaited national road scheme on the A27 – these changes would just deal with additional traffic from the new development.”

Cabinet member Susan Taylor said there wasn't enough funding available to cover the required improvements to the A27 to accommodate the level of housing required by central government

But the national scheme – the government’s Road Investment Strategy (RIS) – was high in the mind of Dr Kate O’Kelly (Lib Dem, Midhurst).

Calling the issue of the A27 a ‘long and sorry saga’, she said: “This needs to be said today because we have all been well and truly screwed over.”

A £280m scheme for major improvements on the bypass was pulled by the Secretary of State in 2017, with blame being laid on a lack of local support for the decision.

While other improvements are listed as in the ‘pipeline’ under the third stage of the RIS, Dr O’Kelly felt answers were still needed about the 2017 setback.

She said: “We would not be here today debating the massive transport challenges in the Local Plan review if we had got the money [then].

“The people of Chicheser deserve to know and hear the truth on how this was allowed to happen. 

“When reading the papers it is striking that the truth about the A27 consultation has still not been told.”

She was cut off by CEO Diane Shepherd, who said her concerns were ‘not relevant’ to the Local Plan debate.

It was one of a few moments of tension during the meeting, which saw Liberal Democrat leader Adrian Moss call for Mrs Taylor to be replaced as cabinet member.

Criticising the length of time it has taken to bring the Local Plan review to this stage, Mr Moss said: “It is time, if not well past time, for new, responsive and decisive leadership for the plan.

“I think it is time for the current cabinet member of planning to move on and allow someone with fresh drive to take the Local Plan forward to completion.”

The idea was given short shrift by leader Eileen Lintill, who said that would be a decision for her to make – and she clearly had no intention of replacing Mrs Taylor.

Mr Moss also tabled a string of ‘positive, practical’ amendments to the recommendations, which were all rejected on the chairman’s deciding vote.

As well as the ongoing issues with the A27, another long-running concern has been the wastewater infrastructure.

A report to the meeting said there was still ‘considerable concern’ that the Local Plan was moving on despite no concrete assurances being received from Southern Water about if and how new developments in the district would be served.

This was on top of concerns about the damage caused to Chichester Harbour by waste being discharged into the water.

A report to the committee said: “On-going discussions with Southern Water and the Environment Agency have concluded that, whilst ultimately an engineering solution can be found to accommodate future growth, environmental limitations are a constraint, particularly in the western part of the plan area.

“The parties have not yet reached an agreed position,  although work on a Statement of Common Ground is being progressed.”

Mr Moss said it was time for the council to call both the Environment Agency and Southern Water to account.

He said: “It is not acceptable for Southern Water to keep repeating their mantra of ‘we have to be able to connect’ when quite clearly they have insurmountable challenges.

“We already have in place a Position Statement for Apuldram (Chichester) Waste Water Treatment Works that defines clearly that there is very limited capacity and that new larger scale development cannot be connected.

“It is clear and unambiguous. We need the same for all other treatment works that will be over capacity at 2025.

“No ifs not buts  and we need it now.”

Infrastructure options will be examined by Southern Water over the next year, but will not be confirmed until 2023.

At the end of a long debate, councillors agreed all the recommendations, including an undertaking to review the Local Plan within five years – earlier if the bypass scheme receives government cash.

The final recommendation – the Duty to Cooperate – could spell bad news for neighbouring authorities.

If an authority cannot find room for the houses it is required to build, then it can turn to its neighbours to take on some of those homes.

It’s a situation familiar to Horsham District Council, which has to build a couple of hundred homes each year which neighbouring Crawley Borough Council simply cannot accommodate.

A report to the meeting said the council needed to discuss a number of steps – including exploring options to ‘potentially accommodate unmet need outside of the plan area’.