Decision on Southern Gateway funding to be taken in secret

Artist's illustration of Chichester Southern Gateway proposals
Artist's illustration of Chichester Southern Gateway proposals

Decisions on funding for the Southern Gateway project are set to be made by councillors behind closed doors next week.

A masterplan for the area, stretching from the law courts to Canal Wharf, was agreed by Chichester District Council in November.

Redevelopment is set to include new homes, commercial space, retail units and other community and leisure facilities, as well as changes to the road layout.

However the scheme has proved controversial as the rejected Freeflow proposal, which proposed a bridge over the railway line and the closure of both level crossings, has received widespread support.

Back in December the project received £5m of Government growth deal funding through the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership.

CDC cabinet members are due to make a decision on the allocation of these funds on Tuesday March 6, but this item will be held in private and both press and public will be excluded.

Lib Dem councillor Richard Plowman said: “My own view is that the Southern Gateway as approved by the district council is unimaginative, a loss of a once in lifetime opportunity and fails to give a central focus such as a much needed conference, exhibition centre and sort out the level crossings as indicated by the majority of people during consultation and subsequently ignored by cabinet.

“It seems rather strange and perverse that the district council seem very happy to publish the £5 million from central LEP funding but then to go behind closed doors when it comes to their plans.

“Unless there are highly sensitive commercial negotiations which I doubt in the very short time that has elapsed since the council decision this should be part of the public domain and for the people to know what is going on.”

Fellow Lib Dem Jonathan Brown added: “Of course people will be concerned about Southern Gateway plans being debated in secret, especially following the way many felt shut out of the original consultation.

“No imaginative or ambitious options were included for comment and when the ‘Freeflow’ community scheme was put forward to demonstrate proof of concept for a more fitting alternative it was dismissed without proper time being given for this once-only opportunity to be developed.

“No vision was shown then so people are right to be suspicious of further decisions being taken behind closed doors.”

A spokesman for Chichester District Council said: “We want to keep residents and businesses very much involved in this project, and we welcomed their involvement throughout the masterplan stage. Residents and businesses were encouraged to have their say throughout this period and their comments were considered and responded to in public.

“We plan to continue engaging with residents and businesses to inform them of progress on this project and we have various plans on how we will do this over the coming months. However, there is certain information that needs to be discussed in private as it is commercially sensitive and would prejudice the delivery of this project. However, the decision that the council makes when it meets on the 6 March will be made public.

“Once we have everything in place we intend on providing regular updates through the media and other forms of communication including a detailed article in our next residents’ magazine.

“We are also in the process of issuing a letter to residents and businesses within and just outside the gateway area to inform them of where we are with the project.”

Back in November Tony Dignum, leader of the council, explained that the Freeflow proposals had been thoroughly examined by officers but would need extremely long ramps for the bridge, would impact both the character of the city and nearby flats and would lead to the loss of too much developable land in the gateway area.

Access to the Stockbridge Road level crossing is set to be limited to buses, emergency vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, with a new bus and taxi interchange north and south of the railway station.

Basin Road would be realigned with a new junction on Stockbridge Road, and modifications to the Southgate gyratory reducing the width and number of lanes to improve the pedestrian environment.

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‘Level crossings must be closed’ as part of Chichester Southern Gateway plan