Chichester Community Conference discusses A27 improvements, housing and harbour

Development, the environment, A27 and climate change were the major topics discussed by last week’s Chichester Community Conference.

Tuesday, 29th June 2021, 12:31 pm
Congestion on the A27 at Chichester
Congestion on the A27 at Chichester

The scale of housebuilding proposed in and around the city and the knock-on impact of this has been one of the biggest recent issues facing the area.

With Chichester District Council lacking a five-year housing land supply and developers submitting speculative applications, many have pushed for a moratorium on all new large applications until a revised local plan is adopted.

Housing moratorium ruled out

However Friday’s virtual conference, organised by Chichester MP Gillian Keegan heard this had been ruled out.

Susan Taylor, the council’s cabinet member for planning, explained that they could not unilaterally declare a moratorium as anyone could submit a planning application and these have to go through due process.

Meanwhile Sue Beale, area manager for Natural England, said: “What we are trying to do rather than object to individual applications is we are working with the district council to come up with a strategic solution, which is a much better way forward.”

One of the biggest concerns with any speculative development is the environmental impact this would have on Chichester Harbour and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Wastewater capacity

The lack of wastewater capacity, the declining water quality of the harbour and the subsequent damage to natural habitats were all discussed.

Cigolène Nguyen, head of assets, processes and systems at Southern Water, said they could not just block all outflows to the harbour as this would mean during storm events highly diluted sewage would have nowhere to go and back up to manholes and people’s homes.

She described how the utility company was taking action to lower nitrate levels in the Chichester and Pagham harbours, had seen the new Tangmere pipeline go live, and was also investing in plans to improve monitoring and reduce ground water infiltration.

There are two different ways Southern Water measures capacity, at its treatment works and the pipes leading to them.

She said that Sidlesham would have treatment capacity into the 2030s, while they were putting in place a nitrate removal scheme to help with the treatment process at Pagham.

However when it came to Thornham there were environmental constrains and they could not remove any more nitrates from that plant.

Southern Water is meeting with the Environment Agency to ‘understand what the options are and what we can do’.

Michael Turner, area manager for the Environment Agency, said they were ‘really concerned’ about the condition of Chichester Harbour and the recent Natural England report had been ‘sobering’.

He said they have to make a careful assessment of any impacts when they issue permits for discharges to companies such as Southern Water.

Meanwhile Ms Beale said there were a range of reasons for the condition of the harbour and they ‘can’t lay the blame in one place’.

She explained that Natural England had only recently had sufficient resources to be able to complete the piece of work on Chichester Harbour.

The EA is currently investigating the impact of wastewater treatment works on Pagham Harbour and NE would follow this up with a condition report due in 2023.

Deborah Urquhart, cabinet member for the environment and climate change at West Sussex County Council, felt it was ‘unacceptable’ in the 21st century to have so many discharges into rivers, streams, harbours and the sea.

Given the importance of the harbours as carbon sinks and the climate change agenda, she was hopeful government money could become available to enhance and protect biodiversity there.

The conference was also asked about rising sea levels and whether housebuilding would be stopped on low-lying coastal areas.

Mr Turner said that planning applications had to provide an assessment that showed flood risks could be adequately managed.

Mrs Urqhart called for more ‘out of the box’ thinking in terms of flood defences and embracing nature based solutions pioneered in other countries.

Second homes

A question was asked about the growing number of second homes and holiday lets in the area.

Mrs Taylor said the government tried to disincentive this through the taxation system, but there was a problem around how you would enforce ‘what exactly a second home is’. But she felt they were not good for communities ‘especially during the winter’.

Mrs Keegan highlighted how there were around 3,300 second homes in the Chichester area, and this worked out at around five per cent, compared to the national figure of 1.1 per cent.

But she added: “There’s no way we would be looking to ban second homes or dictate to people what they should do with their money.”

Brownfield sites

The conference was also asked if CDC could make a renewed effort to identify more brownfield sites for housing.

Mrs Taylor explained that the district council had a brownfield register which was updated every year and these sites have to be available and deliverable.

Mrs Keegan touched on how it was more expensive for brownfield sites to be delivered, with greenfield areas having fewer constraints for developers.

Housing

On development more generally, Mrs Keegan said they needed housing for families to move out of temporary accommodation while people’s children and grandchildren were being priced out of the area. They also needed homes that people working in our hospitals and schools could afford.

Mrs Taylor described how CDC’s local plan, agreed in 2015, still has status, but a lack of a five-year housing land supply means the planning balance is currently tilted more in favour of sustainable development as defined by government guidance.

Large parts of the district are either in the South Downs National Park or Chichester Harbour AONB and this has been raised with government ministers.

A request for more time to complete the local plan review was denied, but the district council has been offered more resources.

However Mrs Keegan said that pressure on ministers to reduce a hugely inflated new housing target had been successful.

She stressed the importance of supporting all the different agencies ‘to try and make sure we get a local plan that is sound and the planning inspector will pass’.

Chichester A27 improvements

The conference also heard an update on plans to improve the A27 from Nicola Bell, a divisional director at Highways England.

She outlined how a new project team had been set up to establish options.

Although no funding is currently allocated, the A27 at Chichester is in the pipeline of possible future schemes.

Ms Bell said: “A pipeline is exactly that in terms of presenting anything that may be built. It’s not a guarantee something will be built.”

She was aware of the strength of feeling on the subject and said they would be focusing on good communication with plenty of opportunities for people to be part of the process.

A first public information event is due to take place in the autumn.

She added: “It’s really important communities get together and try to agree on what is a good beneficial scheme that can be delivered and make a difference to the people of Chichester.”

Mrs Taylor added that there was a separation between general upgrades of the A27 which could be delivered by Highways England and changes required to mitigate the increase of housing, which is what studies carried out as part of the local plan review are looking at.

While she said the evidence ‘would indicate’ a Stockbridge Link Road is needed, no decisions have been made, with further work due to be carried out on feasibility, costs and finance.