A stark warning has been issued over the threat new housing poses to the future of Chichester Harbour.
It is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
But despite its special planning protection, a big increase in planning applications inside and on its border is being witnessed.
Chichester Harbour Conservancy fears its very future as a nationally important area is threatened.
Dr Richard Austin, AONB manager at the conservancy, said: “I think everyone agrees the harbour and surrounding area is special and must be protected from housing.
“But there is no doubt it is being targeted by developers.”
He warned that the growing number of developments being approved along the A259, the northern boundary of the AONB, is compromising its setting and character.
It comes as an independent report found a huge increase in housing on boundary land around all of England’s 34 AONBs since 2012 is posing an ‘insidious threat to treasured landscapes’.
Published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the report is called ‘Beauty Betrayed: How Reckless Housing Development Threatens England’s AONBS’.
It found boundary land lost around England’s AONBs increased nine times from 2012/13 to 2016/17, with nearly 12,000 homes approved at fringe sites, more than half of which was on greenfield land.
Dr Austin said: “The impact of housing developments in other AONBs must serve as a warning to us.
“In particular, we must protect the setting of Chichester Harbour along its boundary otherwise it will gradually erode the overall character of our protected landscape.”
Conservancy planning officers Linda Park and Steve Lawrence said the 50-home application at Highgrove Farm, Bosham, on the boundary, and the ten-home bid at Greenacre Nursery, Chidham, inside the AONB – both pending decisions – highlight the problem.
Mrs Park said: “We are seeing a big increase in applications on the boundary and inside the AONB.
“The whole strip along the A259 is under huge pressure for new homes.”
She said Highgrove Farm homes would ‘obliterate’ the views of the South Downs from the harbour and ‘open the door to the rest of the area being developed’.
Mr Lawrence said, because two thirds of Chichester Harbour AONB is water, there was greater pressure on the land, meaning smaller developments of up to ten homes were damaging.
With the harbour home to thousands of species of birds and marine life, the conservancy – which has a duty to ‘conserve, maintain and improve’ the area’ – is concerned about the disturbance on wildlife the growing number of residents and visitors will have.
Dr Austin described incremental housing like ‘death by a thousand cuts’.
Chichester MP Gillian Keegan has called the AONB a ‘priceless asset to Chichester and the nation’ and said: “Past generations have worked hard to conserve and enhance this protected landscape and today this is continued by the Chichester Harbour Conservancy.”
The conservancy said, of the 280 applications it commented on last year, there was a 90 per cent accordance rate by Chichester District Council, which it welcomed.
But Dr Austin added: “We had our 50th anniversary as an AONB in 2014 but I wonder if, in another 50 years, we will still have our designation with the amount of housing pressure we are under.”