A group has been set up to examine the progress being made by Chichester’s Southern Gateway regeneration project.
The project, which aims to transform the rather tired-looking area around the city’s railway station, bus station and canal basin, was approved in 2017 and a development partner is expected to be named in November.
At a meeting of the district council’s overview & scrutiny committee on Tuesday (September 10), members discussed concerns raised by the public and councillors about some of the things the project would and would not deliver.
Among them were the decisions not to include an underpass at one of the level crossings and not to use the empty court building as a concert hall or entertainment venue.
In an email to the committee, David Palmer (Con, Lavant) said that, while the project was lauded as ‘the largest regeneration project in the city for a generation’, he felt it was ‘limited in scope and ambition’.
He added: “We are asked to believe that the level of the water table in Chichester makes an underpass technically unfeasible.
“I would suggest if we can build a watertight tunnel under the English Channel, then we can manage a very limited underpass in Chichester.”
There were worries that, with a number of questions from the public still unanswered, there was very little time left to examine the multi-million pound project.
With some members pondering the consequences of looking at the entire masterplan again, John Ward, director of corporate services, advised against ‘sending out any suggestions that the council is uncertain about the masterplan or the process we’ve gone through at this stage when we’re in the middle of shortlisting’.
Mr Ward said: “It would be extremely unsettling for the development partners that are interested for this council to start to unpick all of the work that’s taken place to date, including potentially going back and looking at the masterplan.
“It would certainly send shivers through the market.”
The committee voted to set up a Task & Finish Group – made up of Clare Apel (Lib Dem, Chichester West), Henry Potter (Con, Goodwood), Sarah Sharp (Green, Chichester South), Alan Sutton (Con, Fittleworth) and Kevin Hughes (Lab, Chichester East) – to look closely at the progress being made.
Chairman Adrian Moss (Lib Dem, Harbour Villages) said: “This council over an extended period of time has been absolutely determined in the delivery of the Southern Gateway project.
“For the time I’ve served on the council I’ve supported it 110 per cent and I think we should do the same as a committee.
“However, I do believe it is appropriate as the overview and scrutiny committee just to look at how it is progressing. That doesn’t mean we’re questioning it – we’re absolutely for the redevelopment of Chichester.
“I think it is our role to make sure that we’re happy how it is progressing.”