Senior figures from a number of major organisations met at Bosham Sailing Club last week to discuss the challenges facing the harbour.
John Nelson, chairman of the Chichester Harbour Trust, has since written to MP Gillian Keegan to press for a senior ministerial visit as well as a meeting to develop the ‘overwhelming arguments’ for a pause on significant new planning applications.
He outlined how short and long-term measures are required and attendees at last week’s summit felt ministers should visit the harbour and ‘see for themselves the catastrophe it is facing’.
Mr Nelson highlighted how due to delays with the local plan review they had seen an ‘avalanche’ of recent applications on the perimeter of the area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), while hugely overdue investment required to solve the water quality problem would take years to execute.
He described how Southern Water and Chichester District Council needed help from government and agencies to avoid the almost automatic connection of new developments ‘when the system is already heavily overloaded’, while on other infrastructure issues, particularly transport, ‘there is no sign of any decisions being taken’.
Although he acknowledged the work Mrs Keegan had done behind the scenes, he felt this had not ‘translated into tangible action, which is sorely needed to address the urgency of the environmental catastrophe facing the harbour and its surrounding landscape’.
He added: “We need you to be a far more powerful advocate for the community and to be prepared to confront your senior ministerial colleagues more robustly.”
While they understood the need for new housing, the area has a unique set of circumstances with the South Downs National Park, AONB, enlarging flood plain, one of the most densely populated regions of the country, highly productive agricultural land and one of the largest and most important natural harbours in the UK ‘all rendering a squeeze onto developing most of the narrow corridors of land around the harbour’.
Since December, Mrs Keegan has held meetings with Ofwat, Southern Water, the Environment Agency and Natural England, on the issues facing the harbour and has also formed a group with fellow MPs Alan Mak and Penny Mordaunt to hold Southern Water to account.
She has also met with environment minister Rebecca Pow and last week housing minister Christopher Pincher.
In her weekly column for the Observer, Mrs Keegan acknowledged that in Chichester, the scale of housing development ‘has been an ongoing challenge especially with the infrastructure and environmental challenges we face in our area’.
She has organised a Chichester Community Conference on Friday (June 25, which will look into planning and development, local infrastructure, the environment and other issues. Details are on her website.
Meanwhile at the meeting with Mr Pincher, the area’s unique challenges were explained with much of the developable land sandwich between the national park and the AONBs of Chichester Harbour and Pagham Harbour.