Calls for leadership and tenacity as Chichester local plan review ‘in a mess’

Chichester District Council has called for understanding from the public over the latest delay to its Local Plan Review, which is now not scheduled to be adopted until 2023.

The plan, which lays out the framework for future development in the area, was due to be reviewed and adopted in July 2020 but has been delayed three times.

During a meeting of the full council on Friday (March 12), members gave the nod to the new timetable while also agreeing to ‘knock heads together’ to get things done.

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There have been two main issues delaying the review – the lack of sufficient waste water infrastructure to meet the needs of thousands of new homes imposed on the district by the government, and whether local roads, especially the A27, could cope with the traffic.

Work with the likes of Southern Water and Highways England to address the issues has been slow, prompting the council to file an official complaint with the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat.

This has since led to ‘constructive’ meetings with both organisations.

Susan Taylor, cabinet member for planning, said the revised plan had been ‘undeliverable’ so far, adding: “Plans must be supported by evidence often produced by or with the input of other organisations – and most importantly must justify the approach taken in the plan.

“The Chichester plan contains a range of technical challenges which have slow progress.”

While recognising the challenges faced by the council, opposition members called for action.

John-Henry Bowden (Lib Dem, Chichester West) said the council needed to admit that the Local Plan Review was ‘in a mess’ and should apologise to residents and ask for their understanding.

The lack of an up-to-date Local Plan leaves the council vulnerable to applications from developers wanting to build wherever they see fit.

Mr Bowden compared the situation to that of the Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah, who saw that if the ‘establishment’ didn’t change its ways it would be destroyed.

He said: “Like Jeremiah, we are facing a similar situation – facing the destruction of our district through the inability to protect it from invaders – developers submitting speculative planning applications against which we have weak defences and which, if built, will be without effective drains or roads.

“And the lack of drains and roads will quickly destroy our unique harbour and its surroundings, and will gradually undermine the health of our people by contaminated air.”

Kate O’Kelly (LDem, Harting) called on the leadership to ‘channel [their] inner Michael Gove’ and ‘lead and drive the project, with energy,  tenacity and above all not taking no for an answer’.

Calling the past six years ‘a shambles’, she added: “Our officers have been working incredibly hard, writing letters, and liaising with the agencies. 

“What should have been happening is, when there is a block, the political leaders should have been taking action.”

It was a view shared by Adrian Moss (Lib Dem, Harbour Villages), who called on the leadership to ‘stand up, take responsibility and lead from the front’.

As well as approving the new timetable for the Local Plan Review, members agreed that a progress report would be presented to the council in July to allow a full debate on the next stage to be held in public.

After the meeting, the Chichester Harbour Trust said it welcomed consideration of the challenges affecting delivery of the new local plan, particularly on wastewater treatment and transport infrastructure and the impact on our unique coastal environment.

John Nelson, the trust’s chairman, said: “In listening to the council debate on Friday, we were encouraged to see that the council members are now, for the first time, taking seriously the concerns around the local plan that we, the local communities and other organisations have been expressing over a long period of time.

“The motions carried by the council make it clear they now require stronger and more vigorous leadership from council leaders and officials, in addressing these issues. They expect the leadership to take a more assertive approach with Government and Government agencies, and they expect our MP to provide the support and advocacy that has been missing.

“The production of the local plan will require a great deal of urgent work on the infrastructure issues; on the environmental issues; and on the landscape and wildlife issues. It will also require a new and imaginative approach on site selection, distribution, densities, wildlife corridors, impact on agriculture, adapting to the radical economic changes (particularly the impact of reduced retail on land availability) - and the need to adapt the plan to avoid increasing flood plain issues caused by climate change.”