Leading councillors at Conservative-led Chichester District Council reaffirmed their commitment to the regeneration project of the area around the city’s railway and bus stations at a special full council meeting on Tuesday, December 7 where they were told that the courts can longer be part of the redevelopment as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
It means uncertainty for the future of the site in the south of the city leading to calls from opposition Liberal Democrat councillors for a fresh debate over what city residents want.
The area due to be redeveloped stretches from the law courts down to the Royal Mail depot buildings and also includes land south of Kingsham Road and the project originally aimed to create an estimated 365 new homes, 20,600 sqm of commercial space for businesses, retail, leisure and tourism; improved transport links and public space enhancements.
But the courts have now been brought back into use by the Ministry of Justice to tackle the backlog of cases meaning it can no longer be part of the project. However, councillors were told that this site could potentially return to the programme at a later stage if they courts were to close again.
This change and further impacts caused by the pandemic, has meant that HBD, the development partner, will no longer be involved in the project.
Instead, the partners involved in the project, including Chichester District Council, West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police, will manage the development of their own parcels of land, which together represent 75 per cent of the entire project.
“As you can imagine, the pandemic has significantly impacted on our progress with this important project, but we want to reaffirm our commitment to redeveloping this important gateway to Chichester,” says Cllr Tony Dignum, cabinet member for growth, place and regeneration at Chichester District Council.
“Despite all of the challenges we have faced, the project is moving forward. Work has started on the Kingsham School site, where demolition is underway to mitigate safety concerns at the old school building. The NHS has also reconfirmed their interest in developing a community health hub and GP practice on the site, and we are also progressing discussions with Stagecoach regarding the relocation of the bus depot and offices. Sussex Police aims to use its land for new homes as intended in the masterplan.
“The past couple of years have been really tough on everyone. The pandemic has changed all of our lives in so many ways, from how we work, through to the general recovery of the economy, and so it is no surprise that it has impacted on a project such as this. What’s important for people to know is that we are still committed to regenerating this area of Chichester - we’re just going to approach it in a slightly different way. The overall masterplan will remain, but each partner will develop their own parcels of land, with a design-led approach to development.
“What residents and businesses can be assured of is that we will keep them updated as the project progresses.”
Chichester District Council is in detailed negotiations with Stagecoach with a view to transferring its maintenance depot and offices to a council owned site in Terminus Road Chichester. This would enable this key site to be redeveloped, along with the council’s Basin Road car park.
A vital part of the agreement with Stagecoach will be determining the location of bus stops to best serve customers, especially those changing from bus to rail and vice versa. Councillors will be looking at the best options for these sites, taking account of the opportunities for higher density housing on a brownfield location.
However the Liberal Democrats, frustrated that the update over the project was behind-closed-doors instead of in the public session, have said the current project ‘lacks ambition’ and have called for a public debate on the principles guiding the future of the project
In a statement the group said: “While discussion of sensitive commercial negotiations must be conducted in private, we believe the full council meeting was the ideal opportunity to let residents know what is happening on this vital project.”
Cllr Jonathan Brown expressed deep frustration at the ‘lack of transparency and that residents were left in the dark again’.
The statement added: “The Liberal Democrats want the Southern Gateway to be an ambitious project that delivers affordable, sustainable housing on a brownfield site, an integrated transport hub, employment opportunities for new businesses and young entrepreneurs and opportunities for a more vibrant city for our young people who we want to live and work here.”
A spokesperson for Chichester District Council said: “All council meetings are open to the public, except where there is a legal duty to protect certain types of information. Examples of exempt information include personal information about people; and information relating to contracts which are being negotiated.
“The council is committed to protecting other people’s information and meeting its legal duty. The rules around this are very clear and they were explained to all members at the meeting, so that they could understand why the meeting was held in private.”
People can find out more about the project here: https://www.chichester.gov.uk/article/29385/About-the-Southern-Gateway