St William Homes will redevelop the former gas works site to the east of Waitrose, on the corner of Lyndhurst Road and Park Road.
The plans received more than 100 objections and Worthing Borough Council’s planning committee was split over the decision with chair Noel Atkins (Con, Salvington) using his casting vote.
Officers told the committee there were no sound planning reasons to refuse the development and the developer committed to start on site within 18 months.
A main concern for nearby residents is contaminated land.
St William Homes investigated in September 2020 and identified ‘limited areas of contamination’ at the site.
One Lyndhurst Road resident, who works at Worthing Hospital, said: “There have been documented examples of ill health and premature death by this sort of exposure – no amount of extra housing could justify such terrible health effects.”
Due to its former use, the site will have to be ‘remediated’ to remove contamination.
Simon Lewis, development director at St William, said this would take 14 weeks.
Residents are concerned that they could face problems seen at the London Southall Waterside development, where there have been complaints of noxious odours.
But Mr Lewis said Southall was a completely different, larger site which took three years to remediate.
“We will work closely with the Environment Agency and the council to secure all the necessary approvals for site remediation,” he said.
Mr Lewis added that a device like a ‘digital nose’ would be used to detect any harmful substances.
Unlike Southall, contaminated land will be taken away rather than stockpiled.
Steve Wills (Con, Castle) said this ‘put his mind at ease’ and he supported the plans.
Affordable housing ‘unviable’
No affordable housing will be provided.
Independent consultants for the council, Dixon Searle Partnership, agreed that affordable housing was ‘not viable’ but noted that profits could be £6.7 million- something St William Homes disputes.
A £400,000 developer contribution will be made instead but councillors were concerned.
John Turley (Lab, Gaisford) called it a ‘red line’, saying: “I strongly feel that any development here should include affordable housing.
“If it didn’t, I think it would send out the message that this council is not serious about providing affordable housing for the people of Worthing.”
Martin McCabe (Lab, Tarring) went as far as saying the figures ‘took the mick’ but Mr Lewis said the figures were ‘robust’.
Officers warned that the council could open itself up to an appeal and costs if it rejected the plans and challenged its own consultants.
There will be 205 bike spaces and 110 parking spaces with 40 per cent electric vehicle charging points.
Residents are concerned this could add more cars to the road, especially because the site is used as overspill parking for Worthing Hospital.
But the county council said parking is adequate and new residents won’t be able to apply for permits.
Mr Lewis said the developer was ‘ahead of the game’ by reducing parking and ‘over-providing’ cycle spaces.
The tallest block will be seven storeys high and Worthing Society chairman Susan Belton was worried about possible effects on the Warwick Gardens conservation area.
One resident, Simon Jenkins, said: “The proposal will throw a shadow over us – physically and metaphorically.”
St William said the height of the tallest block was reduced following consultation.
“Given COVID, its probably been the most difficult consultation that we’ve had to undertake and I have some sympathy for residents about that,” Mr Lewis added.
After the meeting, Kevin Jenkins, leader of Worthing Borough Council, said: “Worthing is very much a town on the up and yet another example of significant investment in our local economy.
“We know there is a shortage of housing locally. But we are also keen to make sure that development is done sensitively to residents and our wider environment.
“That’s why we have worked incredibly closely with the developer and residents to ensure the site is sustainable and hugely eco-friendly, while also being in keeping with the existing architecture.”