City Councillor responds to Pallants RA’s views on the ‘Vision’

The following is extracted from the email of 6 March from Sarah Sharp sent to the RA Secretary Rowena Daniels and is response to Pallant Residents’ Association’s comment on the Vision for Chichester available here

‘Although this Vision has been spearheaded by the Economic Development Team, the rationale behind the Vision, is to bring people together and to offer residents the opportunity to input into making Chichester the sort of place we want to be for future generations. The Vision, in its present state, does not dictate or proscribe – suggestions are made but the key thing is that the Councils are looking for ideas and support from the people we serve to take the City forward. So hence you do see ideas sketched out without all the details of what will happen to such and such a car parking space for example.

It is up to us all to input positive ideas to help shape this Vision. If we do not agree on this, we will see bitterness and unhappiness as the result.

Having said that in your reply to the Council I detect a strong sense that your views are being trampled on by the continual reference to younger people and students in particular. Although your thoughts are affected by your central location and the impacts of noise and unruly behaviour, I think the Councils have wider concerns. (You must be aware too that the City Angels are a voluntary group that can be approached with your concerns. Perhaps some of your residents could volunteer and help out with this community-led initiative and support better and safer behaviour at night). At the moment a large proportion of the students are moving out from the City, the prices of housing here means that less and less young people can afford to live here. Similarly the people who work in our essential services, hospitals and shops are not able to live here. If this trend continues we will see Chichester turn into a City for the well off retired. Although this might appeal, this is not sustainable in the long-term and will undoubtedly prejudice the future economic security of the City. Shops will move out and essential services will become difficult to maintain. This trend will also mean increasing reliance on commuters and more traffic and congestion and pollution leading to more climate change, rising sea levels etc.

I welcome your suggestion to restrict vehicle access into the Pallants but would like to exercise a word of caution: keeping permeability for cyclists is high on the list of my priorities. Cyclists in this City often have a bad name but my Vision is more of a City such as Copenhagen where the cycle becomes the preferred means of getting about for those who don’t have the luck of living right in the Centre for example Parklands and Whyke. With buses costing £2.90 from Sherborne Road for example, for those who are not able to walk this far, owning a tricycle or a bike and riding with courtesy and respect for others would reduce our reliance on cars and increase people’s health. Also many people nowadays rely on internet shopping so deliveries into the Pallants would need to be possible. The other option that could be considered (and has been mentioned in regard to possible changes in Westgate due to the White House Farm development) is rising bollards. This gives access for buses (and residents) but can keep out people travelling through. Permeability for people walking and cycling must remain a priority.

Car Parks are a cause for concern to your residents. I would suggest that as background you could read a couple of reports that you can find on the Chichester Society Website here:

Cathedral Cities and Historic Towns

by the Kenwood House Group
March 2015

and

Cathedral Cities in Peril
by Foster and Partners with input from English Heritage
and Terence O’Rourke MBE
18 March 2015

These studies of other similar historic Cathedral cities show that to prevent the doughnut effect – which we are risking at the moment – due to the huge number of new large stores on the outskirts of the city – the councils need to reinject life into the City Centre or else it risks bleeding its raison d’etre. Yes, one of the ideas is housing but I would urge you to consider this in a new light. This needs to be of higher quality and should attract big name architects to design more distinctive (not rabbit hutch style) housing suitable for urban living. We have a rising population of single person households. We do need as stated above, to attract some young people here and City Centre living is better for the planet in that people don’t need to rely on a car so much and should start to shop locally. This could, if people embrace the chance, lead to more smaller shops being attracted into the City. I personally would love to see a butcher’s, fishmonger’s, greengrocer’s etc move back into to serve the population with locally produced goods where possible. I hope that we are swinging back in this direction away from the weekly supermarket shop. So some of the plans at least around the Southern Gateway are said to include accommodation which won’t be Executive homes on single plots as in White House Farm but will perhaps echo more the style of housing around New Park cinema where you see a new square with shops and restaurants nestling around St Pancras Church. The Southern Gateway development I believe in on hold as a proper traffic survey needs to be completed before more plans can be started. A new hotel is seen as desirable and an improvement to the Canal Basin area to make this a more attractive space instead of just serving as part of our inner ringroad. These plans are partly financed through some sort of arrangement with the Whitehall department responsible for Homes and Communities. I do not know any of the details as I am only a City Councillor so not privy to these dealings.

The Cathedral area is also included in the Vision as you rightly point out. As most people want to keep the trees, I know that the council will certainly hear people’s views on this, but the wish is floated to make more space available for people to use rather than keeping this as a traffic dominated area. So a piazza has been put forward – when you visit places on holiday, spaces for walking, children playing in fountains on a hot day, plants, even table tennis places or boules in France, benches, flowers – all these sorts of things make you want to linger, relax and unwind. If you think of this street now, the benches are in a line with people dodging to cross safely with all the buses and vans that deliver. Several people have suggested serving the area with small electric hop on hop off buses for the infirm to access the City but keep the big polluting buses out. This will mean a re-negotiation with Stagecoach etc but with a new Bus Bill going through Parliament this opens up more opportunities for sustainable travel, if our councillors wish to chose this.

Regarding benches, the Conservative led majority in the City Council decided to replace all the city benches with recycled plastic ones as these need less maintenance and so will reduce costs in the long-run. I, like you, do not think they necessarily are the most beautiful and actually I don’t see why we needed to get rid of all the old ones. There are far more important things that the money could have been spent on. However I am in opposition so couldn’t influence this decision. I did suggest the old benches should be re-used elsewhere and not just thrown out but I cannot provide you with an assurance that this has been done.

Regarding the original Stakeholder events, I, like you, was surprised that none of the residents associations were invited. I was lucky enough to take part in these as the Chair of ChiCycle (Chichester’s Cycle Campaign)  and 20’s Plenty for Chichester. They were an opportunity for different groups to have their say and suggest ideas but as stated above they did not make the Vision. It is all of us who can mould it and we now have the chance to do so.

Other points: I have not heard of any plans for County Hall area.

There is a Road Space Audit which has also undergone Stakeholder engagement and is yet to come out for public consultation.  This includes a new methods of dealing with traffic coming into the City and attempts to make the City a more attractive place for shoppers and residents. The intent is certainly not to reduce businesses and shops but quite the contrary to make the City a better, more diverse place for shopping.  I do feel sad that your residents have interpreted this Vision as an attempt to close down the City as it is deemed as quite the opposite  we need to open up the City more to people so people have more space and choice.

The Vision doesn’t deal as you say with how people travel in, but with a rising population, we have to think outside having everyone travelling into the City in their individual cars. So we need to promote walking, cycling, bus and train travel and keeping cars further away from the very core of the city in order to reduce pollution.  Having been to the Stakeholder events I can confirm that blue badge space holders will not be kept out and disabled parking will not be reduced.  I agree that that there are not detailed plans for what to do with the inner city car parks, but the space could be used more productively than just for parking eg park spaces, smaller shops, cafes, inner city living as in the Shippams site, play areas…

We all have a chance through the planning system to get involved in any planning application. There is no question of changes going through on the nod and you can register to speak at Planning meetings at Chichester District Council. Nothing is secret regarding planning. You just need to keep a beady eye on the planning applications and things coming up which is a very difficult task for private individuals to do as there are so many plans.

Regarding HGVs councillors and officers are well aware of residents concerns regarding restricting vehicle access to the Pallants and St John’s Street.  Your views are being well represented as can be seen here.

I would recommend writing to Margaret Evans at West Susex County Council email: margaret.evans@westsussex.gov.uk

Cattle Market Car Park – I have heard of rumours suggesting redeveloping part of this car park but the Road Space Audit sees this as, at least in the first instance, taking some of the strain out of the City Centre congested streets. Yes, this will mean that people will have to walk further, but the distances are not huge and from a Public Health point of view there is definitely a greater need to encourage people to walk and reduce pollution of queuing traffic in Little London and East Street.  There are 2 other large car parks – Avenue de Chartres which is underused – and Northgate so if you look at a map of the City with all the car parks coloured in, I think you will agree with have given over a large part of our city to parking. The idea is that we could use some of the space more creatively.

I hear your Committee’s great unhappiness with what you have read so far, but perhaps you can re-visit this once more and see if you can turn it round and find more constructive, positive things to input into our future health and well-being and happiness as a City. We need this to be a place fit for living for all generations. We need to add shady, relaxed places to be for people when we will be faced with rising temperatures (into the 40 degrees C according to research I have read). This is your chance to influence the final version of the document. Whether it is suggesting solar panels to keep down future residents’ heating bills, human-scale architecture to foster friendly communities, or affordable rents and rates for small independent shops, I urge you to reconsider your objections and add constructive, positive ideas for our Councils to make Chichester a better place for everyone. I know you mention legal redress in one instance but I hope you will come to see that this should not be necessary. Dialogue and getting involved however will be.

Kind regards,
Sarah Sharp
City Councillor for Chichester South