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The Society’s response to the SDNPA Local Plan Consultion

The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) produced a pre-Submission version of their Local Plan  for public consultation from 26 September to 21 November 2017.

The Society’s response has been filed and is reproduced below. (A copy of the full submission document can be found here)

(Images from the SDNPA – click on images for full view)

‘The Chichester Society supports this first landscape-led Local Plan for the South Downs National Park. We support the Plan’s Core, Strategic, and Development Management policies.

We particularly commend policies SD4-SD8. (SD4-Landscape Character, SD5-Design, SD6-Views, SD7- Relative Tranquillity and SD8-Dark Night Skies).

We recognise that little development is proposed within the National Park in the vicinity of Chichester, but we support the small housing allocations in the adopted Lavant Neighbourhood Plan and the small housing site at West Ashling (Policy SD95). We are however concerned that major developments on the coastal plain outside the National Park boundary, particularly around Chichester, are likely to result in adverse impacts on the National Park. We hope that the duty to co-operate between the South Downs NPA and Chichester DC will be maintained, and that policies SD4-8 will be at the forefront of all negotiations between the two authorities so that the adverse impacts can be mitigated as far as possible.

Concerning the supply of housing (SD 26 – Supply of Homes), we recognise that National Park Authorities are not required to meet the ‘objectively assessed need’ (OAN) for housing. However, the strict policies limiting development within the South Downs National Park are already causing intense development pressures on areas outside the Park, especially on the West Sussex Coastal Plain which affect Arun and Chichester District Councils. The Society notes several adopted Neighbourhood Plans within the National Park have increased their provision for housing, greater than that allocated by the Park Authority. Local communities across the Park have decided they can accommodate increased numbers, especially if 50 percent of new housing is affordable. The Society would advance this argument by supporting as much housing in Downland communities as can be accommodated without damaging the wider landscape environment.

We are pleased that the Plan recognises that Chichester is the major gateway to the National Park from the coastal plain. We support Strategic Policy SD19c Improvements to walking, cycling and bus connectivity. The extension of Centurion Way to Midhurst, together with proposed linked footpaths/cycleways east of the City to East Lavant and The Trundle, will provide high quality sustainable access to the National Park.

We have one criticism of the Local Plan Policies Map- Western Area: South. The extensive brown stippling across much of this map to indicate ‘Mineral Safeguarding area’ detracts from the clarity and makes it challenging to read. Minerals are already covered by the joint West Sussex/South Downs Minerals Local Plan.’

Freeflow – an alternative vision for the Southern Gateway

Consultation on the Southern Gateway ends on 10 August. A meeting to discuss Freeflow takes place at 6:30 Thursday 3 August Assembly Rooms. If you wish to support this proposal you can sign a petition here

Many are seeking changes to the Southern Gateway plan as it is deemed as flawed because it does not address the  need to avoid the current congestion at the 2 railway crossing to the South.

Freeflow offers the City a gateway worthy of the name by providing a dedicated new road and bridge solution, removing congestion, pollution and mounting frustration of those trying to access Chichester.  It proposes the closure of both crossings saving over 20,000 working days wasted every year waiting at the crossings.

The route creates minimal visual impact allowing the closure of both crossings, and with minimal impact on the road network during construction of the bridge

Freeflow offers significant public realm benefits around the train station, removing the through traffic making it pedestrian and cycle friendly

Freeflow proposes a high quality Exhibition / Conference / Performance venue, Hotel, Commercial and Retail space and additional homes to enhance the local economy and create a vibrant southern quarter to Chichester

Freeflow will help alleviate traffic congestion on the A27 by not requiring people to divert to other access routes into the city as they currently do

A Vision for the City Centre – the Society’s wish-list

Society Chairman Richard Childs explains the Society’s wish-list

In March the Chichester Society responded to a consultation on the District Council’s Vision for the city centre over the next 20 years. Our response can be seen in full on the website. This article is a summary of that vision.

We feel that as the main entry points to the city centre, it is vitally important to improve the four gateways. So looking at each in turn our thoughts are as follows:

Northgate
We believe the Northgate gyratory should be abolished and an attractively designed hotel built on the footprint of Metro House. A signal-controlled pedestrian/cycle route on a line from St Paul’s Road to North Street would be of immense benefit to everyone, notably residents.

Redesign Northgate car park to provide a landscaped walkway from Oaklands Way to the Theatre, enhanced with low level bollard lighting. This walkway would be orientated and focused north towards the theatre and south to the Cathedral spire. A signal-controlled pedestrian/cycle junction is required for crossing Oaklands Way, thereby providing a popular alternative to the pedestrian tunnel.

Southgate
Again, we believe that this gyratory ought to be abolished and the northern leg made for two-way traffic. The Crown Court has enormous potential for conversion to a multi-use venue but primarily as a concert hall. The vast spaces of the bus garage would be ideal for large scale gigs. Everyone recognises the canal basin’s scope for regeneration and we support a variety of leisure uses for this location: an hotel, bars and restaurants with landscaped terraces fronting onto the canal. No structures should obscure views of the cathedral and its spire. Create a purpose-designed ‘gateway’ feature at the location of the former South Gate. Move the bus station north of the railway as part of the existing station forecourt. Is this the moment to mention the elephant in the room? The reason for increasing traffic congestion in this neighbourhood is the railway. Why not commission a feasibility-study as one element of a Southgate master plan to provide road bridges in place of the two level crossings?

Westgate
We would like to see a landscaped garden on part or all of the Orchard Street car park. This amenity would be some compensation for the anticipated loss of Westgate roundabout due to highway works associated with the Whitehouse Farm development. Nearby, the untapped potential use of the Cathedral Green can be explored. For example, create several ramps between the raised footpath and West Street – a feature that would be popular with wheelchair users. Remove the diseased lime trees over time and replant. Retain bus stops but place two heritage-type bus shelters outside former Post Office.

Eastgate
This gyratory should also be abolished. We would make St Pancras and The Needlemakers two-way. We would pedestrianise The Hornet to create a quirky shopping quarter on the lines of those in Brighton or Lewes, all of which are flourishing with small traders since pedestrianisation projects. Kwik Fit must be relocated to the city periphery and in its place developed retail space for small units from St Pancras through to The Hornet. Small retail units would fit well on the North and/or East side of the Cattle Market car park. Parts of this substantial area could become a covered market, of the kind seen in almost all French towns. Such buildings can be extremely attractive.

The City’s Night Time Economy – adding pizzazz
We would like to see the city centre become even more attractive through imaginative floodlighting. This would focus on the principal elements of the city’s urban character: buildings like the Council House, the Guildhall, St Olaves Church, former Corn Exchange, St Pancras Church and St John’s Chapel; but also historic structures such as the City Walls at Jubilee Park and Westgate Fields, or the Bell Tower & St Peter the Great, or the Gateway to Canon Lane. This city could become famous for its ‘lighting festival’ timed during the Christmas season and the Festival of Chichester in June-July.

Increasing City Centre Accommodation
Proactive policies and programmes can encourage owners of retail and office space to develop surplus accommodation, ideally for flats or small business units.

Protecting Chichester’s Special Character
Chichester’s “Special Character” owes much to its rural setting and rural features of much of this city. These aspects need greater acknowledgement and protection possibly through the medium of existing design guides. For example: hedges rather than fences, wooden street furniture rather than big-city steel and plastic. Planning policy should seek to “knit together” the street scene, without too many stand-out, statement buildings. New buildings within the city centre should aim to be quietly sympathetic rather than shouting for attention. But even where the occasional “statement building” is permitted it must be sensitive to its neighbours.

And finally, the Society would like to

  • Improve the appalling state of the city centre’s pavements.
  • Provide a high quality Tourist Information Centre in North Street under the Council Chamber with glazing in the arches.
  • Use architectural competitions for larger development sites to ensure high quality design.
  • Provide more seats in the city centre, particularly in South Street and Southgate.
  • Re-open public toilets that have been closed in recent years.

Could any of these aspirations come to fruition in years to come? While recognising the constraints, not least finance, we can hope – and indeed this is why the District Council has sponsored such a wide ranging public consultation. Hope. An important word; there’s even a website dedicated to poetry with hope!

(This article and the following comment originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of the Society’s Newsletter)

WHAT’S NEXT?

Steve Oates, CDC Economic Development Manager and Chichester Vision Project Manager, comments: “We received a strong response to our six week public consultation. Subject to any further amendments, it’s anticipated the final Vision will be adopted by Chichester District Council, West Sussex County Council, Chichester City Council and Chichester BID during July. From that point the work really begins! A delivery plan and team will be formed to ensure the aspirations and ambitions set out in the Vision become reality over the next couple of decades”. 

An impression of Little London car park with a purpose built outdoor market area and open amenity space
(Image: Chichester District Council, ‘Chichester Tomorrow… A Vision for Chichester’)

Chichester’s BID creates a buoyant City Centre

We speak with Chairman Colin Hicks about the Business Improvement District

Newsletter readers may remember Chichester’s BID received a boost just before last Christmas. A ballot among city centre retailers and other business resulted in a clear majority in favour of BID continuing its work to improve the city centre for everyone. On this hopeful foundation BID’s management board has been taking stock of its contribution to Chichester life.

The Chichester BID – some background

Business Improvement Districts, or more simply BIDs, are partnerships between all the organisations and individuals who want lively and successful city and town centres. They started in Canada over 40 years ago, came to Britain in 2004 and began at Chichester in 2012. This is because BIDs are regarded as making a positive difference, injecting management and money to build a hopeful future. BIDs are funded by a levy on those paying non-domestic rates. They must be agreed by a ballot of local businesses and are renewed every five years. That’s why there was a ballot in Chichester last autumn: the first five years – BID 1 – had expired. The numbers involved are perhaps surprising: in the Chichester BID area (within the City Walls) are over 700 businesses: about half are retail (shops) and a fifth offer food or drink; the rest provide commercial and inter-business services.

What has Chichester’s BID achieved?

Most obviously, the Christmas lights! The 2016 switch-on attracted our largest crowd ever. Less obvious are the many behind-the-scene activities to increase the city centre’s viability. For example, installing new digital ‘footflow’ counters to monitor ‘people movement’ – knowing whether numbers are rising or falling is important. The BID also promotes Chichester and its events and attractions by regional advertising to encourage visitors. When they arrive we help them get orientated. Have you noticed the many map boards in car parks? They are there because of BID. And have you noticed the leaflet-style street maps in purpose-designed dispensers around the city centre? BID printed 150,000. It’s a small thing, but a free street map can be really helpful to visitors. A last example of behind-the-scenes efforts is improving the city centre’s security – it’s called Chichester Businesses Against Crime (ChiBAC) and has been quietly successful.

One of Chichester BID’s initiatives is to use flags to enliven the street-scene (Photo: Chichester BID)

Chichester’s city centre is changing

It will not have escaped your notice that pedestrian streets everywhere are changing. Shopping is migrating to the Internet which now accounts for some 17% of UK retail spending. So there are fewer shoppers on the nation’s high streets, Chichester included. But those still coming seek other opportunities whilst in town: coffee, a meal, visit an exhibition; take a stroll around the park. This is a shopping experience you cannot get on the Internet: knowledgeable personal service often from an independent retailer, the chance to try on clothes, an impulse buy at the farmers’ market.

Keep those tills ringing!

Chichester has plenty to offer residents’ and visitors’ changing habits and tastes. In retail jargon this city is a ‘multiple shopping destination’ but it’s also a town with a successful University and College; and it’s alive with arts, culture and heritage of national importance. Over the next five years 2017-22 the BID 2 team will continue to maintain partnerships with local government and others like the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Chichester. The BID’s task is straightforward: to increase the city centre’s viability and keep those tills ringing!

(This article appears in the June 2017 Society Newsletter –  join the Society to receive this Newsletter and enjoy other benefits)

Developers threaten to go to appeal on Whitehouse Farm

A reconvened Planning Committee Meeting to discuss Whitehouse Farm will be held at CDC  Offices, East Pallant House at 2pm on Friday 11 November. Any thoughts to put further pressure on developers for a Southern access may be fruitless as the developers Miller and Linden Homes threaten to go to appeal. In their letter (viewable here) they state ‘an appeal will be submitted if there is either further deferral or refusal of the application at committee on 11th November

Cathedral Cities and Historic Towns Reports

The forthcoming September 2016 issue of the Chichester Society Newsletter includes an article by Society member Christopher Mead-Briggs entitled ‘Chichester must accommodate more housing – but how?’ In it he references the following reports which can be viewed by clicking on their titles:

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

They can be read on screen but the best way to read the second report is to print it out because of the size of the font and the illustrative material.

Notes on the Cathedral Cities and Historic Towns Report
1. The report was written by Lord March and Terence O’Rourke MBE in March 2015 and followed an appreciation of the forecast growth of Chichester and its planned expansion. This led to a much wider review of the impact on other similar cities and towns.

2. It makes key recommendations in a succinct and readable form in a booklet of just 6 pages.

3. It followed the publication in October 2014 of a very detailed report of 178 pages produced by Richard Bate and others for English Heritage entitled “The Sustainable Growth of Cathedral Cities and Historic Towns”. That report is on the English Heritage web here.

Notes on the Cathedral Cities in Peril Report
(This pdf file presents on-screen in a sideways format which requires use of a right click of the mouse when positioned over the text of the report. Choose “rotate” to turn the text clockwise – it requires three clicks to complete the rotation.)

1. This report is an important core document written by the leading architectural practice of Foster + Partners jointly with Terence O’Rourke MBE and runs to 59 pages. It outlines the need to provide good quality housing to meet the needs of a fast growing population and recognises the attraction of our historic towns as places to live and work. They explain that the challenge will be to provide for that growth in such high quality locations without damage to their intrinsic character. It was published in March 2015.

2. The authors have considered the similarities that the English historic towns possess, many having medieval city walls, narrow streets and a large number of listed buildings. They stress the need to encourage local councils to accommodate high quality design combining constructive conservation, regeneration and infill, and the use of compulsory purchase powers where necessary to combine old with new. They suggest connecting fragmented areas lying outside the core with good public transport. They encourage community led schemes.

3. Four Cathedral Cities are considered in some detail and are compared with four cities in Europe. Conclusions are reached and then tested using Kings Lynn as the example.

4. Their six recommendations appear at the end of the report and should be read across the pages because each refers to three issues: a) the supporting national framework for each recommendation, b) the implementation barriers and c) the proposed changes to policy.