An opportunity to create a wildflower oasis in Chichester

John Templeton explains the background and how this proposal could become a reality.
The first phase of the Whitehouse Farm housing development (or Minerva Heights as it’s now called) comprises 750 homes and is well under way. An outline planning application for a second phase with a further 850 homes was submitted in July 2022. This includes what the developers call a Northern Country Park on two fields opposite Whitehouse Farm, and immediately south of Brandy Hole Copse Local Nature Reserve (see map). It’s proposed these fields would not be developed for housing but remain as Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace, or SANGS in planning jargon. This approach compensates for the loss of greenspace on the remainder of Whitehouse Farm.
The Chichester Society has made a formal objection to creating a Northern Country Park, because this proposal is misplaced. Country Parks was introduced in the Countryside Act 1968 for the development of ‘honeypot’ recreational facilities on the outskirts of London and other major urban areas. The intention was to discourage people from driving into the surrounding countryside. A good example is Queen Elizabeth Country Park between Horndean and Petersfield which provides a large car park, café, gift shop, tourist information and toilets as well as cycleways and guided walks through the forest and to Butser Hill.
Local Nature Reserve 
Brandy Hole Copse (formerly named East Broyle Copse) is a 15 acre area of woodland, on the southern side of Brandy Hole Lane. Part belongs to Chichester District Council and the rest to two landowners. The public are allowed to visit the Copse on foot from several access points on Brandy Hole Lane and Centurion Way cycle-footpath. Years ago, most of the Copse was impenetrable but a hurricane-force storm in 1987 brought down many trees. A public meeting in 1989 called by the District Council and Sussex
Wildlife Trust led to the formation of the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group, now the Friends of Brandy Hole Copse, to care for it. After years of work including enlarging two ponds and creating footpaths, the Copse was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 2001.
Up to the present time, Brandy Hole Copse (BHC) is the only designated Local Nature Reserve in Chichester District. It’s managed by the Council through the BHC
Management Board. Members include council officers, District and City councillors and residents of local bodies including the Chichester Society. A long-held wish of the Friends is that the two fields immediately south of the Copse should be planted as wildflower meadows and included within an enlarged Local Nature Reserve. These fields and the Copse were also cherished by the late naturalist Richard Williamson as being of major importance for nature conservation. As a tribute to Richard, we reproduced an evocative article he wrote for the Chichester Observer in May 2013 and published it in the September 2022 Newsletter. He asked whether Cicestrians cared about this green space? We and the Friends of Brandy Hole Copse certainly do!
At the time of writing, the two fields are still part of Whitehouse Farm and the larger field is still farmed.
The owners have for many years allowed people to walk along the borders of both fields and this has been widely enjoyed by those visiting Brandy Hole Copse and Centurion Way. The developers’ proposals give no details of how the country park would be created but show paths and cycleways wandering across the fields with clumps of trees and play-on-the-way facilities.
Expanding the nature reserve 
We think these two fields should be brought under the management of Brandy Hole Copse Local Nature Reserve and given priority to nature as is the case with the Copse itself. The paths around the borders of the fields should be well surfaced for use by buggies and wheelchairs for access into the Copse and Centurion Way. A cycleway could also be provided from Old Broyle Road (B2178) to Centurion Way. The newly planted meadows would be protected as nature is allowed to take over.
The District Council’s updated Local Plan designates Centurion Way as one of a series of wildlife corridors connecting Chichester Harbour with the South Downs. The Copse sits astride this corridor with the new wildlife meadows adjacent to it acting as stepping- stones for nature as climate change gains momentum.