Alison Barker (Retired Barrister-at-Law) and Chair of the Pallants Residents’ Association Sub-Committee on the Response to “The Vision for Chichester” prepared on behalf of the Residents Association the following response which is extracted from the original letter of 28 February to Stephen Oates, Economic Development Manager
The Pallants Residents’ Association comprises 50 member households in the very heart of the City of Chichester and our voices have not been heard. As an Association of owner/occupiers with a vested interest we are responding, perhaps somewhat strongly, but we think fairly, to your proposals for the rejuvenation of our beloved City, as set out in your document “A Vision for Chichester”.
Is it, we wonder, a complete coincidence that other boroughs (such as Wood Green, London), are using this word ‘Vision’ as a formula for change. We feel we are entitled to know to what extent your views have been influenced by those other entities who have no pride in the past. Make no mistake, we do not intend to allow Chichester City centre to become a sort of ‘satellite’ area – cold, ‘plastic’ and pretend – in short, a city devoid of its present charm and antiquity.
It is glaringly obvious that you wish to drastically alter the City and its confines but you remain, it seems to us, extremely short on substance. Your document (excluding the myriad of pictures) seems to suggest achievement of your aims – your vision for the future – can be accomplished simply by closing everything: the centre, the car parks, the roads, and by cheapening the Cathedral area. We have seen plans drawn by HNW ARCHITECTS for a large semi-circular development at the rear of the WSCC offices. Why do you not mention this in your City plan? We demand the right to know what is under consideration.
Somewhat worrying is that you seem to have taken no account whatsoever of the poor business climate we are experiencing in this country. You keep saying you want to attract businesses, particularly for the young, but what of the small shops fighting to survive at the present time (South Street for example). If these shops close, the City centre will become a desert, and however you ‘toss the coin’ so to speak, no amount of students and up-to-date technology on their part would reverse the situation. With regard to the University Student population (and we shall return to this topic), your document is quite clearly biased in favour of them. What about families? You barely mention them in your Vision. The word ‘family’ appears just once! The quality of other educational establishments is the driver to families with children. What about serving their educational needs?
Quite frankly, we are not convinced that you produced a fair and neutral survey in this regard.
In any event, you have no idea what will determine whether a student stays after graduation and you seek, in our view, to prejudice the lives of those, such as us, who have greatly supported and financially contributed to the upkeep and well-being of the council in general and the City in particular. Your wishes in this somewhat one-sided document are no more and no less than ‘hope over expectation’. Furthermore, you infer, indeed you seem to state on occasion, that the students will be supported by cheap accommodation (whether within the city or just outside). We rhetorically ask where is this money to fund the younger element going to come from? Frankly, you are clearly putting ‘all your eggs in one basket’ – the student basket – and this is an enormous risk is it not?
Please do not misunderstand – should you not pay due diligence to our observations we will seek legal redress if allowed (with consequent negative publicity to your goodselves).
At this stage, and before detailing our objections, and sometimes acceptance of your points, we want to emphasise that we are not averse to change. We feel, however, that your drastic and insensitive view of what is necessary is in danger of altering forever the fabric of our ‘gem’ of a city. Let us remind you, with respect, that the revered antiquarian, Sir John Betjeman, described Chichester as “The most attractive Cathedral City in England“ emphasising that its charm lay in the fact that it hadn’t been “punched about with” (i.e. modernised, and modernised badly.) Those of you who are sceptics of this reminder written many years ago, should take stock, however, of its deeper meaning: significant alterations are not only costly, but also cannot be undone!
We think that your proposals, almost in their entirety, are deeply flawed. We expect an invitation to further discuss matters at a later stage and to be fully consulted throughout.
We remain deeply upset that you did not have the courtesy of consulting with us prior to
publication. We and other City Residents’ Associations were set up and running before you
concluded your discussions with students and the like. Perhaps you would be kind enough
to explain this omission and we await your written response.
We have a number of objections to raise and will take them in an order not necessarily of
importance to all our members. You will understand, no doubt, that in an Association such
as ours everyone has a different view on what they wish to put forward first. It is clear,
however, that points 1 and 2 are fundamental in our thinking and there is some overlap,
objection–wise, in the other categories.
1. Closure of the 2 Car Parks – Baffins and Marks & Spencer
- We cannot emphasise too strongly our concern over this topic. As mentioned in our opening statements, shopping is the ‘life blood’ of this City. Close the car parks and you effectively close the shopping; close the shopping and you shut down the City; shut down the City and you cut down funding. Your idea to have ‘out of city parking’ simply does not add up to a realistic answer. Moreover, you plainly haven’t thought the idea through. Nowhere in your document do you address the issue of how families parked outside will travel into the city centre. How much extra will they have to pay to do so? This is a ludicrous suggestion and, as one of our members wrote, “Chichester is not Oxford!”
- You have never really answered what you will do with the seized car parks. Frankly, another market is simply not required and will waste yet more money on your part. What is deeply worrying – and the thread running throughout your Vision document – is the nightmare thought of low-cost housing (or however politely you choose to phrase it), for students and the like. We do not need to provide housing of this kind in some concrete-type jungle within the historic City itself. It is pure and utter nonsense to suggest otherwise. You have repeatedly avoided answering this question and, frankly, we consider this somewhat dishonest.
- We are advised, in any event, that you would need planning permission for any such development and we put you on notice immediately that we would wish to see any such outline application in existence now, or that contemplated in the future. We want, as stakeholders, involvement in the pre-planning process.
This matter will not go away
2. Residents’ parking and access for Residents and their Visitors
- We note that you have rarely mentioned the Residents in your documentation. It is as if we were an ‘irritant’ to your plans and the ‘least said, soonest mended’ philosophy applies on your part. You have not polled the view of any of the Residents’ Associations within the City who are directly affected by the Vision. As mentioned previously in our Response we consider ourselves to be a very important part of Chichester’s make-up and our contribution is clearly essential. We wish to know immediately what your plans are to safeguard our residents’ rights – in particular with regard to parking, parking for our visitors, and access to our houses (by us or our invitees.)
- At this juncture, we also mention the completely unacceptable access given to HGV– type vehicles in the narrow and ancient Pallant streets. You must be aware of damage both to the pavements and local houses (known as damage ‘to street furniture and fabric’). Again, no mention in your Vision papers. Is this because this is a negative point and your whole concern is financial gain?
The Residents are tired of being exploited and we ask you how you intend to tackle nuisance, pollution and damage in this regard? The lack of an overall ‘joined-up’ plan for delivery vehicles to businesses, existing and proposed, is extremely worrying and should be treated as a priority.
3 Students and the proposals to expand night life generally, but particularly in regard to their interests.
We have previously addressed, in some detail, our concerns over your partiality for this group of individuals. Our Association is overwhelmingly against the idea of an increased and noisy nightlife within the City centre. Are you not aware that every Friday and Saturday night the police patrol South Street for drunkenness. How can you possibly want to increase this problem? We suggest that some reality should enter your considerations, and the sooner the better!
4 Southern Gateway Re-development
- To the best of our knowledge our members do not take great issue with the redevelopment of this site. We would, however, mention that alteration to this (and the adjacent canal area) has been mooted for some years and little, if anything, seems to have been done as per your previous wish list. According to the Southern Gateway Master Plans formal approval was scheduled for December 2016. Why were the details not included in the Vision document to avoid speculation? Again, we feel the need to stress, and strongly, that quality building work is of the essence and, if you haven’t had the money to fund past promises how do you intend to finance this large venture?
- A number of our members wish us also, whilst on this topic, to ask if you could find some sort of solution with regard to the continuing, hugely disruptive effects on traffic flows on the ring road arising from the level crossings.
5 The Cattle Market Car Park
We are irretrievably drawn to the question of the Market Car Park.
- You want to build ‘cheap’ housing and have made clear that this area is a possibility. Again, we re-iterate our objection to low-quality, poorly designed and constructed accommodation. We would welcome seeing plans showing a more sympathetic approach which complements the quality of our Georgian and Victorian heritage.
- If you construct new homes on this site – unless you divide the available area, you are taking away the only large public car park space left in the City and its environs. What are your plans to replace it? Why is it not included in the Vision document?
- Again, have you really considered the consequences of your actions? Some of our members wish to remind you that there is active building going on at this very moment, or about to start. You yourselves mention, and we quote: “Around Chichester, 3,500 new homes are planned for construction over the next 15 years …’ . Are you about to tell us that the car park mentioned herein is the venue for this expansion? One of our members has informed us that planning for Centurion Way has been passed and building is imminent.
- Insofar as a ’hidden agenda’ is concerned, we return again to the question of unnecessary student housing within the City itself. We have learned that great expansion is expected for the students within their main university site of Bognor Regis and that they are not in the ‘desperate’ type need you insinuate in your Vision. Again, facts seem to have become somewhat twisted with regard to the younger generation. Please think again before you carry out permanent unsightly alterations to the fabric of the City.
6 Pedestrianisation of the area between the Cathedral and the Department Store in West Street
We believe that a large majority of our members are inclined to accept this proposal but with limitations:
- We do not agree to the idea of felling the trees. Aside from the fact that these are of some age they provide, we are told, something of a defence to excess water in bad weather and flooding. We consider them attractive as a backdrop to the Cathedral. (See p. 13 of your Vision on the importance of trees)
- We do not understand, and object to your wish to take away colour from the area such as the flower beds. Please remember that this is a part of the City regularly seen by tourists and students at lunchtime.
- Similarly, we are appalled that you think it sensible to replace decent wooden benches and substitute them with plastic. In truth, we as residents have seen little if any vandalism to said seating (as mentioned in your document) but, if replacement is essential, we respectfully suggest attractive stone/concrete-style benching (as you have placed elsewhere in the City), is preferable. Plastic is simply not Chichester!
- We are unclear as to your proposals of re-routing the buses should you go ahead and pedestrianise the said area. This must be something you have considered and should have been in the Vision document for comments. We feel entitled to know the anticipated new routes.
- We cannot believe, as set out in the Vision, that even this area is to be considered as a market venue. This is simply unbelievable!
7 World – class digital connectivity (as described in the Vision)
Let us now keep our response simple and direct. We welcome anything that will improve the poor service a number of us have at the moment. May we suggest that improved technology should be the first initiative to flow from your wide-spread ambitions and this would help to attract the new businesses the City needs.
In conclusion, we have been somewhat critical in our appraisal of the ‘Vision Document’. We make no apology for that as our prime concern is to conserve our beautiful city and not cheapen it in the way envisaged by you. We remain sceptical over your professed plans for change, the reasons for them and the issue of funding. Our overwhelming desire, as you will no doubt have fathomed, is to protect our rights, property and a decent life within the city we love. We have not clarified every issue (you have given us, in effect, very little time to do so) but we hope we have set out in the main the so–called ‘bullet points’ with which we take exception.
We think that your attitude is wholly disingenuous and that you are effectively hiding much of the truth about your plans from us and fellow residents of Chichester. We feel that because of the paucity of detail within the first draft of the Vision time should be given for the results of the Consultation to be incorporated into another draft which should then be put out for further consultation.
Alison Barker, LL.B (Hons), (Retired Barrister-at-Law)
Chair of the Pallants Residents’ Association Sub-Committee on the Response to “The Vision for Chichester”