LETTER: Greatham church is worth saving

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I write regarding the proposed redevelopment of a very small part of West Sussex, near Greatham church. The church is tiny. Part of its magic is that it has no water and no electricity. It is a simple, silent, humble place of worship.

The area around it has a similarly timeless feel. There is a country lane, a manor house, some abandoned farm buildings, oak trees, and fields running down to the River Arun. That is all there is. It is Greatham: as one of your recent correspondents put it, “if you can find it”.

Recently there has been trouble over the farm buildings. It is a planning dispute. There are proposals afoot to convert and extend the buildings into a contemporary country home. It would be a wonderful place to live inside: gym, cinema, and if wanted, views, peace and quiet. But perhaps not such a good place to look at. Those whose job it is to watch over the landscape and its buildings are ranged against it. They include English Heritage and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. They even include Horsham District Council’s own strategic planning department. None of those are based in Greatham. So the objections cannot be dismissed as “nimbyism”. There are wider and more important issues at play. That said, local voices are ranged against it too: the local district councillor and the Wiggonholt Association among them, along with many people in the local hamlets and villages. Interestingly, none of those voices are opposed to all development of the site. They have no ill feeling towards those behind the development (quite the contrary). What they do object to is unsympathetic development. So they are opposed to the plans now before them.

What should be done? You cannot always please everyone, but any property developer in this situation has a choice: to build something broadly welcomed, or broadly disliked. It is often the way, in the quiet corners of the English countryside, that buildings which respect local architectural idioms in their construction and design tend to be broadly welcomed, and those which do not tend to be broadly disliked. I think it probably is possible to build a beautiful building in 2014: one which, although new, soon knits slowly, quietly and modestly into its surroundings. There are such things as local materials and it is possible to use traditional designs and techniques to build something with a certain respect for what has gone before, and which none but an actual nimby could object to. However, as anyone who has looked at the plans for this development will know, the current proposal is very far from that. The developers have simply not listened to the concerns of the bodies who have no vested interest other than to preserve what is beautiful in our surroundings. The proposed design is so out of keeping with those surroundings, and those surroundings are so timelessly beautiful, that this has inevitably become a test case for what sort of built environment we want to leave behind us, whether we can take any pride in what we have left, and whether being in a National Park should mean anything at all. When the West Sussex we all love is lost, it will be lost not by vast new estates, but one Greatham at a time.

NEIL HART

Rackham Street, Rackham