National Park planners approve 400 homes

ENVIRONMENTAL groups and many residents were shaken on Monday by a decision of the South Downs National Park planning committee to permit the construction of more than 400 homes near Midhurst in the heart of the Downs.

In July the committee turned down three applications from the same developer, the City and Country Group, to convert the old King Edward VII Hospital into houses and assisted care accommodation, and “Friends of the National Park”, the South Downs Society, along with other local groups, expected the park planners to do the same thing with two further proposals on Monday.

The committee approved the plan on the condition the developer agree to tougher controls to protect the wildlife and natural beauty of the area, covering light pollution, tree cover and protection of ground nesting birds.

“This will secure the unique buildings and gardens of King Edward VII, an Arts and Crafts style hospital which closed in 2006, for future generations,” said Andrew Shaxson, committee chair.

“The new application guarantees that the key parts of the restoration of the historic listed buildings and gardens will be done before building begins on the market housing which will fund the renovation.

“‘We recognise the concerns of local people and will work with local communities to plan the development of the wider area and their communities.

“For example we will ensure that the developers work with them to mitigate the disruption of the building period on local communities.”

Said the South Downs Society’s planning officer, Steve Ankers: “We’re shell-shocked.

“We’re very fond of the old sanatorium buildings and keen that they should find a new use.

“But, if it takes the construction of over 400 houses in and around the hospital to make the restoration financially viable, then ‘no thanks’.”

Committee members, who voted five to three in favour of the amended scheme, said they had been persuaded to back the proposals by a number of minor improvements and some re-phasing of the work.

This was aimed at ensuring progress on the restoration and conversion of the listed sanatorium buildings into apartments before the completion of the 230 new houses in the grounds.

“This was a great site for a TB sanatorium because it was so isolated – which makes it just the wrong place for a new housing estate, miles from services and public transport, and right in the heart of the national park,” said Steve.

“And there must still be a huge doubt that this conversion will ever prove viable, however many new houses they build.

“Only recently the society publicly congratulated the park planning committee for making such a positive difference – well, they got this one very wrong.”