RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Development plan is abysmal

Back in 1951 there was a proposal to build a holiday camp on the seaside meadows at West Wittering adjacent to East Head. 126 local residents formed a company and bought the land.

Their objectives were the preservation of the land for the safe and peaceful enjoyment of the public.

The use as a mainly summer-time car park for the masses has ensured that. Apart from the building of a small café and toilet block the place is much as it was in 1945 at night and also off-season.

Now there is talk in the air of a proposal for a hotel.

Oh dear. Can this be serious? I have known and loved the place for over half a century and the thought of development is abysmal to say the least.

I have set out all my objections in a report for the company of what is to be lost.

The one km meadow is part of the 11 kms of gaps in the whole 80kms coastline between Portsmouth and Brighton where a person can walk in natural surroundings and feel the freedom of the sea and sky uncluttered by human development, noise and intrusion during much of the year, unbounded by seawalls or houses and a beach that almost resembles those of the West country.

The meadow is part of the Solent Marine Complex which gives a range of protections under UK and EU law to Chichester Harbour as a component.

First of all, it is an SSSI: one of the top UK sites of scientific interest, under the mantle of Special Area of Conservation.

The SAC is for the adjacent East Head and its 100 species of flowering plants and rare insects, as well as the Snow Hill creek (Crab Pool) tidal inlet, which are part of the second largest areas of Atlantic Sea Meadows in S and SW England.

Then the car park has the protection under the EU Habitats Directive of Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds.

Large flocks of brent geese depend on the car park for six months for food and rest, and this helps keep them off the farmers’ crops. The car park has also been used in the past by flocks of migrating ruffs, a wader that is Red Listed (of high conservation concern) and which is declining.

Years ago I have also watched flocks of white-fronted geese drop onto the meadow at night on their journeys between the Thames Estuary and Avon flood plain.

Several hundred golden plover use the meadows in winter and need quietude. 3,000 of these summer upland waders were counted on adjacent Thorney Island in 2009 which is part of their shared winter refuge. The list goes on.

As for the landscape: well, it has a symbiosis with its ten mile reach northward into the South Downs. From there, at the top of Kingley Vale, Britain’s leading biologist and countryman Arthur (later Sir Arthur) Tansley, in 1911 declared the view to be the finest in Britain, with the wide plain, Isle of Wight, and the channel coast as border.

This incomparable view is now only spoilt by the block of flats in Bognor. It is threatened by nearer developments today around Chichester.

To have taller buildings on the coastline is sacrilege when at present this sublime scene has the cathedral as its compass point. For the financial gain of the few would be the loss for the many. West Wittering grass car park is a strategic defence system as buffer zone for one of the south Coast’s finest ecological treasures: East Head.

It must not be further developed or the inevitable over-run of people into the dunes will ruin it.