Open North Street, Midhurst

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23 May 2023 Day 69 following the fire Midhurst Businesses lost income to date: £7 million.

2023-05-23 12:25:26

Following the major fire at The Angel Inn hotel and neighbouring buildings on the A286 North Street in Midhurst, the Multi-Agency Recovery Group produced a series of Questions and Answers. Last updated 18 May these FAQs raised important points that required further investigation.  The results of this investigation have found that SDNPA have not sought real alternative solutions that will benefit the town as it emerges from this catastrophe.  Their actions have been obstructive in getting the road re-opened quickly and far from resolving the issue of blocking two main arterial routes through the county they have focused entirely on preserving what remains of the façade of the Angel Hotel.  

Who is responsible for the recovery process?

The recovery process is being managed by a multi-agency group, which includes Chichester District Council, South Downs National Park Authority, West Sussex County Council and Midhurst Town Council.  The multi-agency group has been termed the Recovery Coordinating group, and is chaired by CDC which has set up two sub-groups: an Environment and Site Clearance Recovery sub-group and a Business Recovery sub-group.

Where does South Downs National Park Authority fit in?

South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) is the local planning authority for the Midhurst area and so is responsible for working with the owners of the buildings and their insurers on assessing future options for the building under national planning legislation and policy. They have also been working with Historic England, as the national advisor for listed buildings, because the buildings are historically and architecturally important.    

Who has the authority to make decisions over listed Buildings?

Historic England are advisors and are consulted when Listed Building applications are made.  The Authority to give consent to Listed Building applications lies with the local planning authority in this case SDNPA.  

How bad was the damage to the Angel Hotel?

The owners of the Angel Hotel worked closely with the Authorities to find a solution to the road closure. Structural surveyors were instructed by the owners and advised that the remaining façade was structurally unsound and would need to be rebuilt in any redevelopment of the site.  A 3D survey was undertaken so that the facade could be rebuilt as it was. As a result, SDNPA was approached about demolition.  

Why did SDNPA not follow the advice of the Structural Engineer employed by the owners?

Historic England visited 20 March with a Structural Engineer and “believe it is possible to save some parts of the buildings”.  SDNPA preferred to follow the advice of HE.  

If South Downs National Park Authority can over-rule Historic England about keeping the facade, why haven't they?

The owners would have to formally apply for listed building consent to demolish the building.  SDNPA told the owners that this process can take many weeks/months. Any demolition work would then need to be carried out safely and so it would not necessarily speed up the ability to be able to open the road.  

Is it true that Listed Building Consent to demolish the building would take weeks/months?

It would take about 6 weeks but in an emergency such as this it could take less time. An application to demolish the fire wrecked Claremont Hotel in Eastbourne (Grade II*) was made on 23/12/19 with a target determination date 17/2/20. In fact, the decision date was in this case made 10 days earlier on 7/2/20.  

Claremont_v_Angel1.jpg

Why wasn’t an Application for Listed Building Consent to demolish undertaken?

SDNPA told the owners of the Angel Hotel that they would strongly object to any Listed Building Consent for demolition, and that any application would be time-consuming and ultimately be turned down and result in a delay in re-opening the road. Early in April, in a meeting with the Recovery Coordinating group a compromise proposal to apply for Listed Building Consent to remove just the top 10 foot of the facade and adjoining wall over the entrance to Angel Yard by grab (as used in the demolition of the Claremont).  This was also rejected despite the benefits that low level scaffolding could be erected thus speeding up the re-opening of the road.  

Why was SDNPA and HE so obstructive when there was a reasonable solution?

SDNPA state that shoring up the buildings “is not only the best option for the listed buildings but is also the fastest option to enable the road to be safely opened for vehicles in both directions.” Backed by HE, SDNPA took the position that the preservation of the Listed buildings took priority over the road re-opening.     

Are SDNPA aware of the impact of the road closure on the Community and Businesses?

Yes, but unlike the business owners in the town they aren’t facing bankruptcy. They do not have the mental stress that their actions are causing on the community, especially those still trapped in Angel Yard.  They are doing what they can to save the façade.   

Has SDNPA thought further than the preservation of the façade?

Can we learn from the Claremont Hotel which has stood derelict 3 years on? What solution would be best for the site not just for the mandarins in London? To include the façade with bricks that have been “fired twice” and therefore have no intrinsic value to any re-development let alone be approved by building regulations, the solution would be extortionate. Coupled to this will be a painstaking, overly time-consuming and unnecessary planning response.  This is likely to thwart any creative and viable alternatives.  

Should we not put some context to the decision making?

Midhurst High Street is recovering from a pandemic, with loans to repay and ever-increasing costs, coupled with an economic downturn there is little to persuade retailers to expand into the town. The road closure has sent the economic trajectory of this once prized market town into decline.  

Should there be some joined up thinking that combines preserving history and looking to the future?

Midhurst is aware that the Angel Hotel had a poor occupancy, so incorporating the façade into another hotel would not be an option. Even temporary parking behind a façade would be more beneficial than that. The rebuilding of the site will bring further disruption to the traffic flow through the town and rebuilding behind a façade time consuming and impactful on the market town.  

What does the shoring up work involve?

Support scaffolding must be designed and installed to the facades of both listed buildings to prevent their collapse. Support scaffolding has also to be installed to the flank wall of the Angel Inn adjacent to Angel Yard to prevent the collapse of this wall and to allow vehicular access into Angel Yard once again. Several chimneys at the Angel Inn also must be demolished (or removed down to a safe height) as they are currently at risk of uncontrolled collapse.  

This is a very expensive route to take, who will pay for this?

SDNPA, Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council have agreed to jointly fund the work to shore up the buildings, but ultimately, they propose to use all legal means to recover costs from the owners.  

Does that sound fair given that there was a reasonable and far cheaper solution proposed by the owners?

SDNPA are determined that priority must go to whatever efforts are required to preserve the buildings at whatever cost to either the businesses or public funds.        

What is the cost?

The cost of shoring up is eye wateringly expensive as priority is given to preservation; the chimneys are dismantled brick by brick. It is conservatively estimated that this is £250,000. It is hard to establish the real cost to the Community in terms of extra time spent travelling, and petrol, the mental cost of being separated from friends and family, of damage to the local roads.  However, research from Midhurst Businesses has shown that they are losing £100,000 per day in lost revenue.  If the road re-opens on 3 July (7 weeks after works started 15 May) the cost just to Midhurst businesses is just over £11m.  The true cost to the County will far exceed that.  

So is there a case for legal action to be taken against SDNPA?

SDNPA is an unelected delegated organisation. Clearly, they have acted in good faith wanting to preserve the building as guided by Historic England and thereafter re-open the road quickly. They have reiterated time and again that they have taken the only legal way forward. The demolition of the Claremont Hotel was also legal. However, the question is whether they acted appropriately in a balanced and thoughtful way to account for the undeniable wishes of most of the community in Midhurst and throughout West Sussex? There were other options available that they refused to act upon. Were they given too much free rein and were the actions of CDC as chair of the Recovery Coordinating Group appropriate? There are many questions arising and perhaps a public inquiry or indeed further investigation by a legal team is the only way forward.  


James Macgregor

Update 12 May - Day 66- Work due to commence

2023-05-12 16:01:30

The loss in revenue to local businesses as a result of the road closure now stands at an estimated £7-10million. Angel Yard Residents are still unable to get out. Everyone in the area is affected, many have lost jobs, businesses on the brink of bankruptcy but SDNPA are pleased to announce that work is due to commence on shoring up the facade of the Angel and that the road is due to re-open on 3 July.

The Multi-Agency Recovery Group of agencies that was set up with the remit of re-opening the road have changed their priority to saving the facade of a burnt out building that will no doubt stay in its current form for the next 7 years whilst no-one has any plans for the regeneration of the site. 

We are told that everything has been done to speed the process of opening the road.  Look what happened to The Claremont Hotel (Listed Grade 2) in Eastbourne following a fire. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7rsjsyhttps://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7rsjsy

 

The road re-opened in days. Please share this.

 

 

James Macgregor

Update 29 April

2023-04-29 11:53:35

Why is the road still closed?

Let’s do a timeline

March 16-19th Fire and subsequent clearing up

April 3rd CDC announce agreement from all parties to open road by May 15 latest. SDNPA request the owners to remove the chimneys and shore up the buildings. This is backed by Historic England.

April 19th SDNPA step in with statutory powers to take over the building.

April 27th Protest by the people due to lack of action by the Authorities to do ANYTHING.

Did the Protest achieve anything?

Yes it did, it alerted the SDNPA to do something URGENTLY as they are the ones in control. We all know it’s now another burnt out ruin in Midhurst (we are good at this here!) and if it were down to us we would have it knocked down and the road re-opened in a couple of days. But they say that their hands are tied as it’s a Listed Building and they are acting as fast as they can to save the façade etc, etc   

So here is a seemingly implausible scenario:

What if…….after the fire a Recovery Group was set up to get the road opened as quickly as possible. Each Authority put forward their position based on their responsibilities. The group collectively had no leader and didn’t question what it would actually take to open the road until there was a Protest that hit the news.

The outcome of the Protest clearly demonstrated that the remaining “pile of bricks” albeit covered in a late Victorian Stucco render was holding the town to ransom as it was deemed more important than the livelihoods of the people who live and work here.

Let’s go back to the timeline April 3rd when Historic England supports the removal of the chimneys. Why not more? Why didn’t SDNPA ask H.E. whether the building could be de-listed.  Is the answer either A they didn’t think to ask, or B H.E. should have volunteered to de-list.  So, who is Historic England and are they aware that their Listed building is ruining the lives of everyone in the town.

Historic England (officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government based in London and sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Lucy Fraser MP is the Secretary of State for Culture. We don’t even know if they are aware that the road is still closed or that the people in Swan Yard are still blocked in or that the businesses are going bankrupt.

If it enabled the road to be reopened immediately, wouldn’t they agree to the high-level removal of the façade whilst the chimneys were being taken down?

If there was no other way to quickly get the road reopened, wouldn’t they agree to the facade being demolished on the condition that it would be re-built if necessary later?  

OR HAS NO ONE ASKED? Perhaps the following should talk to each other get the road opened and save some money

Tim Slaney Director of Planning SDNPA, Louise Hughes Business Officer H.E., Trevor Beattie CEO SDNPA, Andrew Wiseman General Counsel H.E.


James Macgregor

Update 26 April 2023

2023-04-26 15:47:33

The total incompetence shown by the multi-agency group is staggering.

Some 40 days later this is all that they can report:   "we have appointed a structural engineer who is currently finalising a plan for shoring up the damaged buildings. This week we are liaising with and visiting on site with potential specialist contractors who could then carry out this very specialised work. Our aim is to appoint a contractor to begin work as soon as possible. Please be assured that progress is being made. Unfortunately, we cannot give a date on when work will commence until we have a contractor in place, but we will provide regular updates on this work as soon as it becomes available."  

It is clear that no one has suggested that the lives of the people in the town and the businesses that make up the commercial structure are more important than the fact the buildings are listed or what part of the listing is more important. The multi-agency group is no more than a protective layer of ineptitude to protect perhaps one person, be it Louise Hughes from Historic England or Tim Slaney from South Downs National Park.  We have already established that in situations like this (ie Claremont Hotel in Eastbourne) that the moral duty to the Community is greater than the legal obligation to maintain a historic building.

In a bid to save what is left of the crumbling façade of the hotel which was a listed building Historic England and the South Downs National Park authority are killing their town. They have effectively starved the local shops pubs and cafes not just in Midhurst but in the surrounding area of trade. These businesses who are still recovering from the impact of COVID, high inflation and increased fuel costs are now being subjected to 70-80% reduced income. These misguided authorities are hiding behind a legal obligation to save what is left of a listed building at the cost of bankrupting the entire town.

I have now received a response to my original letter from Gillian Keegan (which gives no further information than that being sent out by the local authorities) and sent her a link to this petition and invited her to join us at the Protest tomorrow. 


James Macgregor

Update 24 April 2023

2023-04-24 12:48:45

Statutory Powers Imposed 21 April

The South Downs National Park Authority has taken the decision with the support of Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council to step in and use statutory planning powers. A  structural engineer has been appointed to design a solution to shore up and protect the local buildings. However this has all come too late for many businesses.

Whilst Gillian Keegan greeted this news in a Facebook post saying “today I'm pleased to say we’ve had a breakthrough… this is a fantastic result which I know will be a huge relief to the Midhurst business community. Thank you to everyone who's helped us find a solution!”

“This should all have been done on day one following the fire. Such incompetence by the Local Aothorities should lead to compensation” was the reaction of the local business owners.

This really changes nothing. “3D scans of the façade have already been undertaken, it can be rebuilt later if that is required”

 

Pull It Down Save Our Town

As local businesses buckle under rising costs and diminished income, the future looks bleak. At a Business Network meeting last Thursday evening the desperation amongst small business owners was palpable. Emotions ranged from outright anger to tears. It is hard to imagine the impact this has had. A petition signed by over 100 business owners attending the meeting to open both lanes of the road without delay has already been submitted to all parties  

Desperation is culminating in a mass protest on Thursday the 27th of April to pull down what is left of the hotel and open the road.  

 

Come and support the businesses and residents of the Midhurst area and join our peaceful protest on Thursday (27th April) at 10am on North Street. Help empower Midhurst people to make decisions for Midhurst.


James Macgregor



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