A FORMER mayor and current councillor has said that Chichester BID and the district council are in denial about what is happening to the city centre.
Cllr Richard Plowman, a city and district councillor, is the current town crier and was mayor of the city in 2005/06 when he says the city was thriving.
He said: “I remember going out as Mayor on Wednesdays and greeting coachloads of visitors from Wales and all over the country coming to Chichester for its market and fine shops.
“The array of high quality independent retailers attracted what my mother used to call the county set and they made Chichester their favourite destination.
“Luckily, the festival theatre thrives and also New Park Cinema, although evening car park charges surely went against the vision of promoting our evening economy.
“The result of this is a 20 per cent reduction in footfall despite the increase in housing at Graylingwell, Rousillion Park, Barnfield Drive and other developments. The main reason people visit Chichester is to go to the bank or building society
“So why has the city centre declined more than elsewhere? Most people believe it is due to the high rent and rates as Chichester was rated as one of the best places to live. The ever-increasing car park charges, including Sunday, and selective evening car park charges have all had an impact given what is now a much less attractive Chichester offer.
“The district council is now budgeting £300,000 less income in car parking due to the economy.”
Cllr Plowman believed the need to improve the streetscape of Chichester had been identified in 2005 and many thousands of pounds on consultants had been spent but nothing delivered.
He continued: “The evidence of this can be quite clearly be seen in the strip of test paving half way up North Street and the appearance and disappearance of the inappropriate monolith signs.
“The old uneven pavements regularly take the toll of visitors. Many have stopped coming because of the fear of falling over. The shopfronts are mainly tired and in a poor condition.
“The city council initiatives, such as cleaning up the Cross, Chichester in Bloom and the Heritage Street lighting, have helped but the overall trend is towards a tired city centre. Even the good Christmas lights couldn’t cheer up the dull Christmas shop displays.
“Opportunities of a large area coming up for development near the city centre are rare and the Southern Gateway Master Plan was awaited with much expectation of revitalising this rundown quarter but most of all to rid Chichester once and for all time of the twin railway level crossings.
“Determined not to let this once in a life time opportunity pass by, a new group called Gateway Plus was formed, adding to the Southern Gateway Masterplan the missing elements of a major focus of the forum and hotel, a multi-purpose large space for conferences, exhibition and performances incorporating a new railway station, a transport hub and replacing the level crossing with a technically, achievable underpass suitable for small vehicles and single decker buses.
“We all need to get behind Gateway plus as it is currently the only hope for Chichester to turn around the city we all loved and want.”