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Authorities planning to use statutory powers to take over the shoring up of Midhurst buildings

Following a meeting between the owners of the properties affected by the major fire in Midhurst, their insurance professionals, and the multi-agency recovery group on Wednesday 19 April, it has been established that the owners have been unable to agree a viable way forward to stabilise the listed building, which would allow the road to be reopened in a reasonable timeframe.

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This became apparent after the multi-agency recovery group were informed that once liability for the damage has been decided, it would take a minimum of 60-90 days to assess and finalise the claim to pay for the works. This is despite the owner's Structural Engineers, who assessed the building, estimating that the works could be completed, and the road could be reopened to vehicles, within six weeks.

The multi-agency recovery group includes South Downs National Park Authority, Chichester District Council, West Sussex County Council, Historic England, West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and Midhurst Town Council.

Given the legal obligation to preserve what is possible of the listed buildings and to address the significant impact on Midhurst and the surrounding area, its community and businesses, 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. The South Downs National Park Authority has already appointed a structural engineer to design a solution to shore up and protect the listed buildings. This will enable the road to open as soon as possible. The authorities recognise the need for urgent action and everything is being done to speed up the process.

Although an exact timeline cannot be given at the current time, a clearer indication will be possible as preparatory works progress. The agencies are moving as quickly as possible to get specialist contractors in place given that the owners are unable to.

This solution has been agreed by the multi-agency recovery group. The situation has been a very complex one, and public safety is paramount. Once the fa├žade of the building has been made secure and safe for the public, it will be possible to reopen the road (A286 North Street) to vehicles.

The multi-agency recovery group is producing a series of Questions and Answers to help answer some of the questions it is receiving from the community. It also explains the role that each authority has played within the recovery process. This will be published on Chichester District Council's latest news web page.

The document addresses key questions such as why the building could not be pulled down. As the buildings are listed and are of historical importance, it would be an illegal act for anyone to pull down the buildings without Listed Building Consent. The Structural Engineers involved in assessing the building believe it may be possible to save some parts of the buildings, and so the owners are legally required to try and save what they can of the buildings.

It also explains why free car parking has not been continued. The effectiveness of the free parking period was closely monitored. It became apparent that the normal car parking incentives that are usually in place were more effective in encouraging people to visit the town to shop and spend with local businesses. These help with turnover and capacity in the car parks, which Midhurst businesses require to ensure that as many people as possible to have the opportunity to park and support the town. This decision was made following feedback from local businesses and consultation with the Business Recovery Group, Midhurst Town Council and Midhurst Town Team. Customers can still access periods of free parking in The Grange car park, where they can benefit from two hours free parking per day, or in either the Post Office and North Street car parks, where they will receive an hour free per day. Customers will need to display a ticket or use MiPermit to obtain their stay (even during the free period). People can easily extend their stay by using the parking machines or using MiPermit.

Customers can still access periods of free parking in The Grange car park, where they can benefit from two hours free parking per day, or in either the Post Office and North Street car parks, where they will receive an hour free per day. Customers will need to display a ticket or use MiPermit to obtain their stay (even during the free period). People can easily extend their stay by using the parking machines or using MiPermit.

The agencies involved are urging people to support Midhurst by shopping and spending in the town, which boasts an excellent array of local and independent businesses, the vast majority of which are open for business and can all be accessed on foot from the local car parks.

All of the agencies involved are committed to doing everything they can to get the road reopened to vehicles as soon as possible and helping Midhurst recover from this dreadful incident. Regular updates can be found on Chichester District Council's latest news web page and social media pages.

Date of Release: Friday 21 April 2023           

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