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New chairman of Chichester Harbour Trust targets 'reversing the decline' and saving the National Landscape treasure for the future

The new chairman of Chichester Harbour Trust has put 'reversing the decline' at the top of his agenda, continuing the work of his predecessor.

By Elaine Hammond, Chichester Observer

Nick Backhouse, 61, joined the trust three years ago and took over as chairman from John Nelson when he retired in May after 11 years in the role.

Nick has a business background, working in consultancy and finance, particularly in the leisure industry. He was managing director of David Lloyd Leisure in Hatfield before moving to West Itchenor and is now chairman of Giggling Restaurants, as well as a senior independent director at Loungers.

Nick said: “The Harbour is such a treasure and has such scale. It is unique but it is under terrible threat and declining. I think the Harbour has never needed the Trust more than it does today for help tackling the issues.

“I want to get to a point where we are reversing the decline. That is more viable as more people are talking about it and focused on it. It is really good it is getting that attention and has become a focus in the election of the local MP.

“Activism in recent years has shone a brighter spotlight on it, as has the new Local Plan and the Management Plan the Conservancy is working on. It’s also testament to the impact that we have had and must continue to have.

“A lot of work has already been done. With the Harbour Summits, we've all the right institutions working together and so are in a better place but we really need to put our shoulder to the wheel and put in much more hard work to reverse the decline.”

Nick discovered Chichester Harbour somewhat by chance and has built a passion for it, with a desire to protect it for generations to come.

Looking for the Long Island feeling he and his wife Audrey had while working in New York, before they were married, they looked for something similar they could access when they later set up home in London.

A neighbour invited them to Bosham Hoe, a place they had not heard of at the time. They arrived in the evening, so saw little, but as soon as the next day dawned, they were wowed by Chichester Harbour and knew this place was special.

That was 25 years ago and they soon started visiting for weekends. Later, when they had three young children, they realised it would be the perfect place for them to grow up. The family moved to West Itchenor 15 years ago and loved the water – they took up sailing, Nick went back to rowing, which he enjoyed at university, and Audrey was regularly cold water swimming.

Nick said; “We are so lucky to have so many great sites in this area and the Harbour is a big draw. We live right on the Harbour and the children have grown up on it.

“It is a privilege to be chairman and I was delighted to be asked. It came at the right time for me, as I have done some things locally which were coming to an end.”

Previous roles include helping to raise funds for Chichester Festival Theatre as a trustee working on its ambitious £22million redevelopment, launched in 2012 to mark its 50th anniversary.

Raising money is an important part of his role as chairman of Chichester Harbour Trust, too.

Nick explained: “We as a trust have got a very important purpose in the Harbour. We care for it by buying land to protect the habitats and look after the wildlife, and have involved the community in running several of our sites.

“We need to raise the money to do that, find the sites and then manage them. We have now grown to the point where we are one of the biggest owners of land in the National Landscape.

“With that and the dedication of the people before, it is also our role to speak up loud and clear for the environment, acting both locally and nationally. We are a national landscape and we need national solutions, and we need to be vocal on those issues, both here and in Westminster.

“This is a very important time to be getting the message across about what is needed to protect the environment.

“The threats are many but broadly speaking climate change and rising water levels, inappropriate housing development and water pollution. We need housing but we need it in the right place, and we need more local involvement on where it will go. The Local Plan is a great first step, it means we have brought it back into the hands of the local constituencies rather than being developer led.

“We need investment in infrastructure, especially sewage. In general, we need more weight given to the environment. The nitrate run-off from agricultural land requires monitoring and work needs to be done to reduce that.”

Chichester Harbour’s Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status was downgraded by Natural England in 2021 to Unfavourable Declining and Nick has make it his target to reverse that decline.

He said: “We want to make sure we are good ancestors. There is no short-term fix, we need long-term thinking.”

Nick Backhouse (right), with John Nelson (left) and Nicky Horter (centre) by Paul Adams, Harbour Images

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