Ambitious proposals to splash out more than £12m on transforming Bognor Regis into a thriving tourist destination were being debated by councillors last night.
More hotels, better eateries, and state-of-the-art sports facilities are all up for consideration, if the town gets the lion’s share of the local authority’s funding pot.
Arun District Council’s regeneration, leisure and tourism working group members were due to take a first look at a wide-ranging report as the Observer went to press. The draft strategy, drawn up by leisure consultants Colliers International, sets out radical suggestions for culture, entertainment and sport which could change the face of Bognor and boost tourism.
The council’s interim strategic director, Jaqui Ball, said hopes were high for a dramatic facelift for the town.
“When we employed Colliers International we asked them to be bold and to challenge us,” she said.
“The consultation report which has been produced sets out expectations for leisure provisions up to 2028. It sets out where we would want to be.
“Colliers International has spoken to a number of leisure providers throughout the district, like Butlin’s and Inspire Leisure, which could act as partners to help deliver some of ideas.
“What was really important to the exercise was to find out what people wanted, what is important to residents and what their expectations for future leisure facilities are.”
Several areas of improvement were suggested, including the need for more hotels, attractive places to eat and drink and better provision for cyclists and swimmers. Revamped cinema and theatre facilities also topped the list.
Colliers says the boost was needed because Bognor town centre is ‘weak’ in terms of the quality and range of retail.
“The image of Bognor, given that it is a major resort town, is poor. This reflects the reality of the experience,” it reads.
The report also suggested the town, apart from Butlin’s, lacked hotels, making it hard to generate more tourism income.
At the report’s launch, Cllr Gillian Brown, Arun’s leader, said it could act as a ‘catalyst for change’ and showed ‘a huge amount of opportunity’.
She said: “We want to push to enhance the whole district to improve it for residents and visitors alike, to which growth of leisure facilities is of great importance.
“What we lack in towns like Bognor Regis and Littlehampton are budget hotels. The building of new ones would help us appeal to a larger tourism market.”
Cllr Mrs Brown said existing sites could also play a starring role in ambitions for Bognor. “The report showed attractions like the Regis Centre have a future. The St Modwen scheme for the Regis Centre site would include a cinema and restaurants within that an upgraded Alexandra Theatre would have a bright future,” she added.
The idea of investing in the Picturedrome and turning empty space in the railway station or Reynold’s depository into creative studios to create a culture hub has also been explored by the consultants.
Colliers International believes the investment – with Bognor alone receiving just over half the £25m needed for the entire Arun district – could be delivered in five years. Arun’s chief executive Nigel Lynn said: “The consultants are confident the ideas could be delivered as part of a five-year plan. It contains a lot of ideas and projects residents would like to see happen, but think never would. We hope to change that.”