Backers of an £80 million redevelopment of key Bognor Regis sites received a boost on Friday when plans were recommended for approval.
Arun District Council planners have given the support to the Sir Richard Hotham Project’s proposals, ahead of a decision by councillors next week.
But the scheme has drawn criticism from independent design consultants, whose report twice urged the developers to pull the plans.
In a report requested by Arun, Design South East express opinion that the scheme was ‘fundamentally flawed’ and failed to live up to the elegance of the structures of the firm’s 18th century namesake.
The project has robustly defended its scheme and said it would put Bognor on the map.
The report read: “There is an admirable ambition by the promoters of the scheme to bring new facilities to Bognor and to invest in its public realm.
“Such initiative should be welcomed but this ambition is not matched by the quality of the design of the proposals, which seem clumsy, confusing and in some instances inaccurate, in comparison.
“The proposals for the public spaces seem eclectic and confused.”
The scheme involves redevelopment of the Regis Centre, Hothampton car park and the Esplanade Theatre site.
At Hothampton, proposals include a 1,100-seat theatre, 48-bedroom hotel and conference facility, as well as two retail units facing onto Queensway.
Design South East argued a decked car park facing Queensway and Steyne Street where people arrived from the station and a ‘blank’ side wall were ‘serious urban design failings which will blight these streets for years to come.’
It said Hotham’s buildings in the 1700s had ‘elegance’ – but the approach had ‘not translated well’ when scaled up and were ‘unconvincing’.
Arun commissioned a report on the viability of the theatre.
The Theatres Trust supported the concept but was unable to fully establish its viability as the developer had refused to provide a full business plan on grounds of commercial confidentiality.
Recommending the approval, Arun planning officer Claire Potts said while the scheme ‘missed some opportunities to achieve a design that would achieve excellence’, the benefits would improve the viability and vitality of the town centre.
But she added the decision was ‘finely balanced’ and councillors could reasonably refuse the plans if they felt it was of ‘insufficient quality’.
Approval would not enable construction to begin as Arun owns the land. The council is exploring its own options for the sites.
In reaction to Design South East’s view, Mr Elliott said the comments were subjective.
He said the team had not had the chance to engage with the consultants to explain their scheme, while they had openly answered the trust’s questions.
The developer said if Arun identified issues with the scheme’s urban design, they could be addressed.
“The architecture is stunning,” he said.
“If it is not as contemporary as the panel would like it to be then that is a personal choice.
“What we are doing is creating a real destination for people to come to and we have had letters of support from people including the chief executive of Tourism South East. It is going to dramatically change how people view Bognor Regis.”
To read Mr Elliott’s reply to the scheme being labelled a ‘development’ click here