COMMENT: Bognor regeneration, what next?

Our comment SUS-161019-110852001
Our comment SUS-161019-110852001

A chance to redevelop Bognor Regis to the tune of £80million was rejected yesterday - but was it ever that simple?

Make no mistake. The town’s regeneration is decades overdue.

Such a huge investment seemed, on the face of it, too tempting to refuse. A glimmer of hope in Bognor’s regenerative void.

But approval of the Sir Richard Hotham Project’s planning application yesterday was never that straightforward.

The elephant in the Arun District Council chamber was the authority itself. The landowner.

With the key sites in the council’s ownership, approval would not have represented the regeneration residents crave.

A green light for the plans would have been little more than a bargaining chip for the project and its shareholders.

Arun twice confirmed it did not support the proposals in its capacity as landowner.

To renege on two full council votes would have represented an extraordinary about-turn.

Instead, Arun will later this month continue progressing its own ideas for the sites.

The council agreed in July to fund feasibility studies into development work at a cost of £260,000. Would this chunk of taxpayers’ money have been wasted if Arun changed its position?

As part of its investigations, Arun asked residents to submit their own visions.

The wide range of submissions, along with the council’s own work, showed Bognor need not rely on the Sir Richard Hotham Project as its last hope.

The Observer made a conscious decision to profile every significant scheme.

We felt readers should know about all of the ideas - not just the thoughts of one.

And ahead of yesterday’s vote, we published a balanced article, asking a representative for and against the scheme to make their pitches.

We also highlighted the concerns of Design South East, commissioned by Arun to provide an independent assessment of the application. The organisation’s points were picked up on by many councillors during the debate.

We will continue to scrutinise future plans.

But now attention must turn to Arun, which holds all the chips.

It has resoundingly rejected the Sir Richard Hotham Project. In the words of development control committee chairman Dawn Hall, Bognor deserves ‘perfection’. It must now deliver an alternative which fits the bill.