At an electors’ meeting to object to plans for the Sunken Gardens to be regenerated, councillors have criticised the handling of consultation by Arun District Council (ADC).
Members of the public and councillors attended the meeting at the Jeneses Centre on Wednesday to object to plans for a Linear Park at the Sunken Gardens, set to cost £3.5 million.
The meeting was attended by 64 people, who voted in favour of the motions opposing the plans put forward by ADC, reminding the council that the park features in the neighbourhood plan and calling on it to abandon the current plans. Fifty voted in favour, none against and three abstained.
Bognor Regis Town councillor Jan Cosgrove, Labour, said: "This meeting has shown the strength of feeling and unity of Bognor people around this issue, and indeed the related wider issues around Regeneration. We will not stop here, this was the start of a campaign to make Arun councillors listen."
Controversy has surrounded the plans after members of the public said they felt they were being ignored by the town council in favour of the district council.
Since then, town councillors have upped the ante in the debate with many calling for the plans to be scrapped.
Matt Stanley, Lib Dem, a town and district councillor, said: "We had a huge turn out at a Bognor Regis Town Council meeting which called for our council to unite. I have been talking about the Linear Park for almost 12 months and the community, loud and clear, called for the town council to express their views and make their voices heard. That is what we are doing today.
"Unfortunately none of the district councillors have taken the opportunity to come and speak to you, but I have to add this isn’t the first occasion this has happened — around June we held a meeting based on feedback, calling for more consultation in with planning applications.
"Eighty five people turned up that day and we had no Conservative district councillors turn up. The town council requested a meeting with district councillors from Arun to talk about plans, no-one came. We asked officers to come to the town council and nobody came either."
He added: "Arun quite simply are not listening and are refusing to listen."
Councillor Jan Cosgrove reminded the room of the importance of the Sunken Gardens site and said the issue of Arun ‘not listening’ was ongoing.
He said in making the decision Arun ‘had not paid any attention’ to the public.
"When Arun first took that area there was a meeting like this and we told them we didn’t want them to take the car park. Arun ignored us. Now they want to take another third of the leisure space. I’m concerned that we as a community have lost precious community space. They have also told us that on the car park area they going to build flats, 95 flats. I’m afraid that does not amount to regeneration. This business has got to stop. Arun has admitted clearly two or three years ago the purpose of the flats was not regeneration, it was to create income for the district council.
"If we realise what’s going on, we are being taken for mugs."
The safety of the gardens was also called into question.
Town and district councillor Pat Dillon, who sits on development control at ADC, said he would be remain impartial in the debate, but spoke for ADC, saying: "The whole of that area at this moment in time is not family friendly.
"What Arun are trying to do is to make it into a family friendly area.
"The people that come to this town, the people that live in this town could go and spend time safely with their children. Just a couple of weeks ago there was over 800 needles taken from the park from the car park, from Fitzleet and also Hotham Park."
Speaking after the event, Kim Davis, Bognor Regis Community Gardener, said: "I have been gardening there for eight years and I have found two. This park does have a problem but it is being sensationalised."
Kim added another community gardener, of seven years, has only found one needle.