Bognor beach access issues to be addressed by new working party

A working party will be set up to try to settle a long-running attempt to make Bognor Regis’ beach more accessible.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 9:48 am
Wheelchair users unable to reach the sea at Bognor Regis

This was suggested during a meeting of the environment and neighbourhood services committee in September, after councillors turned down all three beach access options.

They were either deemed too expensive, failed to make the beach fully accessible, or could have had implications for sea defences.

On Wednesday (November 17) the newly named environment committee agreed to set up an eight person working party, with six spaces for Arun District councillors and two for Bognor Regis Town Council’s access group.

The working party will have no decision-making powers and will last up to 12 months.

Argument over membership

An amendment put forward by Matt Stanley (LDem, Marine) to add an extra member to the working group and make Amanda Worne (LDem, Yapton) the chair, was voted down.

Instead, membership will remain at eight and the chair will be elected at the party’s first meeting.

Ms Worne did not agree that an extra member would prove problematic.

She said: “I’m a member on the access group and there are at least two wheelchair users; there’s a lady who’s had a hip replacement; and there’s another gentleman who has mobility issues.

“It would be really important to have their perspective because they all have different mobility issues.”

Councillor Worne is a wheelchair user herself and has been on the beach ‘twice in six years’ which she said ‘is a really big hardship’.

“We’re only asking to increase by one person,” she added.

“People in wheelchairs don’t have the same exact disability that other wheelchair users have.”

But several committee members agreed that more members would make the working party ‘unwieldy’ and could hamper progress.

Andy Cooper (Con, Angmering and Findon) said:  “If you make these working groups too big, they become unwieldy.

“There are lots of people that have disabilities that want access to the beach, I’m sure. So where to draw the line?

“Too many opinions come in and ultimately you make no progress.”

Alison Cooper (Con, Rustington East) added: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that people want and deserve access to the beach and people with disabilities want to be heard.

“I just think it could be very difficult if you’ve got a lot of emotions going and we need to look objectively at the way to actually get it.”

David Huntley (Ind, Pagham) said there was ‘no point in having a working party that is far too large’.

Matt Stanley, who put forward the motion, said: “It’s not complicated, we’re voting on nine or eight- not hundreds.

“We seem to have the idea that eight people are perfectly rational and can sit around the table and have a conversation, you add a ninth and it turns into some sort of apocalyptic nightmare.

“We need more community representation on the group.”

But committee chair David Edwards (Con, Felpham) had the deciding vote and did not support an extra member.

“We’ve been talking about this since before I even came here, and I’ve been here ten years,” he said.

“We need to get down and start doing it and the more people we’ve got sat around a table, with a different opinion, is not going to be conducive to making that happen very quickly.”

Mr Edwards added that guests can be invited to working party meetings to widen participation.

Potential users were not previously consulted over access because there were ‘still too many options on the table’, according to council officers.