Bognor Regis car park site to be remarketed ‘to explore options’
A Bognor Regis car park will be remarketed but its future use remains unclear.
The site off London Road is currently used for car, lorry and coach parking and was earmarked for student accommodation with some parking retained and enhanced access to Hotham Park.
However, at the onset of the pandemic, the successful bidder withdrew from the scheme and later offered less money for the site. This was then rejected by the council.
Councillors have now agreed to remarket the site.
The decision was taken as an ‘urgent item’ during Arun District Council’s economic committee on Monday (July 26) and this was met with criticism from some members.
Opposition leader Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Beach) said: “I’m at a loss to understand why it’s an urgent matter. It has been around for months, it could have been put on the agenda beforehand.
“Nothing has changed in the last 24 hours or even seven days. Why has it suddenly been put as an urgent item without any notice to members?”
Matt Stanley (Lib Dem, Marine) also questioned the urgency of the issue.
Economic committee chair Andy Cooper (Con, Angmering and Findon) said that, if the lorry park had not been marked as an urgent item, the next opportunity to discuss it would be in October.
He said: “We need to move things forward, this council needs to move forward with items like this. I have deemed it necessary to bring this forward to expedite time.”
Grant Roberts (Con, Arundel and Walberton) said that, without marketing the land, it was not possible to find out its worth.
He said: “Since the site has not been actively marketed, this council is not able to receive any funding or formal offers and gain an indication of the value, or potential value, of land.
“At a time when finances have been stretched, I think it’s important that this council explores options. This is a sensible approach and should not be controversial.
“It’s not a good decision in my mind to sit around for three months and think about what we can do.”
Tony Dixon (Ind, Aldwick East) called the last-minute agenda item a ‘political ambush’ and claimed it left him with ‘only two minutes to think about it’.
He said: “This is piecemeal development, which the Conservative Party have been speaking against for the last two years. I support the idea of letting different sites go forward at different paces but of course there is some hypocrisy involved here.
“We as a council have to generate income for the future. We need to develop commercial strategies – we can’t go on milking the taxpayer forever. Of course, selling off the family silver puts a little bit of money in the pot but, once you’ve sold land, it’s gone forever.”
Mr Dixon raised the suggestion of the council developing the land itself for housing and said the matter required ‘deeper consideration’.
In response, David Edwards (Con, Felpham East) said: “I don’t see this as selling it off, because we’re not going to sell it off. We don’t know, that’s why we’re testing the market.
“If the best thing for this council is to sell this land to a developer to build 400 homes, we won’t know that until we’ve tested the market.”
Council officers said the London Road site will be marketed for any and all potential uses, but this was criticised as ‘too wide’ by several committee members.
Dr Walsh said: “It’s an open market brief, therefore this could come in for housing, office use, student accommodation, entertainment- indeed for any purpose whatsoever. Is that the intention?
“I think that’s an extraordinarily wide and open brief to market a piece of land. We ought to have some idea what this council wants to do.”
Richard Bower (Con, East Preston) said he supported an ‘open-ended brief’ and this view was shared by Mr Cooper who said options for use should be kept ‘as wide as possible’.
Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East), leader of the council, criticised the previous Liberal Democrat administration for declining an offer to develop student housing. He said: “The previous administration was going to sell this for student accommodation and declined the opportunity to do so. Their preference is clearly that they don’t want students in Bognor whereas we’ve had a more open-ended brief.”
But Mr Stanley said the cabinet decision not to take that scheme forward was based on an officer recommendation.
The economic committee agreed to market the site with no fixed use with six votes for the proposal and four against.