Claims Bognor regeneration ‘being kicked down the road’ are denied

Fears that Bognor regeneration was being ‘kicked down the road’ in favour of bidding for money from a government funding pot have been firmly denied by the leader of Arun District Council.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 5:01 pm

During a meeting of the full council on Wednesday (March 17), councillors were supposed to give feedback on ten presentations from developers with ideas for regeneration projects within the town.

Instead the ideas will be considered during a seminar ‘in the very near future’ while a working party is set up to consider projects which could bid for up to £20m from the Levelling Up Fund.

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The £4.8bn fund has three themes – transport, regeneration and cultural investment – with a particular focus on coastal towns and areas of deprivation.

While Dr James Walsh urged councillors not to ‘look a gift horse in the mouth’, there was consternation from some, as getting a bid in by the June 18 deadline for the first tranche of money would mean delaying the Bognor work by two to three months.

Officers would simply not have enough hours in the day to work on both at the same time.

Grant Roberts (Con, Arundel & Walberton) felt the council should take its time to ‘get it right’ and bid for a later tranche of money.

He said: “We want to get this absolutely right and certainly not at the cost of kicking regeneration in Bognor Regis down the road again.

“If we haven’t got officer resources to do both, then I say we should be concentrating on Bognor regeneration and then looking at this and getting a really good strategy in place, really good ideas, and then put every effort behind it.”

Paul English (Con, Felpham East) called the situation ‘a travesty’ and wondered whether a delay would impact any of the proposed Bognor projects.

He and others suggested the council was trying to scupper an £80m scheme from Project Sunrise – formerly the Sir Richard Hotham Project – to replace the Regis Centre and build a 1,100-seat theatre on the Hothamton car park.

The plans were rejected by the council in 2017 before being allowed on appeal the following year – but the scheme went no further.

The deadline for work to start runs out on July 5.

Dr Walsh, though, vehemently denied this was the case and pointed out that if Project Sunrise did run out of time, they could simply apply again.

Incredulous at any arguments over the council receiving ‘free money’ from the government, he said: “It isn’t a question of either Bognor regeneration or this. The two can be complementary.

“The problem is that the government has set the timetable and, in my view, we need to get in quick and to bid.

“If we don’t succeed in the first tranche we can apply again later.”

Dr Walsh accused Conservative councillors of ‘playing party politics’ and not wanting the administration to ‘press ahead with anything that can produce tangible results’.

He added:  “This is not a question of either/or. This is a question of money that’s on the table now from the government and we need to get in quick to stand a real chance of getting up to £20m to benefit and get real regeneration going in both Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.”

After a lengthy debate, councillors agreed to set up a politically balanced working party to advise officers which projects they would like to bid for via the Levelling Up Fund.

Those preferences would then be brought back to either full council or the cabinet where a final decision would be made.