Decision on business centre plans for Salt Box site delayed

Warehouses planned at the Salt Box site
Warehouses planned at the Salt Box site

Concerns about drainage and flooding have led to another delay in plans for a business centre on the outskirts of Bognor Regis.

A hybrid application for the Salt Box site off the A259 was deferred by members of Arun District Council’s development control committee.

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With the applicant keen to get to work – particularly on offices and a warehouse for Warburtons – the issue was considered as a matter of urgency on Wednesday (June 5).

But members had been given scant few hours to study new drainage information for the site – which was only received by the council the night before – and many had major concerns.

When asked for her opinion, the council’s drainage engineer Laura Gibbons said she had had ‘significant concerns’.

So much so that her initial advice to planning officers had been that the application should not be approved until there was ‘evidence that there was adequate provision for surface water drainage’.

Ms Gibbons added that the late information received the night before contained ‘no calculations’ meaning she was still unable to advise whether the drainage would be good enough.

With additional concerns about the possibility of pollution to the nearby nature reserve, she said: “There are substantial issues which still need to be overcome.”

A similar application for the site was approved in December 2017 – but the plans were revised when the developer failed to secure multi-million pound grant funding from the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership.

Those changes saw the loss of the pub, hotel and gym which had been planned, to be replaced with a car showroom and business units, including an Aldi store.

There appeared to be some confusion among members about what could and couldn’t be taken into account when making their decision to defer the application.

Many of them raised concerns about traffic and transport in the area but were shouted down by others who said those issues had already been discussed and decided with the 2017 application.

But when Jacky Pendleton (Con, Middleton-on-Sea) asked for clarity, Neil Crowther, head of planning, said: “This permission would essentially superceed the previous one.”

He added: “This isn’t over and above the previous permission, this is instead of.”

When Mrs Pendleton persisted and asked if the concerns about highways issues were valid, she was told she was ‘moving away from the reason for a deferral’ and received no answer.

The committee rejected the officers’ recommendation to delegate the matter to Mr Crowther for approval, once some financial issues and drainage conditions were agreed.

He in turn warned that there was nothing in the planning report which would support a refusal based on highways, noise or disturbance issues.

He added: “We believe that the drainage issues can be satisfactorily resolved and we’re asking for a bit of time to do that in consultation with your chairman and vice-chairman.

“I would be very, very concerned if the committee refuses this application on any of those grounds because I don’t think any of those grounds would be robust or stand up to any appeal.”

It was agreed that the application should be deferred so that members could receive and consider more information about the drainage at the site.

Martin Lury (Lib Dem, Bersted) said: “I don’t want to force delays to Warburtons but surely the most important thing is the local community and the drainage issue.

“Because if we approve this and the drainage is not suitable for the site, we’re going to cause so many problems for Shripney and beyond.

“So we’re doing exactly the right thing and we must not be made to feel guilty because somebody wants to start trading tomorrow.

“It’s got to be right.”

The application could be brought back to the committee at the next meeting later this month.