First look at concept of improvements to sunken gardens in Bognor Regis
New drawings show what Bognor Regis’ sunken gardens could look like next year and the public will be asked for their say.
The designs were discussed during a meeting of Arun District Council’s environment and neighbourhood services committee on Thursday (September 23).
This autumn, Bognor Regis will have its say on the designs during a public consultation and it is hoped the project could be completed between June and September 2022.
Designs have been prepared to a budget of £230,000 and initially sought to change the play area, add a new southern entrance, refurbish planting borders and review seating.
Land Use Consultants (LUC) have drawn up three designs: option one would see the play area redesigned, option two would relocate the play area but option three – the consultants’ preferred option – would refurbish the play area, introduce a sensory area, restore the sunken gardens and improve the southern entrance.
LUC said it believes option three would best meet the intended scope of the refurbishment whilst delivering ‘best value for money’.
Concepts for improving entrances were also presented to the committee with two different options on the table.
One would see a cut through introduced to the bunded area but could be expensive, say LUC. Option two would link the route up with Waterloo Gardens by partially removing a wall and introducing ramping to the south west corner.
LUC described the current layout as ‘compartmentalised’ and aims to make it more accessible throughout and visible from the outside.
The consultants also hope to speak to Bognor Regis Community Gardeners – who help to maintain the site – for their views on planting.
A sensory play trail could feature with wildflower planting and existing play equipment could be reused and repainted for ‘low cost’ improvements.
With works taking place over the summer, Grant Roberts (Con, Arundel and Walberton) asked if anything could be done to open the gardens sooner.
He said: “It seems such a shame to open this after the summer.”
LUC said that some sections of the park could potentially be opened up during the works.
Paul Bicknell (Con, Angmering and Findon) asked if more could be done to make the area wheelchair friendly and other councillors expressed dissatisfaction at the current plans to improve accessibility.
The consultants said introducing a ramp from the south would be ‘costly’ and could detract from other parts of the scheme.
Steve Goodheart (Arun Ind, Hotham) said: “We have heard about the prohibitive cost of creating a southern entrance, but from day one we talked about the need for creating a southern entrance which would be far more accessible and far more welcoming than existing entrances.
“This is obviously something that should be first on the list to be introduced.”
Amanda Worne (LDem, Yapton), herself a wheelchair user, said: “I would really appreciate the same opportunity to enter the park – in the same way that everybody else does – so that I feel the same importance as a citizen and not a second class one as someone with mobility issues.”
James Walsh (LDem, Beach) said the current designs could ‘discriminate against disabled people’ who may have to take the ‘long way round’ to access the park.
Dr Walsh proposed that LUC take another look at the designs and try to incorporate a ramped, southern entrance. This was unanimously accepted by the committee.
Opposition members and Conservatives argued over the project budget.
Council leader Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East) previously said the project has not been reduced in scope, but instead came in under budget.
He explained that a total of £500,000 was previously approved to refurbish the gardens but the current project has come in somewhere closer to £300,000.
But opposition councillors claimed it is a ‘half job’.
Dr Walsh said: “We’re now building to a much-reduced budget estimate which is going to lead to, as has often been the case in the past, something that is less than fully desirable for Bognor Regis – this is a reduced job that’s not going to deliver.”
His views were reflected by David Huntley (Ind, Pagham) who called for a ‘decent budget’ to be used.
Francis Oppler (LDem, Orchard) added that a southern entrance was ‘pivotal’ to the project.
He explained: “Without that southern intervention, I think it’s half a job; You’re not making it easily accessible for all members of the community.
“Back in January, we originally allocated £500,000 so, within that, the southern entrance is absolutely doable.
“The money was allocated, it’s there, if we’ve got the will to do it, it can be done.”
But Mr Roberts said the Conservative administration is ‘getting on and delivering something for Bognor Regis’.
“Let’s not get into political disarray, let’s get on and deliver a really good park for Bognor Regis’ visitors and tourists,” he said.
Committee chair David Edwards (Con, Felpham East) said he would not let the project descend into ‘back stabbing, point scoring or anything of that sort’.
LUC also confirmed that the paths would not be resurfaced as part of the current designs but could be looked at again.
Several councillors called for a permanent café site to be incorporated, as in option three, but LUC said this could be ‘beyond the budget of the scheme’.