Saving sunken gardens is ‘dawn of new era’ for Bognor Regis

Francis Oppler, centre and Matt Stanley, right, and Martin Smith left, launching a campaign to save the sunken gardens last year.
Francis Oppler, centre and Matt Stanley, right, and Martin Smith left, launching a campaign to save the sunken gardens last year.

A decision to keep Bognor Regis’ sunken gardens for future generations represents the ‘dawn of a new era’, according to Arun District Council’s new deputy leader.

The Lib Dem cabinet has agreed to ditch a project put in motion by the previous Tory administration to redevelop the green space and nearby Hothamton car park.

A contract with consultants LUC to help draw up plans for a ‘pavilion park’ on the site of the sunken gardens will also be terminated.

Instead the Lib Dems have agreed to develop three options solely within the blueprint of the sunken gardens and Hothamton play area, which retains the split levels, before going out to consultation with the public.

The scheme will not include any residential development and the health centre will not be affected.

The new policy was agreed by cabinet members on Monday night (July 8).

Deputy leader Francis Oppler (LDem, Orchard), cabinet member for corporate support, said: “There is going to be a significant change of direction and I’m pleased to say that we as an administration are keeping an election promise that the sunken gardens will be kept for future generations and today we are going to put a stop to the last 45 years of this council ripping up Bognor Regis’s heritage. This is very exciting, this is the dawn of a new era.”

He argued that voters in the Bognor Regis area had made their views clear in May’s elections, where the Tories lost control of the district council for the first time in its history.

Cllr Oppler said there would be significant member and public involvement in drawing up the three options and criticised the council under the Tories for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on regeneration and ‘all we have had in return is a pile of paper’.

Matt Stanley (LDem, Marine), cabinet member for technical services, added: “This is a hugely positive moment for this council.”

He described how the council would produce three distinct options to go out to consultation and this was a ‘very democratic way to go about this’.

Dan Purchese (LDem, Beach), cabinet member for neighbourhood services, said they had more than just anecdotal evidence of significant dissatisfaction with what had been proposed by the Tories.

He added: “We have heard people say they would like it [sunken gardens] to be improved but retained in some way and I think this is a really positive step.”

Officers suggested a workshop would be set up with cabinet members to inform a project brief.

After the meeting, James Walsh, leader of the council, said: “We intend to provide an attractive space to be enjoyed by residents and visitors of all ages, creating a real asset to the town. Much consideration will be given to issues surrounding anti-social behaviour and we will be looking to address this in the design process.”