Three options to make Bognor Regis beach more accessible are dismissed

Plans to make Bognor Regis’ beach more accessible have been shelved by councillors for now.

Monday, 27th September 2021, 2:43 pm
There have been multiple calls for measures to make the beach at Bognor Regis more accessible

At an environment and neighbourhood services committee meeting on Thursday (September 23), councillors turned down all three options as they were deemed too expensive, failed to make the beach fully accessible and could have implications for sea defences.

Eight different options were considered at a meeting of the council’s cabinet in November to make the beach easier to access by both able bodied and disabled visitors.

Potential users were not consulted because there were still too many options on the table, said council officers.

Bognor Regis Beach. Pic Steve Robards

The aim was to have a functioning solution in place by summer 2022 but instead, councillors agreed an amendment by Samantha-Jayne Staniforth (Con, Orchard) to set up a working party.

She said: “We have to be very responsible in the way we use residents’ money and I feel none of the options deliver what we set out to do which was to get people to the beach who couldn’t do so under their own steam.

“We don’t have a flat Baywatch beach – we have a five to six metre tide difference on the beach. It really isn’t a simple case of just putting in a ramp.”

Dr James Walsh (LDem, Beach) said it is ‘important to get this right for people with disabilities’.

Council leader Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East) was also present during the meeting and agreed none of the options were ideal.

“Option 4a is not proper beach access, it’s shingle access,” he said.

“The worst thing we could do is spend half a million pounds to find that in a bad storm it gets wrecked.”

Steve Goodheart (Arun Ind, Hotham) said the issue had been discussed for so long that he had ‘given up on anything happening’.

He said: “The shingle blocks off any view of the water, which is prohibitive.”

Independent councillor David Huntley (Pagham) called on the committee to recognise the importance of shingle for maintaining sea defences and the effect that moving shingle for beach access might have.

He said: “I’m not against the idea of beach access but be very careful how you do it.”

This was echoed by Dr Walsh who said sea defences had been made taller and had become a ‘real worry’ in the face of rising sea levels during his time as a councillor.

The committee voted in favour of Ms Staniforth’s amendment which would see beach access discussed at a meeting in November as well as seeing group leaders establish a working party on the issue.

This means it is unclear when new access could be installed.

What are the options on the table?

The three solutions presented to the committee included buggies and matting, permanent decking, or a machine which would ferry passengers to the shoreline.

However, a report stated that the matting is unlikely to be used unaided and, when used in tandem with the buggies, could cost £35,000 with a further £70,000 a year required for staffing, storage and upkeep.

In addition, the shingle would have to be ‘graded’ using machinery to make it less steep.

Option 4a would have seen permanent decking installed at the beach, to supplement the decks east of the pier.

This may not allow access to the sea itself but would allow a ‘better view of the sea’.

Around £25,000 would be required for the decking, which was the preferred option before the committee meeting.

The final option, option 5, could see a machine ferrying passengers to the sea – but this would only operate in summer, at low tide.

Such a machine does not exist yet, so would have to be created as a bespoke solution at a high cost to the council.

An alternative, option 7, could see a fixed timber ramp near to West Street at a cost of £550,000.

What are the constraints?

Balancing sea defences with access is a barrier to the project, as outlined above, and the height of the beach varies on a daily basis.

To complicate matters further, Aldwick, Bognor Regis and Felpham lie within a  Marine Special Protection Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest lies to the west of the pier.

Cost is also a factor, with expensive equipment and running costs which could be rendered useless when the shingle or tide is high, after a storm, or if there are no staff available to help with operation.

A report to the committee said that wheelchair users may be unable to use some of the proposed solutions with the risk of being cut off by the tide, getting stuck in clay or sand, or wheelchairs becoming damaged by sand and salt water.