Priory Park revamp supported by residents

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A one-off opportunity to bring a lasting legacy to one of Chichester’s open spaces has been given the green light by residents.

At a public meeting last Thursday, people voted in favour of Chichester City Council applying for a special loan to pay for a variety of new facilities at the Priory Park – including new railings, a new pavilion for the sports clubs, and converting the current social club into a cafe.

Cllr Richard Plowman told residents it was ‘now or never’ and urged them to back the scheme as the park had received no major investment for more than 40 years. Without it, the park would deteriorate.

The plans come under the government’s Power of Wellbeing initiative, where parish councils can put forward projects not under their remit. Chichester District Council, which has responsibility for the park, currently has no spare cash but under Power of Wellbeing it would be able to take out a loan from the Public Works Board to be paid over 25 years, like a mortgage.

Cllr Plowman said: “As a city council we looked at all the projects we could be doing and thought of the best way we could benefit the most people in Chichester and be affordable. We thought the best thing would be to do work in Priory Park.

“It is the gem of Chichester. It really is part of why people come to Chichester – because it is a special place it deserves out attention and support.

“Looking at it as a person from Chichester and where I would put my money, putting it into Priory Park is probably better than anything else I can think of.”

After a presentation residents were able to voice their opinions. Some said it was a good opportunity to look at re-siting the pavilion, while others said they wanted to ensure the Guildhall area – one of the park’s jewels – was enhanced,

Chairman of Chichester City Centre Management Partnership Andrew Finnamore was supportive of the scheme. “The city council is going out on a limb on this. It is an investment to the city for the next 25 years,” he said.

“We must go forward and pick up those elements which have been left for the past 30 years.”

Resident Joan Long appealed to others to seize the opportunity. “This is really important. It’s really lovely and needs taking care of.

“We have a fantastic opportunity, please don’t throw it away because there is an expense. Be proud of Chichester and take care of it.”

Some residents were concerned about the cost, but Cllr Plowman said once accepted, the loan’s interest would be fixed. He said the city council had managed its finances well and was in a good position to afford it, and that it did not have to come out of an extra precept.

“We’ve got to do what’s necessary for the people and residents of Chichester to go forward. In the end it’s all our money whoever does it. The important point is we have a great deal of support from Chichester District Council over this and a new way of working together and I really believe we can work together.

“I think this is a one-off opportunity.

“We are not asking you to dig further into your pockets. It is a one-off opportunity for a new building, and the costs of borrowing are only going to go up. It is now or never.”

While most people supported idea, caution was also urged about the finances. Cllr Tony French said it would be an ‘albatross around the city’.

“Do we need new social facilities? Ideally yes, but CDC should be made to carry out its responsibility to do the railings. I don’t see why the city council should pick up the tab.”

And Cllr Anne Scicluna said: “We in Chichester must be prepared to know that it isn’t nothing on the council tax. At the moment we are going to be borrowing a lot of money over 25 years.”

Under the Power of Wellbeing finance would be available from the government’s Public Works fund.

The current rate of interest on a loan of £500,000 taken over 25 years at 5.34 per cent would result in the city council making an annual payment of £36,466.80 – six per cent of the total city council precept.

Income from the cafe and community lettings would help cover cost of repayment.