There seems to be a thread running through a number of stories in the Observer up to the edition published on March 14.
This is that Arun District Council (ADC) are not listening to concerns and objections about proposals for the redevelopment of Bognor Regis town centre, the closure of local leisure facilities, or the criticism of their proposal for a new town development between Lidsey and the villages of Westergate, Eastergate and Barnham.
In last week’s Observer (‘Garden city-style scheme for villages’), Karl Roberts, a senior officer of ADC, is quoted reassuring Nick Herbert MP and local residents no decisions have been made with regard to the new town development.
This is not strictly true, as in the same edition of the paper is a report that Arun councillors have nodded through a decision to support their planning officers’ recommendations that a bypass at Woodgate, with a bridge over the railway and the new town development, should stay in the local plan. This has happened in spite of the thousands of responses to the draft local plan last summer, and ahead of Mr Roberts’ statement that no decisions have been or will be taken on the new town development until May.
The issue here is that ADC seems to be determined to build a new road across open, productive farmland and a bridge over the railway near Woodgate crossing but cannot afford to pay for it.
This is in spite of the fact the A29 north of Bognor Regis is not part of the strategic road network, according to West Sussex County Council who have responsibility for Highways, and has not been for approximately 20 years.
Another of ADC’s abject failures has been not to obtain Enterprise Zone status for Bognor Regis, so no money is going to magically appear from county or national budgets to cover the cost of a new road, no matter what perceived or hoped-for benefit there will be to job prospects in Bognor.
The result is that the only hope ADC has of raising money for the Woodgate bypass is by doing a deal with Network Rail, who will save money from not having to maintain Woodgate crossing or upgrade the signalling on the line to reduce the amount of time the crossing gates are closed, and by approving development of a new town.
ADC have literally taken years to come up with a local plan and their incompetence has exposed the district to haphazard, inappropriate, unwanted, speculative developments leading to the loss of local amenities. For example, from the same edition of the Observer is the news the Lamb Inn in Yapton has been condemned by a planning inspector.
If Nick Herbert MP had not put the visioning study into the public domain, ADC would effectively have stifled any comment on this study and I suspect they would have presented it as a great set of ideas when it is not.
It also seems ADC are attempting, under grounds of confidentiality, to prevent any other ideas they are developing from entering the public domain before the next public consultation on the local plan. It has been reported previously the local parish councils representing the villages have been passed such documents to deal with in confidence in short periods of time, allowing little or no debate.
Why is all this important? Well, look at the current timetable for the adoption of the local plan. Note the word ‘current’ as ADC has shown themselves perfectly capable of rewriting this to suit their own desires. ADC are not going to put a new version of the local plan to public consultation until after the council themselves have voted it through as a publication version. This is the version they expect to submit to central government for approval; though they do not say when that submission will be made.
What ADC is anticipating is that the local plan will be approved on May 29 by councillors, some of whom may only have just been elected. Furthermore they expect this version of the plan will address or belittle all the criticisms raised about the previous draft and not leave any lingering doubts or raise any new issues. The fact they have commissioned the visioning study for the new town development shows they have no intention of listening to any alternative views.
ADC are effectively trying to lead the people of the district, who elected the councillors and who pay the salaries of the officers, blindfold into accepting a number of unnecessary and ill-thought-out developments. The only conclusion can be ADC are not working for us but against us.