We owe debt to Civic Society

PAUL Dendle is an Arun councillor.

His website tells us that he is a successful businessman who lives in Burpham and wants us to be grateful to the government for preventing hard working families from paying too much council tax.

In the Observer he tells us that he wants us to think of him as transparent, but we must see the Bognor Regis Civic Society as opaque.

Really? For half-a-century I have watched my home town decline from a centre of commerce and entertainment to a faded corner of West Sussex. In earlier years it seemed to be controlled from a town hall in the hands of local estate agents, and in later years from a municipal centre in Littlehampton staffed by residents of Burpham. Destruction was disguised as development.

A sweetly playful seaside resort and shopping centre, with theatres and cinemas, had to accommodate massive clumps of flats, a hideous tower block, a concrete health centre, lakes of cars on asphalt, and a yellow-brick centre that is fronted by public conveniences and in hock to a brewer.

In the 1960s the town council arranged a public meeting to discuss its plan to build a facility in West Park to dump sewage into the sea.

When the town’s medical officer told me at that meeting that he had been barred from speaking against it, I realised that as an individual I was helpless. I gave up.

Now, though, thanks to the commitment of a few fellow townspeople volunteering to organise our Civic Society, I no longer feel alone.

They plan regular meetings throughout the year to which they invite specialist speakers on a variety of matters concerning the town, and to which I am invited to listen and, if I wish, to speak.

I pay a small subscription, and can vote to choose or reject its officers.

They organise polls to assess how we who live here think, and then work to let our opinions be known.

When we realised last year that to host the only Asda supermarket between Crawley to the north, Havant to the west, and Lancing to the east would bring a lot of shoppers to the town, the Civic Society took us to Littlehampton to put our views.

We did, and we witnessed councillors who live on the other side of the River Arun reject them. It was the Civic Society that helped us expose the flaws in a regeneration plan given a glossy hard-sell by both the developer and the council. It was the Civic Society that encouraged us to contemplate the loss of our ancient cinema to flat dwellers, and of our ancient pier to the seabed.

I would be better if Mr Dendle were to acknowledge the debt that councillors, as well as we townspeople, owe to Hugh Coster and Laurie Barnes and their team.

With them the prime minister’s Big Society becomes more than just a myth.

Would we had had them 50 years ago.

Colin Crouch,