Bognor Regis Centre ‘upgrade’, is it Regeneration? We have some answers — you can judge for yourself
by Jan Cosgrove, Editor
Above — this side of the Centre will not be reclad
After announcing award of £12m+ for improvements to the Regis Centre building, Arun’s information was a tad short on the detail. So I asked some questions of Arun’s new Chief Executive who responded some weeks ago that a member of his staff would reply.
Here is the Q&A exchange as I received it:
I have been informed by a Cllr that the scheme will provide new facias on two sides, the northward end, and the side adjacent to the Place St Maur, plus new roof, but not on the southward end nor the side adjacent the car park. Is this correct?
A. The focus of the first phase of the project is as you describe. The existing ‘Pub’ represents a 2nd phase and lies outside of the scope of this particular phase of the project.
Above — this part of the site is not included!
Above — this side of the Centre will be reclad
The number of seats will be increased from 395 to ?500?
A. The number of seats is proposed to be increased to approximately 450 but the exact number will be determined when further detailed plans are prepared.
Above — less than 100 new seats proposed
What other changes are proposed?
A. The specific details will be set out in the planning application that will be submitted in due course for the works. However, in addition to the above there will be increased studio space, improved front of house facilities, gallery space, new roof and other related improvements.
Will the space occupied currently by Whitbread be included? If so, will Whitbread be moving, and on what lease/freehold terms?
Q. The future use and appearance of the Pub is outside the scope of this particular phase. Any discussions with Whitbread’s are subject to commercial confidentiality at this time.
Will Arun Arts be operating the theatre and allied space as now, and will their current peppercorn lease continue, plus their current NDR status?
A. Any discussions with Arun Arts are subject to commercial confidentiality at this time.
Will the car park be built on? If so, part or all?
A. The levelling Up Fund project for the theatre does not include the car park.
Are additional commercial units planned for the site such as retail either within the current curtilage of the theatre aspect or otherwise?
A. The intention of the proposals is to provide more floorspace to support the operation of the theatre. The details of any specific arrangements will follow the determination of any planning application.
[ie No ED]
What will now happen re the ideas and proposals submitted at the Council’s invitation late 2020 and considered by Cllrs in February this year so far as this site is concerned?
A. The proposals incorporate some ideas that came forward, whilst others maybe appropriate for latter phases.
Does the current LUF proposal mean that the Council will now no longer consider any of those proposals that would occupy the same space and more of the site?
A. The acceptance of the grant would mean that a scheme that sought to occupy the same space would not be deliverable. However, some of the ideas promoted in the various alternative schemes could still be potentially delivered.
If that is not correct, how does the Council intend to proceed regarding those other ideas, given that a working party was supposed to have been established last March but so far, this has not been implemented? [I took part in that consultation.]
A. Consideration is still being given to how
[er ….. how ‘what’? ED]
Regarding the theatre, I have asked the Chair of the Economic Committee whether the Council has had access to information concerning occupancy of seats for main auditorium productions in the years preceding pandemic restrictions. I am informed this was the case, so can you please provide that information in terms of % occupancy in the year immediately preceding those restrictions? How was this information used to justify expansion of seating, and what projections were made, if any, as to improved % occupancy given the nature and history of Arun Arts as an amateur/community theatre?
A. The Chairman responded to you question with the comment — “I can confirm that as part of the submission, data on existing audience participation was analysed along with market potential.” However this information is commercially sensitive and therefore wont be released. However, I can advise that the data was analysed independently of the Council.
I understand that the Leader of the Council may have stated on BBC TV that the LUF project could generate 3000 jobs? Is this correct? If so, can I please have some justification for this figure, or if not, what the expected job creation might be?
A. I am unaware of the specific interview you refer to. However, the estimated number of tourism jobs is in excess of 200 gross for the LUF bid as a whole plus there would be a number of other jobs created, for example through construction.
[Note, this estimate is for the whole LUF scheme which also covers Littlehampton. ED]
As will be seen from the foregoing, the proposed scheme will rule out consoideration of larger schemes for the site, including the Sunrise £90m Regeneration scheme for both this site and Hopthamton Car Park. One of the pressing questions must be, is Arun getting best value ofr this site? I am looking into this further. Also, can what is essentially a recladding scheme count as Regeneration? Will it bring larger audience3s to the theatre? Will more Visitors spending more money result? How many new long-term jobs will there be for this area?
To be honest and frank, this seems a lot of money to tart up The Regis Centre on two sides only, and unrealistic as a project to cover Regeneration needs for the next 50 years. This is selling our Town short….
Recent Freedom of Information request awaiting response:
Recently I also wrote to the five Group Leaders at Arun Council. None has yet responded:
Dear Group Leaders and non-aligned Members
Firstly, A Happy and Successful New Year to you and your Members, The Chairman and The Chief Executive and staff.
The pandemic we have with us …. but we all surely accept that for Bognor Regis, its Regeneration remains the long-term major priority. Whilst many of you will have made much of the Levelling-Up grant, for me it raises very serious questions about genuine Regeneration, as opposed to both piece-meal redevelopment and a recladding exercise on the Regis Centre site. This concern is shared by many. It is not the convenient political fix that matters to the Town’s future over decades ahead, even if this has its attractions for some amongst you.
As one of those who responded to Arun’s invitation in the autumn of 2020 to put forward proposals and who made presentations earlier this year, I feel we have all been treated with discourtesy. Having made those, you decided at the full March 2021 Council that a working party would be set up to these these ideas forward. However, not a sausage from you, the LUF proposal not only took precedence, they appear to have buried that process. No thought seems to have been given, for example, to the problem that its acceptance might prejudice superior ideas for the Regis Centre and thus other sites.
Nor do we have any real detail on what this recladding scheme will bring to the Town Centre, especially in comparison to the other schemes now lying neglected in the rush to land the LUF grant. How many of you have seen the full proposal sent by Officers to the LU Department? Quite a few of your members say not. I have tried to get copy of the full application, less commercially-sensitive aspects via FoI from the Department — no they say:
I didn’t even bother with the same from the Council ….. but I have recently submitted this FoI to Arun seeking details:
May I remind the Leader of the Council, and his predecessor as Opposition Leader, that I worked quite closely with them and Cllr Roberts in the submission of the motion in September last year which started the Presentation, at which time I myself had no intention to make a submission. Even at the point at which your predecessor as Leader of the Council was lauding this LUF bid (and who with the Independent Group Leader continued the reprehensible record of not even sitting down to talk with Project Sunrise), you were clear with me that the Presentation process must continue, and when you became Leader of the Council, you told me you were “stuck with it” as regards the LUF submission.
Fair enough, but surely all of you have a duty to look at these other ideas. I have been a supporter of Sunrise, but now I believe common sense says you and they and others should now sit down and TALK, to see if the £12m+ from LUF and those ideas and funding can work with this grant award. I would think the Department would be very sympathetic.
My own position now is to make those resources work for the Regis Centre as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ as per the Masterplan (eg larger multipurpose venue, hotel, seafront boardwalk, and other enhancements, plus parking plus luxury accommodation on Hothamton, hotel, new health centre etc on Hothamton, improved play area, parking).
I fully expect to be ignored/blocked as some have (and they know who they are). I am not interested in that, but surely you all should be consulting the people of this Town, instead of rushing ahead with a half-brained, lame cop-out. Arun did that last time in 1996, only just failing to eliminate the theatre — a one-off payment of £300,000 for a 50 year lease (equivalent to £6000 per annum rental for that key site. We ended-up with what we see now …. and you want to reclad that …..
I would want to see you tell the Officers, who gave you all this, that you are the decision-makers.