Bognor Regis Herald — Civic Meeting low turnout : Arun Linear Park Criticised
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There was a low turnout at Tuesday’s meeting called by Civic, held in a room at the Alexandra Theatre. It had been called because of the by-elections in Marine and Hatherleigh Wards on 22nd February.
Following questions in this paper re the actual status of Civic, to which a local Councillor had been told by Civic’s Vice-chair “mind your own business” this was the first public occasion where that was clarified. Mr Coster explained this was the first occasion since the death of Laurie Barnes, its Chairman, that Civic had met, they had relied very much on his inspiration and now Civic only had member/public meetings “as and when” not monthly as before. The group’s executive committee meets monthly he explained. A minute’s silence was held for Laurie.
The meeting was chaired by Adam Cunard, Independent Town Councillor. Of the seven candidates only 3 were present. There had been apologies from both Labour candidates, who had other commitments, and from one of the Conservatives who had hoped to be present later but was delayed. The other Conservative had not replied.
Two Liberal Democrat candidates were present and an Independent. Rather than the usual procedure of an opening statement from each candidate, each of whom was given an opportunity to make a closing statement, Cllr Cunard launched the meeting’s proceedings by inviting the first question.
This was about standards in public life and about the commitment of candidates towards rehabilitation after people had served sentences. The general position of all parties is that they support the law that promotes rehabilitation, and all three candidates gave full endorsement. After the meeting Town Councillor Jan Cosgrove said that this was re-assuring but in direct contrast to allegations made to him by a non-Labour person hostile to their candidate in Hatherleigh that the Liberal Democrats had raised Labour’s candidate’s record on the doorstep and that a long-serving councillor had been involved in this. “There was one Hatherleigh Ward elector present at the meeting who confirmed these tactics and who clearly was not at all impressed. He told me he was due to meet Labour’s candidate the next day”.
It was not clear how many Marine Ward voters were present, and the Herald spotted quite a few people who were from neither ward, including a Liberal Democrat, and a Labour Councillor, 2 Parish Councillors, people from Felpham, 3 reporters etc.
There were questions around the proposed Linear Park by Arun, a matter of concern to Hugh Coster speaking for Civic, and he pointed out that the proposals by Arun suggested that 36% green space would be lost compared to the current Sunken Gardens and many car parking spaces. All three candidates present expressed concerns, Mr Coster pointed out the misleading way Arun had promoted its small-result consultation and that the scheme was preparing the way for Arun’s proposed blocks of flats.
The issue of Regeneration ranked as a high priority. Mr Goodheart said that in his view the focus on just two sites owned by Arun masked the fact that there was a need to look at the overall regeneration which covered other sites as well. Mr Oppler said he was not enthused. There was agreement that the Hothamton plans by Arun were redevelopment not regeneration. Also that the overall regeneration plans by Arun fell far short of the Town’s needs.
Another strong issue was that re consultation by councils especially Arun which was crititicised heavily for its style and use of consultation, and the practice of citing small surveys as ‘overwhelming support’ was condemned by all candidates. There also was strong opposition to Arun’s plans to move the seafront bandstand against local opinion.
In nearly all issues, the 3 candidates appeared of the same mind so there may not have been much for those who can vote on 22nd February to help them decide. At the end Mr Coster raised the success of the Xmas Ice Rink on the Place St Maur and asked for a vote on an idea that regeneration should include a permanent such facility. The vote showed roughly half in support, half not supporting (abstain or no) but he had prepared petition sheets for people to take away.
The 3 candidates summing up all committed to their tasks if elected. Mr Goodheart spoke of his deep commitment to the town and public record, Mr Oppler that he already represented the area as County Councillor and Matt Stanley of his love for the Town he to which he had moved.