Bognor Regis Herald — Town Regeneration Planning Inquiry fixed for February

The long-awaited Government Planning Inspector Inquiry into the refusal by Arun of planning permission for the ambitious privately-funded £80 million Sir Richard Hotham Town Regeneration scheme is set to start on 20th February provisionally next year, The Herald has learned.

The scheme’s proposers lodged an appeal against a very controversial planning refusal by Arun’s Development Control Committee earlier this year. Very unusually, the Councillors involved ignored very clear advice from their Arun Planning Officer to grant permission, taking a fairly risky route by challenging the scheme on subjective design grounds.

Proposed SRH Regis Centre multi-development

The Herald analysis is that this route was taken by the Councillors as a way out after a delayed decision-making process caused by the fact of their own officer’s recommendations. When Councillors do this in planning terms they are obliged to give reasons for their decisions. We understand that senior Arun officers may have brought in an external consultancy to find reasons the councillors could quote.

Esplanade Grande

However, the design grounds quoted as reason for refusal are subjective at best, and it will not help Arun’s case that the SRH architect, Neil Hammond, has used a design concept based on his award-winning design for Esplanade Grande just a few dozenmetres along the seafront.

Speaking to SRH’s spokesman, it is clear the design principle is based on a ‘recollection’, as it were, of the Edwardian buildings that used to exist, and very relevant, the design of the proposed 1100-seat William Blake Theatre and Entertainment Centre recalling the heady days of the former Kursaal/Rex Theatre which had 1200 seats.

Kursaal/Rex

This Inquiry will come at possibly an awkward moment for Arun’s own regeneration proposals which the Council has estimated will require £50/£60 million which it neither has nor knows where it will be found. SRH, however, already has the £80 million for its scheme in place. With just 14 months from February to the District Council elections in May 2019, this issue is set to feature quite prominently in those.

proposed SRH William Blake Theatre, Hothamton, £26 million

What will not be allowed to influence the planning inquiry is Arun’s ownership of the two sites, Hothamton and Regis Centre, and on the current basis, it is quite possible that the SRH appeal will succeed. If that happens, Arun will face serious questions about Best Value. This requires the local authority to justify its decisions which would follow planning permission being granted to SRH by the Inquiry Inspector.

The Herald has taken a clear and consistent view on the available options/schemes proposed. SRH is the ONLY one that can show full design. taken to a planning application in detail, available funding etc. Until and unless other options in such detail and funding emerge, it is the ONLY show in Town. Arun’s vague scheme is just that, no worked out designs, no detailed planning application, no identified funding. And there is no reason why Arun’s scheme has to be preferred. Surely, we say, the planning process has to be completed, and then the best value scheme for the long term, with the best outcomes for the Town economy, employment, amenities, visitor appeal etc, that is what should be taken forward.

At this time, SRH is far ahead of the vague, low-vision Arun ‘musings’, and we are not at all surprised that there appears to be confidence in the SRH camp that they have at least a 75% chance of succeeding with their appeal.