PLANNING expert Louise Gibbons holds the fate of a £90m Bognor Regis regeneration scheme in her hands.
Ms Gibbons chaired an informal inquiry on Tuesday into the Sir Richard Hotham Project’s ambitious proposals for the town.
The government planning inspector is expected to reveal her decision within two months after developers appealed against Arun District Council’s rejection of its plans a year ago.
The project aims to redevelop the Regis Centre and Hothamton sites with far-reaching plans. They involve retail and leisure boardwalk, flats and a hotel to replace the Regis Centre – keeping a theatre for the community charity Arun Arts – and a 1,100-seat theatre, flats and another hotel at Hothamton.
The scheme is expected to create 204 jobs once it is built, with 92 more in suppliers and provide £7.2m added value to the town’s economy annually.
But Cllr Phil Hitchin, who chairs Arun District Council’s Bognor Regis regeneration sub-committee, said: “How will the design of the buildings attract visitors to Bognor Regis?
“The flats and the buildings on the site (Regis Centre) would lose the connectivity between the town and the seafront, where we get a lot of visitors walking up and down who go into the town centre.”
A late change had seen the ground floor flats in the initial plans replaced with more retail and leisure.
Colin Pullan, the project’s design and economic regeneration specialist, said: “The ground floor retail and leisure uses will be attractive for people to walk through. At the moment, they go past the back of the town hall, across the car park and come to the back of a short stretch of a landscaped bund before they get to the seafront.
“The arcade which is being proposed in the development will be a new link through to the existing arcade. I fail to see how any reasonable development will stop people getting to the seafront.
There will be a lot more footfall across a greater time period than there is at present with the car park.”
Bognor Regis town councillor Sandra Daniells said its members opposed the plan. “We were concerned about the bulk, shadow and intensity of the large building fronting the prime site.
“Once it is built on, it will be gone for good. We hoped the leisure would remain on that site, we would retain the community theatre and retain some more green space,” she said.
But fellow town councillor Jan Cosgrove, a supporter of the Sir Richard Hotham Project, said a community theatre could be built on the site in which space had already been kept for Arun Arts.
“This could be very exciting. We would get two theatres for the price of one,” he said. “This would enable the community benefits of the theatre to be kept there.”
Arun Arts chairman Hazel Latus said: “We are a community hub with 25 users groups and three studios active all day.
“What would be ideal for us is the regeneration of our own building.”