An unpopular £4m regeneration scheme for Bognor Regis has been scrapped.
The Pavilion Park proposals were dumped by Arun District Council’s Liberal Democrat senior members in a U-turn on the policy of the previous Conservative administration.
In what one councillor described as a turning point in the town’s history, the council’s cabinet decided to concentrate on improving only part of the Hothamton site in Queensway.
The previous idea of the car park, Sunken Garden and Hothamton play area being replaced by a linear park has gone. The new focus after Monday’s meeting will be on just the Sunken Garden and play area.
Cllr Francis Oppler (LD, Orchard) said the change in direction was an historic moment in the town’s history.
“I am pleased to say that this administration is keeping another election promise that the Sunken Garden is kept for future generations and that, today, we are going to put a stop to the last 45 years of this council ripping up Bognor Regis’ heritage. I am very excited this is the dawn of a new era,” he said.
“Let me be very clear. I have seen hundreds of replies to surveys we have carried out and I would say well in excess of 85 per cent have been for the Sunken Garden to be kept in some form. I think the report we have before us is very much the best of all worlds.”
It would give residents the chance to have their say about three schemes for a specific section of the site before councillors decided on the option they wanted.
“Since 2015/16, £659,000 has been spent on regeneration plans and all we have in return is a pile of paper. This council, in the preceeding years, has spent millions on regeneration and we have not got a brick to show for it.”
Cllr Daniel Purchese (LD, Beach) said it was clear from the recent elections that Bognor Regis residents wanted the Sunken Garden to stay.
“I have heard people say they would like to see them improved but retained in some way. Working on the principle of three options to go to consultation is very much the way forward to get the public’s opinion. This is a very positive step,” he said.
Cllr Matt Stanley (LD, Marine) said: “I think this is a hugely positive moment for this council.”
The elections last May gave electors two clear choices for the Sunken Gardens’ future – and they chose the version put forward by the Lib Dems.
“We are here to serve our electorate and to serve the community, whatever councillors’ opinions might be.
“The community have made their decision – and what they want to see is an improved Sunken Garden and we have a duty to gather round and deliver that,” he said.
“I applaud the retention of the health centre in that area, which I know was a concern of the residents in my area.”
Philippa Dart, Arun’s director of services, gave the cabinet a report about the project since its start in July, 2015, and the contracts awarded with consultants.
But the new Lib Dem administration wished to develop alternative proposals.
“These proposals will not include any residential development and the health centre will not be affected by any of the plans put forward.
“In progressing with this proposal, the council will be ending the contract with the landscape consultant. The Pavilion Park display boards will also be removed from the site,” she said.
A consultant will be hired to hold a workshop for councillors to suggest ideas for the new project. Those ideas will be considered by the cabinet before they go out for consultation.
Mrs Dart said the new decision would maintain Arun’s refusal as landowner to agree a deal to lease the land to the Sir Richard Hotham Project regeneration scheme.