COMMENT: What next for Aquarena site?

The public gallery was packed at Worthing Assembly Hall as the fate of the Aquarena tower block plans, submitted by Roffey Homes, was decided SUS-150923-102324001
The public gallery was packed at Worthing Assembly Hall as the fate of the Aquarena tower block plans, submitted by Roffey Homes, was decided SUS-150923-102324001

AS THE dust settles following months of debate, the dust continues to gather on the old Aquarena building on Worthing’s seafront.

Roffey Homes, a local business with a long track record, failed to convince most councillors and the wider public that its 21-storey tower plans were suitable for the disused site.

Debate will naturally now turn to the future of the site. Will Roffey appeal, will Worthing Borough Council soon be seeking a new developer or will the issue stagnate, like at Teville Gate?

Will the refusal reasons hold water if Roffey does appeal?

These are all valid questions. But for now, we should reflect on the decision itself – it was democracy in action.

Public galleries are too often empty but the Aquarena decision has captured the public’s attention, with hundreds packing out the Assembly Hall.

When significant developments create such debate, unfounded accusations of ‘brown envelopes’ and decisions already being made are bandied about on social media. It is, sadly, as inevitable as the second lemming following the first off the cliff.

But as an overwhelming five out of seven councillors voted against the plans, the public could rest assured that the planning process provided them with a voice and, more importantly, councillors listened.

On reflection, the right decision may have been made. I have previously stopped short of criticising the plans, explaining Worthing’s issues with a lack of space for housing and needing to maximise our brownfield sites. That still stands.

The majority have spoken, however, which I welcome.

Design is also subjective and can also be argued either way.

Importantly, whatever your view, it is vital all opinions are respected – even if it is contrary to the status quo.

It was clear that objectors were the overwhelming majority in this case and the campaign was well-organised.

The public should be applauded for engaging in the process.

But I also praise those who demonstrated braveness in speaking in support of Roffey.

Councillor Luke Proudfoot, who voted in favour of approving the application alongside committee chairman Kevin Jenkins, drew cries of ‘shame on you’ for airing his view.

As a young and relatively newly-elected councillor, he could have followed the crowd, quietly voting with the committee and saving himself from criticism. His vote in support made no difference to the outcome.

On the contrary, he stuck to his opinion, as unpopular as it was. I commend him for that.

The wide consensus was positive in terms of welcoming development on the site. Residents would clearly prefer development here, rather than on green spaces.

Let’s hope Roffey at least reconsiders its plans and comes back with new ideas. But one thing is for sure.

This site cannot become another Teville Gate.

What should happen to the Aquarena? I would love to hear your commercially-viable ideas.