Worthing Borough Council has defended its handling of a business centre which has come under fire after standing empty for more than half of its two-year tenancy.
Entrepreneur and artist Dan Thompson felt the Enterprise House scheme in Ann Street, Worthing – which was supposed to provide meeting and hotdesking space – was a “poor use of public money”.
The council, which used £44,000 of a £52,000 sum from the LabourGovernment’s town centre regeneration grant in 2010, said flooding had rendered the building uninhabitable.
In light of this, it went on to set up an Enterprise Hub, led by Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce, Northbrook College and its own team, designed to assist new companies.
Mr Thompson said: “I think this was money which was very badly spent.
“I’ve been involved in a number of schemes around the country in reviving the use of empty shops and have never heard of anyone paying two years of rent up front as the council did on this. It should have been done on a normal rental basis.
“You don’t sign up for a long-term deal if you are not sure that your business idea is going to work.
“I tried to go along there myself on a number of occasions and I always found that it was shut, so I knew there was something wrong from the start.
“Projects should be tried and it’s ok if they fail, but we’ve just not had answers on Enterprise House.
“I think it’s a shame, as there is clearly a need in Worthing for something that offers co-working facilities such as this scheme had hoped for.”
Bryan Turner, borough councillor responsible for regeneration, played an integral part in setting the scheme up.
Greeting its arrival, he believed it had significant potential, but he felt the situation with its leaking roof had seriously impacted on delivering the scheme. He added it “could have been better” had the service’s base been functional.
He said: “At the time, we thought it was a good deal for two years of rent on Enterprise House, which worked out cheaper than paying on a quarterly basis.
“The flooding last spring was a real issue, and the chamber of commerce was set to take it over. But they went in only to discover the leaks and couldn’t even put carpet down.
“So since then, we have created an Enterprise Hub with the chamber of commerce, and CVS (community voluntary services) which is operating from Liverpool Gardens, Worthing.
“We have helped a number of businesses, but things could have gone better had we had fuller use of Enterprise House.
“We have just had latest job figures out which show a reduction in those out of work.
“This year, we have also seen an increase in new companies forming, which the Enterprise Hub has helped on, with more than 400 starting up in the first six months of 2012.”