MP had ‘no valid reasons’ for Aquarena call-in request, councillor claims

Plans for the Aquarena
Plans for the Aquarena

Conservative councillors who voted in favour of plans to regenerate Worthing’s Aquarena have criticised an MP’s failed bid to have the scheme called-in for government scrutiny.

Worthing West’s Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley request resulted in Worthing Borough Council’s decision to approve Roffey Homes’ plans being put on hold.

Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell confirmed yesterday (Wednesday, March 1) that the Government was happy for the decision to be made locally.

Councillor Luke Proudfoot, one of the six committee members to support the plans in January, welcomed the news – but campaigners have expressed dismay there will be no public inquiry.

He said: “It is the right decision for Worthing and will hopefully bring our town into the 21st century and show developers that we are keen for our brownfield sites to be developed.

“Sir Peter gave no valid planning reasons as to why the plans shouldn’t go ahead and pandered to a vocal minority in this bid to stop the development. This has just been a waste of time not only for the start of this development but also for Government Ministers.”

Roffey’s plans include a 15-storey tower block, seafront square and beachfront café. The designs followed rejection of a 21-storey tower block.

More than 2,000 residents signed a petition against the proposals.

In requesting a call-in, Sir Peter told the Herald he believed the decision should not be made by the council as it had an interest in the site.

Following the call-in rejection, he said: “This is not a decision I would have expected the minister to make. It will be a disappointment to many who care about the townscape and coastal views of Worthing.”

Planning committee chairman Kevin Jenkins said it was ‘clear’ that the reasons given for the call-in request did not meet the criteria.

He said: “There are guidelines as to what should or should not be called in and it is clear from the Secretary of State’s response that this request did not meet that criteria.

“This confirms that local decisions should be made at a local level, by locally-elected councillors who are able to best judge the local need and feelings of everyone, including the unheard silent majority in the town.

“This is now the time for the town to move on, to continue to grow and flourish and not be chained by dated views, limited ambition, vocal minorities or central government interference.”

Fellow committee member Edward Crouch, who also supported the plans, said localism had ‘won the day’ and backed his colleagues who felt the call-in reasons were not acceptable.

Worthing Society chairman Susan Belton, meanwhile, was disappointed.

She said: “The Worthing Society was dismayed to learn that the MP’s bid to have the Aquarena planning decision called–in by the Secretary of State has been rejected.

“The society is keen to see the regeneration of this derelict site but remains firmly of the opinion that this beachside location is the wrong place for a bulky, 15-storey tower block.

“The inclusion of the tower will in our view harm the surrounding local heritage and traditional coastal character of Worthing as enjoyed from the pier. We are disappointed that such a major decision and step change in design will not now be the subject of a planning inquiry.”

The only committee member to oppose the plans, Liberal Democrat Hazel Thorpe, has been contacted for comment.