The approval of plans to turn the Aquarena site into housing have split the community, with some labelling the designs ‘majestic’ and others saying it will be ‘a big mistake’,
The decision to approve 141 apartments on the Brighton Road site was made at a meeting of Worthing Borough Council’s planning committee, held at the Assembly Hall last night.
It was approved by six councillors to one.
Bryan Turner, executive member for regeneration at Worthing Borough Council, said the Roffey Homes project will be a ‘fantastic boost for Worthing’s economy’.
“Hopefully this exciting regeneration will act as a catalyst to bring forward development on other sites across the town. Whilst we have taken very seriously the concerns that residents have voiced, by building on brownfield sites like this one we can ensure that other much valued green spaces can be protected.
He added that he was ‘delighted’ with the amount of affordable housing the site would have – 42 apartments.
We could build on every bit of land, including all of your gardens, and still struggle to deliver 9,000 homes if we don’t look upCouncillor Edward Crouch
“With rising house prices making it harder for younger and first time buyers to get on the housing ladder, it’s crucial that large scale developments like this deliver on providing appropriate housing to help meet this demand.”
The plans had previously attracted controversy, particularly a 15-storey tower which was scaled down from 21 floors due to public outcry.
The council received a 2,300-signature petition from the Worthing Society that opposed Roffey’s application and 1,045 letters of objection, versus 222 letters supporting the application.
During the councillor’s debate, Diane Guest told objectors that they should become councillors if they wanted their views to be heard.
She said: “I chose to become elected to stand up and make tough desicions on behalf of the residents that elected me.
“I would like to reiterate that it is a process that’s open to anyone. In future, you might want to consider becoming a councillor, so you can be a voice and be heard.”
Chairman of the Worthing Society, Susan Benton, said she was ‘surprised to hear’ the councillor’s comments.
“We have behaved with dignity throughout this campaign. We have canvassed a significant number of people over a short period of time. They are very serious concerns from residents, many of whom are the councillor’s constituents, so I was surprised by her comments.”
She also said she was ‘dismayed’ at the ‘personal attack on the integrity of the society’ that she believed was made by managing director of Roffey Homes Ben Cheal when he spoke at the meeting.
During his presentation to the committee, he said he had ‘respect for the Worthing Society and the role it plays in our town’.
But he went on to say: “I think it is important to note they have objected to nearly every one of our previous seafront developments. These same buildings have gone on to win awards judged by panels comprised in part by Worthing Society members.”
In response, Ms Benton said: “The Worthing Society supports regeneration in the town and we want to see Worthing go forward, but we consider this particular development to be a step too far.
“It is out of context with the character of the seafront, and in the long term it will be a big mistake.”
Architect Paul Appleton said their designs aimed to ‘build on the very best of Worthing’s past’, including the Regency architecture of Bedford Row, Liverpool Terrace and Montague Place.
“It is a catalyst for regeneration, an opportunity to extend the influence of Marine Parade westwards and mark the natural finale of the esplanade,” he said.
Residents also voiced their concerns during the meeting, with one fearing the town would become a ‘mini-Miami’ if the plans were approved.
Councillor Edward Crouch said the debate surrounding the height and density of the site had to be weighed against the council’s local plan, which has a target to build 9,000 homes in the next 15 to 20 years.
He said: “We could build on every bit of land, including all of your gardens, and still struggle to deliver 9,000 homes if we don’t look up.
“It is easier to do nothing; it is easier to reject things, opt for the status quo. But what I have seen over the last few weeks is not just a murmur but a cry for progress. We have seen surveys and petitons: they contradict each other. The petition is largely against, the social media comment is largely in favour: different demographics, different strokes for different folks.
“The question we have is do we preserve what we have or do we move forward?”
In response to the discussion of ‘harm’ that the designs would do to the town’s older buildings, Mr Crouch said: “I think the harm is a 1968 carbuncle that is sitting there slowly rotting into the ground, and frankly that is of more concern to me than this, which even with the most critical eye cannot be compared to what is there currently.”
Hazel Thorpe was the only committee member to vote against the plans. She said she had ‘extreme concerns about the height of the tower’ and that people in Worthing would not be able to afford the apartments.
Councillor Vicky Vaughan, who voted for the plans, said she based her decision on how proud she would feel walking past the development in decades to come.
She described the designs as ‘majestic-looking’ and an ‘attractive landmark’ which would ‘revitalize Worthing’s seafront’.
Mr Crouch added that he would feel ‘a hell of a lot prouder than if we sit on our hands, do nothing, and let the Aquarena slowly fall into the sea’.
After the decision was reached, many members of the public left the hall before the meeting had ended. On their way out, one woman said it was a ‘forgone conclusion’ and another was overheard saying they would ‘need to take a lie-down’.
During the planning officer presentation, committee chairman Kevin Jenkins had to control the crowd after artist’s impressions of the tower drew laughter.
He said: “This isn’t a comedy show, it is quite serious for Worthing as a whole. If you wish to get up and leave now, you are welcome to, otherwise please be quiet.”
Jill Davies, 65, of Hampton Court, Brighton Road, was against the plans. Speaking after the decision, she said: “Why they kept referring to the tower as the gateway to Worthing I don’t know. What are they going to do, put an arch across the road that says ‘Welcome to Worthing’?”
“I feel very sorry for those people who live in Merton Road who will be plunged into darkness.”
Robert Sisk, of Selden Road, Worthing, said he was ‘slightly against’ the plans going into the meeting because of the height issue, but added that objectors now needed to ‘get behind’ the project.
“What was presented to us might look different in reality, and people might warm to it. We can’t let it sit like Teville Gate for years.”
Gordon Allen celebrated the ‘excellent’ result. Mr Allen, who was born in Worthing but worked for many years overseas, said that when he moved back to the town he was ‘quite disappointed’ that it had not developed.
He said this decision showed that ‘Worthing is moving forward’.
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