Arun opposition claims to be 'in the dark' on Bognor levelling-up project details

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A group of opposition councillors have written to the government to ask for details about one of Arun District Council’s own Levelling Up projects.

Five councillors from Arun District Council’s Independent, Lib Dem, and Green groups have written to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in an attempt to get further information about the government-funded Alexandra Theatre project.

It comes after councillors approved an extra £3 million for the project on Thursday (29 September) – bringing the total cost to £15.2 million.

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In their request, the opposition councillors expressed concerns that the scope of the project may have changed and said they could not support the extra funds as they ‘have not been provided with any details of the new proposal by the council’.

Proposed improvements to Alexandra TheatreProposed improvements to Alexandra Theatre
Proposed improvements to Alexandra Theatre

Until a planning application comes forward, questions remain over the extent to which the improvements will match those proposed by the council at the time of the Levelling Up Fund bid.

Key points of contention include theatre capacity and proposals to build a Premier Inn close to the Regis Centre, where the theatre is based.

The hotel is a condition of a deal being sought with Whitbread PLC; head leaseholder at the Regis Centre.

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The company says it would consider surrendering its lease to allow the Levelling Up project to go ahead, so long as permission for a hotel is granted.

A letter to Bognor Regis and Littlehampton MP Nick Gibb from Neil O’Brien, – then a junior minister within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – was recently published by the Bognor Regis Herald.

It states that the council would be expected to ‘deliver the project agreed by the DLUHC’ but also recognised that ‘local context may change’.

In his letter, sent in June, Mr O’Brien said the council was welcome to seek ‘additional private sector investment’ for the project so long as the Levelling Up grant is spent by 31 March 2025 and ‘any adjustments to the project do not undermine the value for money or deliverability of the project’.

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Council leader Shaun Gunner previously told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the council could seek further investment for the project which could see a total funding pot of ‘£25- £30 million’.