Call for Arun Civic Centre and Bognor Regis Town Hall to fully open

Arun District Council is providing more and more services online but one councillor says it is ‘shameful’ that civic centres are not fully open.
Littlehampton's Arun Civic Centre. Pic Steve RobardsLittlehampton's Arun Civic Centre. Pic Steve Robards
Littlehampton's Arun Civic Centre. Pic Steve Robards

The council’s digital plans were discussed during a corporate support committee meeting last night (September 28) but councillors say some may struggle to access digital communication methods like a webchat, email and a new website.

Jamie Bennett (LDem, Rustington West) said he had received ‘mixed messages’ when he enquired if Bognor Regis Town Hall and Arun Civic Centre, in Littlehampton, had been reopened following the pandemic.

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He said: “I’m concerned our office is still not open to the public to walk into – every single council office in West Sussex is open, their front desk is open, except Arun.

“Every single business and government department is open apart from Arun District Council from what I can see.”

Mr Bennett said he was told by council chief executive Nigel Lynn that front desks would be open ‘in due course’ but council officers said they were already open.

Council officers said that receptions have remained available for housing services and the homeless ‘right from the beginning of the pandemic’. 

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They added that reception areas were opened to the public in July this year after government guidelines changed. 

“Any member of the public can come to either Littlehampton or Bognor Regis,” said officers.

“We are developing an appointment system and we are open to the public – but it is different to how it was before.”

But Mr Bennett said this conflicted with his experience, saying: “It’s completely different to what I’ve seen during opening hours – it looks closed.

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“Every single place in this country seems to be open again except the full reception area of this council which I think is shameful.”

An ADC spokesperson said: “Arun Civic Centre remains closed to the public other than for those presenting as homeless and for those who have made appointments with specific services in advance.”

Figures show that visitor numbers at the Arun Civic Centre continue to rise but fewer people visit Bognor Regis Town Hall year on year. 

More than 22,000 people visited Arun Civic Centre in 2019 -2020 with more than 16,000 visiting Bognor Regis Town Hall in the same period. 

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Offices were closed from February 2020, with figures showing that ‘no customers’ were supported face-to-face between 2020 and 2021. Instead, they were directed to the council’s telephone service, according to the customer service team.

The team received more than 174,000 calls and nearly 6,000 emails between 2020 and 2021. 

ADC is aiming to serve more residents online with a new webchat and a brand new website which went live in July. 

Officers said: “Residents have been telling us that, in this digital age, having a good website is just as important to them as having council buildings, if not more.”

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Alison Cooper (Con, Rustington East) said she ‘hates web chats’ that are manned by bots ‘unable to answer questions’. She asked the council to publicise that the web chat is manned by a ‘real person’ during office hours.

Committee chair Paul Dendle (Con, Arundel and Walberton) said: “I think we’ve all had arguments with bots, Alexa or other artificial intelligence.”

He praised council staff who he says ‘rose to the challenge’ during the pandemic and went ‘above and beyond’.