Eight councillors voted in favour of the proposal and four against at a full council meeting on Tuesday (July 20) which had limited attendance to allow for social distancing.
This followed a recommendation from the joint strategic committee to acquire the site for £7.7 million to avoid it being ‘landbanked’ for years to come.
The total cost is expected to be higher at £8.1 million after taxes and fees.
Councillors also approved a £50,000 budget to support temporary uses of the site such as pocket parks, a drive-in cinema, or an open air theatre.
Leader Dan Humphreys (Con, Offington) said it was time for the council to intervene directly to secure the future of the site.
He said: “We have this once in a generation, if not longer, opportunity for real intervention from Worthing Borough Council and some of our trusted partners to get in there and take action and take back control.”
His fellow Conservative councillor Kevin Jenkins (Gaisford), executive member for regeneration, said the council had a ‘stronger understanding’ of the site than ever before and ‘formative relationships with significant builders’.
Mosaic, the current owner, received planning permission for its Station Square redevelopment last March, but announced its intention to sell the site in late 2020 due to uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
A subsequent partnership between Worthing Borough Council and housing association VIVID ‘broke down’.
Kevin Jenkins said: “It wasn’t our breakdown with VIVID but it was VIVID’s breakdown with us.”
Labour councillors expressed concerns about the purchase, but were accused of voting the proposals down on ‘purely political grounds’ by the council leader.
Rebecca Cooper (Lab, Marine) criticised the purchase at a time when the council was facing ‘massive cost pressures and savings’.
She said: “I and the other 14 members of my Labour group are not convinced that this council has a good, clear understanding of how they’re going to deliver the site once they pay eight million pounds for it.
“At the end of the day we will have spent eight million pounds worth of taxpayers money at a time when we have massive cost pressures and savings and we are not convinced.
“Forty years have passed and we’re still left with Teville Gate looking as it does today. I don’t need words to describe it because most of us go past it and have to look at the hoardings that are there and the general derelict nature of it.
“How on earth have we had so much time pass and we’ve had so many promises made and so many partners and then it falls through.
“What on earth has gone on in this council?”
In response Mr Humphreys explained how the council cannot bring forward a scheme without owning the site first.
He also criticised Ms Cooper’s assertion that the eight million pound bill would be footed by taxpayers, calling it ‘utter nonsense’.
“We’re not sending an eight million bill to the council taxpayer – quite the opposite,” Mr Humphreys said.
“What we have here is a proposal to work with partners to bring this site into our ownership, through borrowing, and to take it through to sale and development with a scheme that will be for the betterment of the people of Worthing socially, environmentally and financially for this council.”
Mr Jenkins said Labour councillors had ‘criticized and cajoled’ proposals without making ‘one actual alternative suggestion’.
Liberal Democrat Hazel Thorpe (Tarring) called for social housing to be ‘at the top of the agenda’ for the site.
She said: “I’d like to remind us all that we’re here to serve the community and those most in need. Not, in fact, to increase the profitability of private landlords’ portfolios.
“We would expect to have at least 30 per cent of the housing on this site be social housing.
“We need families to have good homes, we need the infrastructure to go with it and we need a great gateway to Worthing.”