Plans for 1,000 homes on the bank of the river have been rumbling along for years, with the site identified as a strategic allocation in the Local Plan.
But, with two major site promoters pulling out of the project after discovering the poor ground conditions, the council was faced with the possibility of have to remove the site from the Local Plan and find somewhere else to build the new homes.
During the first meeting of the planning policy committee on Tuesday (June 1), members agreed that a detailed plan should be commissioned looking into the viability of the site and others further south towards Clymping Beach.
This included exploring the idea of building the homes in phases, with each phase delivering important infrastructure such as flood defences.
They also recommended that a budget of £100,000 be set aside to pay for the study, if efforts to get the money from the UK Community Renewal Fund were not successful.
It was far from a unanimous recommendation, with the committee divided over the whole issue.
Chairman Richard Bower (Con, East Preston) said: “Ever since the West Bank was proposed as a strategic site, I had my doubts about the viability of delivering what was proposed within the Local Plan.
“However, I recognised that the 1,000 homes were needed.
“I think it is right that we should try to progress with this study and see what alternatives we might be able to come up with to deliver the West Bank.”
Martin Lury (Lib Dem, Bersted) agreed.
He said: “This has always been a problem allocation, given the diversity of land ownership, given the flood issues and a whole range of other issues.
“I don’t think we have any other choice than to try to do something about this.”
Mr Lury said he supported the idea of building further down the river and added: “If we can make something of this I think we would all be a lot happier.”
Others were definitely not happy, though.
Isabel Thurston (Green, Barnham) said the council was on ‘a hiding no nothing’, adding: “I’m concerned that we’re trying to spend money on reports to see if we can build on poor soil. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.”
Hugh Coster (Ind, Aldwick East) accused the council of ‘desperation to try to fit 1,000 houses in somewhere’.
He added: “This is a complete waste of time even looking at this and certainly it’s a waste of money.
“It’s not going to happen. We’ve really got to get our heads out of the sand. What we have to do is de-allocate this and find the space somewhere else for the 1,000 houses.
“I cannot understand why it was ever included at all in the first place. It was a mark of desperation.
“We should now realise it can’t happen and we should not be chucking £100,000 at it.”
The recommendation for a £100,000 supplementary budget will be put to the corporate policy and performance committee.
Karl Roberts, director of place, warned that there was no guarantee that the study would find acceptable solutions to the problems with the site.
He said: “There is a risk that we do this work and we still find we’re in a position where the development still does not come forward in its entirety.
“I suspect certain parts might be able to come forward but there is always a risk that we might not be able to deliver the whole.
“But if that’s the case, at least we would have been able to explore that as part of the overall development process.”