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Following the failure of its Enterprise Zone bid for Bognor Regis, Arun District Council has commenced a project to attempt to deliver similar rewards for the town, by way of increased employment.

This involves designating an area to the north of the town including the old LEC airfield, the Oldlands Farm site, The Rowan Park caravan site and the Salt Box which lies behind it, as future industrial or "Knowledge Park" sites. This amounts to some 60 hectares, although a significant portion is often flooded during times of heavy rainfall.

It should be mentioned that the Oldlands Farm site was the focus of a planning application by ASDA in 2008, which would also have delivered the infrastructure for a similar industrial site to that which is proposed, together with a 10,000 sq ft new office building to kickstart local business, all free of charge to the District.  That planning application was refused and now ASDA has built a store on a site in Ferring, with no planning gain for Arun District at all.

To provide the infrastructure and facilities for these sites will require massive funding, as also will compulsory purchase if the landowners are unwilling to allow their land to be used for this purpose.  In addition, the work involved in bringing this project forward will be costly in terms of Council Officer time and resources.  It is understood that Arun is employing a special Project Officer for this purpose.

£600,000 has been provided from West Sussex County Council's 'kick start' package for infrastructure and developments, although it would appear that this may well end up being spent on Consultants' fees and Officer costs.

Arun has also announced £6 million funding from Coast to Capital, which is a local public and private Enterprise Partnership formed to improve economic prosperity. However, Arun has not made the basis of this funding entirely clear, and it appears from the Coast to Capital 2012 report that this is a loan and not a grant - and there is no information on the terms of the loan.

Nor has it been made clear what this money would be used for and how it would achieve a return in order to ensure that it can be repaid without incurring a burden on Council taxpayers.

At a recent meeting, Councillor Ricky Bower, Cabinet Member for Planning and Infrastructure, was unable to say whether these sites or the Council would be able offer any significant incentives that would draw businesses or developers to the town, as would have been the case with a genuine enterprise zone.  It was therefore unclear as to whether all the expenditure and Officer time involved would be likely to bring any real benefit to the town at all.

However, it was noted by several members of the audience that their envisaged timescale for this project was "two generations."  Some said that they rather lost interest at that point, as few would be present to see the results!

14 October 2012.

UPDATE 22 OCTOBER 2012.  £6 million loan withdrawn. We have learned from sources within Coast to Capital that this loan to Arun District Council, referred to above, has been withdrawn on the basis of the non-viability of the scheme.  It has emerged that this loan was only for a period of 3 years anyway, which raises particular questions as to how Arun District Council ever envisaged it was to be repaid without a major burden on the Council taxpayers.

There has been no comment, as yet, as to where this leaves the scheme and whether it can be further pursued.

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