What’s happening around our town




Many people in the town are asking why Arun District Council involves its Officers in starting and nurturing local 'pressure groups' which appear to exist for the same purpose as groups which are already established.

The common factor is that these new groups seldom have any paid or noticeably visible membership, and sometimes do not even meet or have any democratic procedures. And when consultation time comes around, Arun seems to prefer to listen to these new groups and ignore those already established.

This question has arisen because yet another new group has been formed, with support from Arun's Caroline Gosford, to represent the Bognor Regis town centre Traders. Nothing wrong with that, it would appear, except that Ms. Gosford claims that all town centre traders are "automatically members" and the group therefore has a non-paying membership of about 320 -- most of whom don't know they've been automatically (and apparently compulsorily) enrolled.

Bognor Regis already has a long established business organisation, being the Bognor Regis Chamber of Commerce, which has been in existence for nearly 100 years and has well over 120 paid up business members.  The Chamber is widely involved in Bognor Regis affairs and works with Arun on many issues.

So why has Arun chosen to create this "new" business group when it could have worked with the Chamber to do the same thing with the same focus and with a ready made 'proper' membership?

And why has Richard McMann, the Arun-sponsored "Advisor" to the Bognor Regis Regeneration Board been quoted as saying "Now that we have the Traders Group, why do we need the Chamber of Commerce?"

Could it be, now that regeneration consultation time is with us again, that Arun has been finding the Chamber to be a little too independent-minded for its liking, and wishes to sideline it in favour of something they hope will be a little more manageable?



This is not the first time Arun District Council has done this. During the last regeneration consultation in 2008, Arun became rather irritated that Bognor Regis Civic Society didn't agree with their proposals, and furthermore had the temerity to publicly say so.

So the same Richard McMann encouraged and assisted two individuals to start a rival organisation named "Brighter Bognor," an organisation which had almost no visible membership nor any electoral procedures and never held any public meetings - yet claimed many hundreds of non-paying e-mail "supporters" holding views entirely opposed to those of the Civic Society's publicly visible, paid-up membership.

"Arun chose to favour Brighter Bognor wherever it could, and exclude the Civic Society," said Hugh Coster, Deputy Chairman of the Society. "And this is still happening, even though the Civic Society has massively grown in strength, and Brighter Bognor has dwindled to virtually nothing -- if it ever did have anything. When I last looked, their website had disappeared and their Facebook page showed just two members. Now I'm told that's disappeared too. Yet this artificial non-organisation is still represented on the Arun-sponsored Bognor Regis Regeneration Board, which is also a Richard McMann-created non-organisation in itself."

Mr. Coster went on to speculate how Arun would respond if the Civic Society were to adopt a similar tactic to the Traders group and claim that all the 60,000 plus residents of the greater Bognor Regis area were non-paying "automatic members" just by reason of their local residency. "If they can do it, so could we," he said, "but we won't because we don't believe in this sort of trickery.  And neither should Arun or anybody else, let's have some proper honesty, for goodness sake."



Mr. Coster was keen to make clear that the Civic Society does not oppose the Traders group or its purpose -- just the artificial membership claims encouraged by Arun and the danger that this will be misused by the Council to attempt to sideline existing organisations. "It is so important," he said, "that any representative organisation is seen to have a proper paid membership and electoral process, and preferably that it meets in public. Then it is much more difficult for Arun to interfere with local representation in the way that we have seen."

29 October 2012

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