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Communicating with Councillors

PREPARE YOURSELF

The first thing we should make clear is that Councillors, being ordinary folk from all walks of life, are all different.  Some are delightful, co-operative and helpful people.  Others are difficult, evasive and not at all keen to connect with others if they perceive it might produce a problem for them.  And there are all shades in between. But the thing to remember is that they are all politicians to a greater or lesser degree, often with their own agendas. And if it suits them, they may not give straight answers to your questions, or may seek to divert you by answering a completely different question that you haven’t asked!  So you have to be:

  1. Single minded. You’ve asked a question and you require a straight answer to it. Keep drawing them back to it until you get a proper answer. This particularly applies to letters or emails. If you haven’t had a proper answer, keep writing back until you do.
  2. Persistent.  But politely persistent by not allowing yourself to be ignored or fobbed off, or in any other way diverted from your goal.  But never be rude or aggressive, as this will only give them an excuse to refuse to respond to you, and thus get away without giving a proper answer.  Even if they are rude to you, rise above it and continue to be politely and reasonably persistent.
  3. Aware of the response you require.  If you write with just a list of observations or complaints, it is quite likely you will get a response which simply says your comments have been noted.  So your observations or complaints have to lead up to specific questions, so that your letter has to be properly considered and responded to.  Conversely, at a public meeting bear in mind that a simple question will only gift an opportunity for the Councillor to speak as long as he/she wants – and not necessarily concentrating on your point at all.  So in those circumstances you want to concentrate on making your own statement, and only including a question at the end if you have to.
  4. Well informed.  Their response may (for whatever reason) be based on incorrect information, or some kind of alternative view of the real facts.  You need to be able to go back to them with the correct information (and preferably a reference to the source so that they can’t dispute it) and ask them to provide you with a proper answer based on reality.
  5. Apparently well connected.  Let them know that you have connections with the Civic Society, Chamber of Commerce, Town Council or some other significant local body, and that you will be passing their response on to others in your group. Or you could say that you will write a letter to the local paper detailing their response.  That way they will know that even if they can get away with misleading information to you, someone in your group is likely to find them out and publicise it – and make them look silly.

 

REGENERATION INFORMATION TO HELP YOU                                                    

THE MULTIPLEX CINEMA is claimed by Arun and St Modwen to be essential to the whole scheme because, they say, it will attract large numbers of new people to the town. It is essential too, they say, because the bars and restaurants which they also claim are essential, will not come here unless the multiplex does.

They have never explained where these new people will come from. We all want to know this. They won’t come from Littlehampton or further east, because it’s easier to get on the train there and go straight to Chichester and its multiplex near the station (which also has ample free adjacent parking).  And of course not from Chichester itself or Portsmouth/Southampton. Maybe the Bognor people who currently go to Chichester?  Well, there are precious few of them, bearing in mind that a multiplex needs a catchment of about 100,000 to sustain it; – so is the REAL truth that it will not be NEW people at all – it will have to steal audiences from the Picturedrome?  So that’s one very big question that seriously needs proper consideration and a proper answer.

RESEARCH.  So the viability of the multiplex is a very big and vital question in all this.  What research has Arun done to ensure that this decision is on an undeniably sound footing?  The answer is that before their latest plans were presented to the public and before the public consultation, absolutely none.  They had no knowledge whatever, expert or otherwise, as to whether this king-pin of the whole scheme would be viable or not.

In response to criticism of this they hurriedly commissioned a report, dated January 2013, from a firm called dCinex consulting.  This firm has a misleadingly impressive website, because it appears to be (in the UK at least) one man and his mobile phone, operating out of a serviced office in London.  There are other Directors, but they don’t seem to be active. There’s not even a landline number, and the Company’s 2012 accounts show total assets of about £28,000, which is probably his car. And, as a matter of interest, this firm does other things, including fitting out multiplex cinemas.  Hmmm, no conflict of interest there, then...

THE REPORT produced by this one man, Mr. Keith Pullinger, makes a number of glaring errors in an effort to justify Arun’s position.  The worst is that he assumes a catchment area for the cinema going as far north as Pulborough/Billingshurst and including Littlehampton, Tangmere and Easthampnett.  Plainly unrealistic, but he had to do this in order to bend the numbers to justify his and Arun’s position.  Of course, we all know that if the scheme went ahead on the basis of this piece of inventiveness it would be a massive and expensive flop, which is presumably why (to protect himself) he has had to place the following caveat on the front page of his report:

The report contains views and assumptions by dcinex consult, based on their existing knowledge of the market and cannot be relied upon solely as a basis for financial investment”

Er, ”cannot be relied upon”??  But Arun IS relying upon this one report alone as the justification for investment in massive building works in Bognor Regis.  How on earth can a responsible Local Authority ever consider entering into something as risky as this on such a flimsy and doubtful basis? This question needs very serious consideration and proper sensible answers.

OTHER CINEMA ISSUES. There are a number of other issues relating to the cinema. Another independent cinema expert, Mr. Stephen Reynolds, has said that because of the way the film distribution industry works, the Picturedrome will not get the major blockbuster films until later than the multiplex, and will thereby lose much of its audience, become unviable and close.  Mr Pullinger says not, but this was based on his very dubious catchment area figures.  You decide who you believe, and ask the Councillors to explain precisely why they prefer one view to another.

Much easier for us to judge is: would there be a price war, and what would happen? We don’t have to look far to find the answer to this. Late in 2012 a 3-screen Odeon opened in Dorchester in competition with the existing independent 4-screen cinema.  There has been a price war since then, but the question is, if prices sink to loss-making levels, who can sustain it the longest?  

Inevitably, the massive Odeon Group will have the resources to carry on until the independent has to close, which is the reason why independent cinemas have succumbed to multiplexes all over the country.  It really doesn’t take Einstein to work that one out...  Nor to work out the likelihood that the same thing would happen to the Picturedrome. Do the Councillors understand this simple piece of commercial reality?  Ask them and find out.

And lastly, 10.868 people signed a petition asking Arun District Council to help protect the Picturedrome cinema by refusing to allow a multiplex to be built on Arun-owned land.  Arun rejected that petition, partly on the basis that they wanted to encourage competition – and then accepted that report from Mr. Pullinger which said that the Picturedrome should double its prices – and reduce competition!!

                                                                                          

HUNDREDS MORE FLATS. 280 more flats are proposed for the Town, 80 on the Regis centre site and 200 on the Hothamton site (the ground level car park at the top of Queensway). The justification for this is that the profit that is made from selling them will provide the money for alterations to the Alexandra Theatre.  This ignores that Arun Arts, who have the Lease on the Alexandra Theatre part of the Regis Centre, have their own plans for extensive improvements which do not require hundreds more flats in the Town.  It is worth noting that these flats will also provide at least £6,000,000 profit for St. Modwen, and a great deal of continuous future Council Tax income for Arun District Council.

It is also worth noting that the proposed improvements to the Alexandra Theatre will only provide it with 450 seats, which is known to be still far too small for it to attract major acts.  Nevertheless, the cost of £6,500,000 works out to some £93,000 per seat, which most people consider to be excessive.  Is this worth the unsightly addition of so many flats to the Town, and the loss of 275 car parking spaces on the sites where they will be built?

None of these flats will be for the homeless or in need.  The 200 on the Hothamton site are intended to be for Chichester University to house its students, and there is also talk of housing Butlins’ staff there during University holidays. The 80 on the Regis Centre site will be expensive seaview flats, mostly bought by wealthy retirees and weekenders, like most of the others along the seafront.  Past experience has shown, by the way, that none of these potential occupiers spend much money in the Town, so we won’t be seeing a lot of regeneration from that quarter.  And these buildings shown here have both been built by Arun’s partner St. Modwen elsewhere, so we could well end up getting something like this.

Is this regeneration?  Will this bring new wealth to the Town? Past experience shows that there is no evidence of this; over the last three decades more than 700 flats have been built in the Town, mostly on the seafront, but has this produced regeneration?  The answer is no, and there is no reason to suppose that more of the same will be any different.  This is one of the reasons why 10,158 people signed a petition saying NO to flats on the Regis Centre site.  Arun District Council wants to ignore that plea and build them anyway.

ARUN’S PUBLIC CONSULTATION RESULTS.  There are more details about the consultation itself elsewhere on this site.  Here we are only concerned with the results.  They carried out three surveys as follows:

  1. Public Survey. Online and written responses from Bognor and other areas. 4,217 responses analysed.
  2. Sample Survey. A ‘face to face’ survey in the street and door to door, area unknown.  519 responses analysed.
  3. Wavelength Survey. A telephone survey throughout Arun District. 362 responses analysed.

So, a total of 5,098 people’s responses were analysed, and some of these may have been duplicated. Question 11 of the survey asked the following:

“The provision of a 4-5 screen cinema is essential to attract a cluster of restaurants, bars and/or cafes to this site.  In this context would you prefer: a) a cinema and a cluster of restaurants, bars, and/or cafes?  b) no cinema, therefore no cluster of restaurants, bars and/or  cafes?  c) undecided/don’t know.”

It will be noted that this question has been heavily loaded by attaching a group of apparently desirable advantages to the provision of the cinema, and making it clear that they won’t be available if the vote is against the cinema.  Regardless of this, and ignoring the ‘undecideds,’ which was insignificant, the total result was:

NO CINEMA:  2631 RESPONSES

YES CINEMA: 2083 RESPONSES

There is no arguing with this. There has been a clear public vote in Arun’s own consultation AGAINST the provision of a multiplex cinema. This in spite of a question which was heavily loaded in favour of a positive response, and in spite of the survey being taken to areas away from Bognor Regis, schoolchildren and employees of companies known to be supportive of Arun on its own Quango.

FLATS. Question 13 of the survey asked the following:

“The apartments will help fund other developments such as  improvements to Alexandra Theatre.  The new proposals include the creation of approximately 80 apartments on the site. Which of the following best describes your views on the proposed residential development?  a) support  b) oppose  c)undecided/don’t know”

Question 17 was almost identical, but the second sentence went as follows:

“The proposals for the Hothamton site include the provision of four blocks of residential accommodation which could include up to 200 apartments.”

Once again, these questions have been heavily loaded by linking apparently desirable outcomes to the building of the ‘apartments.’  Even that word, which sounds better than ‘flats,’ is a form of loading.  For simplicity, we have added together the responses to these two questions (which did not affect the outcome of each) and the total result (ignoring the insignificant undecideds) was:

NO FLATS:  4426 RESPONSES

YES FLATS: 4016 RESPONSES

There is no arguing with this either.  A clear public vote AGAINST flats on the Regis Centre and Hothamton sites.  Note that this was not a vote against the aesthetic appearance of the flats, since none were shown – all that appeared on Arun’s publicity were vague blobs of colour. And, once again, this vote was in spite of the questions being artfully loaded to get a favourable result.

No other questions in the survey were as direct and specific as these, and they received direct and specific answers from the public.  Certain Councillors may try to distract you by referring to other woolly questions about the “mix of uses” and whether the proposed developments would “harm” or “benefit” the town, but these are so vague as to be useless.  What IS a harm or a benefit, and which bits do and which bits don’t?  And what is meant by ‘mix of uses’?  Am I approving the “uses” or the “mix”?  This survey has clearly been devised by an amateur who lacks the professional skills that proper market research requires.

So, the big question is:  Why, when Arun’s own consultation conducted at our expense has shown a clear public vote against the multiplex cinema and the flats, is Arun even beginning to consider pressing ahead with the scheme?  A clear and unequivocal answer is required.

 

WHO SHOULD YOU WRITE TO AT ARUN DISTRICT COUNCIL?

Firstly, the Councillor for the ‘ward’ (that’s a local government area) that you live in.  There may be two or three, and it is their job, for which they are paid public money as an allowance, to represent your views to the Council. Don’t have any nonsense about this, this is what they are for.  Find out who they are by looking at Arun’s page here which will give you the name(s), and then  go to here which, in most cases, will give you their addresses, emails and phone numbers.

In addition to this, there are a few others who you could usefully require explanations from. Firstly Cabinet members; the Cabinet is the controlling group of top Councillors who, pretty much, decide what all the others of their political party group think and do.  And that, of course, decides what the whole Council does, so they are well worth contacting. These were the Cabinet members relevant at the time of these proposals:

 

Mrs. Gillian Brown. Council Leader, which means she’s the boss of the ruling political party, which is the Conservatives. Represents Aldwick East Ward in Bognor Regis. Address: The Barn, Gilwynes, Aldwick Felds, Bognor Regis, PO21 3SG.  Phone: 01243 862059. Email: gilliannabrown@aol.com

 

 

Norman Dingemans . Cabinet member for Customer Services, but formerly involved in regeneration issues and still pretty influential in spite of having his job shifted. Represents Walberton.  Address: Bishops Piece, Littleheath, Nr. Slindon, BN18 0SR. Phone: 01243 814676, Mob: 07920 702941, Email: normandingemans@aol.com

UPDATE: Now no longer a Cabinet member.

                                                                                 

 

Richard (Ricky) Bower.  Cabinet member for Planning and Infrastructure and generally considered to be the ‘party whip,’ although the Conservative Party declares it doesn’t have one.  Represents East Preston with Kingston. Address: Hollydown, 17 South View, East Preston, BN16 1PX. Phone: 01903 783727, Mob: 07866 769898, Email: r.bower@btconnect.com

 

 

And then there are certain members of the Bognor Regis Regeneration Sub-Committee, who have all approved a recommendation to Full Council to proceed with the regeneration proposals, completely ignoring the results of the consultation, two petitions, plus the views of the Bognor Regis Town Council and all the major representative groups in the Town.  Find their contact details by clicking here.

        

CAN YOU CHIP IN?

Please bear in mind that running the Civic Society and battling for the well-being of Bognor Regis is an expensive activity, and to ensure our total independence we do not ask for or receive any grants.  We therefore exist solely on membership subscriptions and donations, and we would welcome your donation, however modest.  Please send cheque or PO made out to Bognor Regis Civic Society to our Deputy Chairman, Hugh Coster, 15 East Avenue, Middleton-on-Sea, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, PO22 6EG.  Many thanks to all who contribute.

 

Gill Madeley

Trevor Bence

Phil Hitchins

Remember – persistence is all.  If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, keep going back until you do!