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ON THIS AND THE FOLLOWING LN&IoC PAGES are matters which we and others feel more local people should know about, and also on which some people feel concerns, and should receive wider discussion or investigation.  Also, there are subsequent NEWS ARCHIVE pages, current in the past and which may be of interest.


No, this is not about the actual refurbishment works to the Alexandra Theatre part of the Regis Centre, as illustrated above.  We will discuss that elsewhere.

But it is related to it.  In 2021, and to enable this to happen, Arun applied to the Government “Levelling Up Scheme” for nearly £20 million, to be divided between two schemes, one in Bognor Regis, the other in Littlehampton.  This was approved, and £12.2 million was allocated to the Regis Centre refurbishment.  Arun later added £3 million of Council Taxpayers’ money to it because they discovered it wasn’t enough.  Big jubilation at this award, big announcements in local news, £millions to be invested in the town, everybody very excited.


Then came the bombshell.  Head Leaseholder Whitbread said to Arun that they fully supported the planned works BUT they would only agree to it if Arun agreed to a couple of other things in return.   One was that Arun must buy back the Lease from them for £750,000. The other was that Arun must grant them a 125 year Lease for a new hotel on a valuable seafront site at peppercorn rent in exchange for £1 million.  That works out at £8,000 a year, for a valuable seafront site.  Hmmm…..

So Arun will only ACTUALLY be receiving a net £250,000 on the whole deal – which works out at £2,000 a year.  And a rundown building (Brewers Fayre) which is now boarded up.  A pretty miserable deal for Arun’s Council Taxpayers – but no criticism of Whitbread here.  They were only exercising normal and very sensible “leverage” to the situation that Arun had blundered into.  They are clever property people, and Arun are not.


What was Arun’s blunder?  Simply that they did not get Whitbread’s unconditional agreement to the refurbishment BEFORE applying for the government money.  Once the money had been granted and the big success publicised, Arun had no choice but to accept Whitbread’s terms – their only alternative being to back out of the whole thing which, of course, would be big egg-on-face, no £millions for the town, no theatre refurbishment – effectively, Whitbread had them over a barrel.

Conversely, if Arun had required unconditional agreement from Whitbread beforehand, it would have been difficult for them to refuse without looking churlish.  And Arun would not have had to fork out £750,000 for a rundown building – or at least could have driven a much harder deal.  

And even more importantly, they could have put the hotel site up for competitive tender which, as even their own advisers told them, would have gained a much better price for it. And, of course, Whitbread could have bid for it in competition with all the others – because Arun had already been advised that TEN other hotel firms were interested in a Bognor Regis site.


The big question is – why did this happen?  It is utterly elementary that in any deal – especially property – you do not commit yourself before the terms are fully agreed and understood.  Arun committed itself, and THEN the terms hit them.  So was this just simple incompetence, which carries enormous negative financial consequences?  Maybe. And maybe it was a coincidence that when the then CEO, James Hassett, was challenged with all this, a certain leading Council Officer was removed from the team dealing with this and Hassett took it over himself.

But people in the town are inevitably asking a more serious question.  Was this deliberate?  And if so,Qui Bono? – who benefits?  There’s big money involved.  Could it really be possible that there could be some form of corruption mixed up in this?  Nasty question, but it has to be asked.  Especially as a leading Council Officer was asked whether this was accidental or deliberate, and he said it was deliberate.  And it has to be said that this is not pointing a finger at anybody in particular, it is simply asking the question.


Another question that has to be asked is why has there been NO INVESTIGATION into this?  Whatever the answer, there have quite obviously been significant negative financial consequences for this Council because of this.  Chief Executive James Hassett (now gone) was repeatedly asked to do this and repeatedly refused.  He passed the matter to the (still current) Monitoring Officer who heads the legal team, and he repeatedly refused to supply a clear answer.  Why the refusal?  What is being hidden?

There’s more. Written into Arun’s Constitution is an important check on officer decisions whereby any officer acting under delegated powers has to produce and retain a written record of the decisions taken, the reasons for them, alternatives considered etc.  Specifically this is in Part 4, Section 5.  This has been completely neglected and so there is no record of what went on and why.  Once again, what is being hidden, and why is this not being investigated?

As it stands at present, Arun District Council is a complete law unto itself, effectively accountable to nobody, and if it chooses to ignore any form of questioning it can with impunity.  Surely this is wrong?  And shouldn’t this whole matter be investigated by an independent outside body?  We think so, but tell us what you think – see our Letters to the Editor page and click on contact for our email address.

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