Funds thought ‘ring-fenced’ are often believed to be raided by councils to make-up shortfalls in the administration’s favoured projects. West Sussex County Council once again stands accused this week over funds allocated to the refurbishment of Montague Street. Is this fair? Worthing Daily takes a look.
West Sussex County Council has submitted a bid to Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for £800,000 towards the project under the grand title ‘Worthing Sustainable Transport Package Stage 1 – Worthing Connectivity Public Realm Scheme (Phase One)’. It sounds impressive but what worries detractors is the use of the words ‘Sustainable Transport’. Can re-paving of a shopping area really be classed as ‘Sustainable Transport’?
The balance of the £1.2 million for Phase One is from Section 106 Funds £120,000 and the West Sussex Capital Budget £280,000. A major bone of contention is the use of the Section 106 funds which has plagued the scheme from day one. Section 106 funds are contributions from property developers as a condition of them being granted planning permission for their scheme. Often they carry restrictions on their use for say sustainable transport or bus shelters or for use in the area closest to the development.
In recent years Worthing Borough Council hoovered up a substantial amount of the Section 106 funds available to complete the Football Centre in Palatine Park, after failing to raise enough money elsewhere. Residents in East Worthing were not amused to see funds generated from developments locally being spent across the other side of town. Was this fair or misappropiation?
Worthing Daily does not know the detail of the £120,000 pencilled in for Montague Street and it may well represent a change of heart, as in the original discussions West Sussex County Council ‘found’ £750,000 of Section 106 funds available. They were challenged then on the use of the sustainable transport funds as they had been pencilled in for introducing Twenty’s Plenty in Worthing – dropped because of the rejection by residents on consultation. Where has the balance of £630,000 gone? Perhaps it has been used up by councillors lobbying for the Montague Street scheme!
Supporters of the Montague Street scheme claim it can be legitimately described as ‘sustainable transport’ as what can be more sustainable than walking? The bid says ‘it will have a transformational impact on the town centre improving the urban realm and the connectivity of the town centre for pedestrians, leading to a long term economic growth reversing the current decline in footfall and turnover.” Wait a moment – has not the cheap parking of £1.00 an hour had that effect? Well perhaps not, footfall actually fell during the summer months.
The main alternative sustainable transport project is the seafront cycle path from Worthing to Littlehampton but is rejected by Montague Street scheme supporters as not wanted and not ready. Strange – as this is part of Sustrans Route Two long distance cycle route which, when complete, will link from Dover in Kent to St Austell in Cornwall. The route is already complete from Dover to Worthing where it stops although Littlehampton to Bognor Regis is open. Worthing seems to be at odds with everyone else here if it’s not wanted and not ready.
Worthing Daily has heard all ‘systems are go’ so many times on the Montague Street scheme and monies are ‘earmarked’ but we remain yet to be convinced by the cosmetic attempts being currently heralded.
Misappropiated is probably too strong a word but Worthing Daily will to continue follow the sources of financing for this project with interest.