Plans to secure the future of Chichester’s iconic Priory Park for the next generation are under threat because of red tape.
Resident John Coldstream said the project had become stymied and ‘mired in administrative treacle’ because Chichester City Council’s focus had shifted away from the option of obtaining a special loan – supported by residents at a public meeting in February this year – to applying for a grant.
Secretary of the bowling club Mike Lewis said going back on the idea was ‘a classic case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’.
At February’s meeting Chichester City Council was given the go-ahead by residents to look into obtaining a special low-interest loan under the government’s Power of Wellbeing scheme. This allows certain parish councils to complete projects outside their normal responsibilities to benefit their community.
The loan – taken out over 25 years from the Public Works Board – would pay for £450,000 of improvements to the park, which is in urgent need of attention following years of neglect.
But at a meeting of the finance committee held last week, some members said they would rather the prime source of funding came from a Heritage Lottery grant instead of a loan.
They heard submitting an application would take time, and it was currently unclear as to who would submit it, the city council or officers from Chichester District Council, the authority which has formal responsibility for the park.
The committee heard meetings had taken place between the city council and CDC and it had asked the district council for a formal position statement, but so far no report had been forthcoming.
Despite the recommendation about the public works loan still being open, some members said it would be premature to obtain such a loan and that ‘piecemeal’ projects undertaken around the park could jeopardise any application for lottery funding.
Cllr Rob Campling said however the project was undertaken, a formal partnership agreement must be in place between the city council and CDC.
But residents and interested parties now fear that without any action over the past year, the project will never get off the ground, and say a loan from the Public Works Board is realistically the last and best way of achieving improvements, especially in the current economic climate.
These include cast-iron railings around the park, construction of a new, larger pavilion to include social facilities as it is currently run down, and conversion of the current social club for Priory Park Cricket and Hockey Club into a cafe with new public toilets.
Resident Brian Dean said: “We want the council to represent the people of Chichester. Not only that, previous to the public meeting the city council put forward the Power of Wellbeing and supported it, and the people of Chichester endorsed it.”
Chairman of Chichester Priory Park Cricket Club Graeme Bennison said it was imperative facilities at the park were improved. “If we were able to have a new clubhouse, overlooking the ground, it would allow parents to watch their children on cold spring evenings from the comfort of a good facility.
“Our name is Chichester Priory Cricket Club and we want to be part of the future. We have a home in the park and we want to maintain that.”
Supporters of the park say it is vital improvements take place soon, otherwise the park will risk further deterioration, and urged people in the city to make their views known ahead of the next full council meeting which will take place next Wednesday.
Cllr Richard Plowman, who is chairman of the Friends of Priory Park and chairman of the finance committee, said: “We all love Priory Park – it is part of Chichester’s heritage for the future. Our great fear is if it is not maintained, it will decline. We’ve still got this opportunity.”
At the finance committee meeting, members were prepared in principle, to support the employment of consultants by CDC. It also said the previous masterplan for the park must now be revisited.
Last year the loan scheme was described as a ‘one-off’ opportunity bring a lasting legacy to one of Chichester’s open spaces. Income from the cafe and community lettings would help cover cost of repayment. Income would also come from the Butter Market.