Chichester Sea Cadets looking to build new home with £500k left in a will - but time is running out
"Time is running out for us and if we are unable to move forward with this project the money will be lost..."
A sea cadets charity, which was left more than £500,000 in a will, is facing a fight against time as it looks to build a new home.
The Chichester Sea Cadets want to build a brand-new site at Pound Farm Road, as its current small unit on the land is 'getting close to not being fit for purpose'.
"The roof continues to leak, we have to keep repairing that," said Graham Watson, chairman of the Chichester and Selsey unit.
"It's a wooden building which won't last for much longer. I don't suppose it will be usable in five years."
A plan for the future was formed when a former Navy lieutenant, Peter Goss left the charity more than half a million in his will, three years ago.
The generous donation came after the benefactor had previously parted with £7,000 to help the cadets fund a new mini bus.
Graham — who served in the Royal Navy for 24 years and has been involved with the sea cadets since 1958 — said: "He [Mr Goss] spoke to us about the unit and what our aspirations were. I told him that the biggest problem was that they've never had their own permanent base.
"We have to beg, borrow and steal to get what we can because we are operated by charity rather than the forces."
The charity now wants to build a new headquarters and community centre at its present site, owned by Chichester District Council.
However, the group, which has faced difficulty agreeing a lease, is running out of time.
"There was a stipulation that we would have to start building within five years of his death," Graham said. "It would otherwise go to the main sea cadets charity in London to be spent on boats for the rest of the sea cadets in the country.
"We will end up losing that money. We have been given a bit of leeway because of Covid but it is not going to last forever.
"We are intending it to be used for the community of East Ward, which is the poorest in the city, and with so many new houses being built, it will need somewhere for clubs and associations to go.
"We've had numerous meetings with the council over the last three years but none have come to fruition. It's become very frustrating for us."
Graham said the charity has requested a 75-year lease but has only been offered a maximum of 25 years.
He said: "What we need is security as we are spending £1.2 million on the project.
"Nobody in their right mind would spend that amount of money for such a short term security."
Chichester District Council explained that such an offer is not possible, as this would constitute a 'freehold sale'.
As the designated area is public land, there is also a legal requirement to 'ensure that we get best value for the site in the event of any disposal'.
A council spokesperson said: "Best value means achieving the best price on the open market and we have explained this to the group.
"This rule has also applied to other community groups and charities that have purchased land from us in the past.
"Currently, the group operates on very short-term leases and we have offered to provide a longer term lease which offers more security, however, they are keen to purchase the land.
"We have explained that they need to make the council an offer which we can then consider but to date no viable offers have been received.
"We are keen to work with the group to help them achieve their goal and we met with the group just over a month ago to discuss various options, and we are awaiting more information from them.”
The council also stressed that it has offered 'a range of support and advice' to the group, 'to help them move their project forward'.
The spokesperson added: “We appreciate that the Sea Cadets is a much-valued community group whose work greatly benefits young people in the area.
"Over the years we have also provided advice regarding grants that may be available to them, and also encouraged them to speak with our planning team for advice on what sort of options would make the site viable for them."
However, Graham said he feels there has been 'very little support' adding: "It's very difficult, as we would like to help the community.
"We would like to help our own cadets get a better start in life.
"We want to let the community know that we would like to put this building there.
"It's something the community wants."