Moves which could see ownership of one of Chichester’s most popular assets transferred from the district council to the city council have been started.
The city council decided to investigate the possibility of taking over historic Priory Park, through negotiations with the district, with the aim of implementing badly needed improvements.
Finance committee chairman Cllr Richard Plowman, who is also chairman of the Friends of Priory Park, told a council meeting the ownership of the park was a ‘fundamental problem.’
“The park was given to the people of Chichester by the seventh Duke of Richmond, and we are all very passionate about it,” he said.
But during the last 30 years of ownership, there was no doubt it had gone down, and was now reaching a stage where investment was badly needed.
“Priory Park is one of the most visited and well-known of Chichester’s facilities, and visited more than the theatre and the cathedral – and it really is part of our heritage,” he said.
Cllr Peter Evans said that if the district council did not want to progress improvements as quickly as possible, it should look to a group which drive forward change.
City mayor Cllr Tony French said they would need to look at the possibility of lottery money, money from the English Cricket Board, and city and district council money, and come up with a plan for improvements.
“But we need a new plan before we do anything else – one which is not going to cost £2million, but will improve the environment and meet immediate needs,” he added.
Cllr Rob Campling said: “There is in this council quite an appetite to bring Priory Park up to the standard the people of the city wish to see.
“But there is the problem that we do not own the park. It belongs to the district council, for the benefit of the people of the city.”
Options suggested by Cllr Campling included creating a partnership to bring development about, or transferring the park to the city council, in which case he said there would be no problem over the city council doing the work itself.
“Until we deal with the problem of ownership, we can’t pursue spending what might be a considerable sum of money on behalf of another local authority – this is not appropriate,” he said. “If the district council does not want to take care of the park, it should give it to us, and we will.”
Cllr Peter Budge said: “The whole nub of the problem is the ownership of the park.”
At the meeting the city council approved a series of recommendations from its finance committee, including a declaration that the Heritage Lottery Fund should be seen as the prime method of financing a comprehensive package of improvements to the park, while at the same time preserving its very special character.
Professional consultants should be employed to secure a successful lottery bid, assisted by officers of the two councils. City councillors agreed they were prepared in principle to support the employment of the consultants financially. Finally, they decided the original master plan for the park must be revisited.
After the meeting Chairman of the Friends Richard Plowman said: “If we don’t keep momentum up at this moment, it will go into decline.
“The fundamental thing is we want to get a new pavilion and cafe going – that is the thing all the park users have asked us to do.”