‘Find common ground and work constructively to improve Bognor Regis’
Being positive, finding common ground and everyone working constructively and collaboratively are the keys to delivering future improvements in Bognor Regis, the chairman of the regeneration board has told the Observer.
Raof Daud first arrived in Bognor Regis in 2001 when he was brought in as a sales director at Lec Refrigeration just as it was launching a new product range.
He was made managing director a year later.
The company was later sold to Glen Dimplex, which did not want the land in Shripney Road as it was heavily contaminated.
Raof was then involved in efforts to regenerate the site, with Sainsbury’s, then the Charlie Purley pub and Wickes being built.
After leaving Lec, he set up his own property investment and development business, which is primarily involved in the Solent area and has no commercial interests in Bognor Regis.
He has served as a long-time regeneration board member and is now its chairman.
Given his previous involvement, he wanted the board to be more inclusive as sometimes it has been ‘perceived’ as a closed shop as well as making it sustainable for the long-term and having a real focus on the town centre.
Research by the board has shown how between 2007 and 2020 more than £500m has been invested in the town, but the vast majority of that has been on the outskirts or edge of town locations.
Raof said: “What history shows us is that the town centre has had a lot of investment but I see there is so much more potential there.”
While the board has a role to play in terms of strategy and policy, he did not want it to get in the way and interfere with the work being undertaken by ‘talented’ Arun District Council officers.
However he did feel the policy framework for the town centre was due for a reexamination.
He explained: “The board is ultimately a facilitator. We do not have the resources or ability to do anything other than facilitate. It’s bringing people together from the key stakeholders, public, private and third sector. The idea is we are trying to have, and all agree, is planned, co-ordinated and joined up development. Regeneration improvements are definitely better than fragmented, random and uncoordinated work.”
He described how they had to strike a balance in order to have conversations, some in confidence, and create a conducive environment where members can speak openly about things which are sometimes difficult and sensitive, but at the same time not appearing to be a closed shop.
During his tenure, the board now publishes minutes of its meetings and tries to engage more with the community and press.
When it was originally set up the board had more informal gatherings while their governance process ‘lagged a bit’.
Their only real expenditure is their advisor Rebecca White and her part-time salary is funding by voluntary donations from members.
Raof’s motivation for serving in the role is to give something back to the town, explaining: “I do it because I care about Bognor Regis. It has been good to me and I wanted to put something back. I have a real connection with Bognor Regis and I genuinely want to see it thrive.”
The board’s strapline is to promote Bognor Regis as a great place to work, live, invest in, study and enjoy.
Recently the board has been involved in a place branding exercise. Although the initial research was carried out by HemmingwayDesign, both the board and Bognor Regis BID have been driving it forward.
The place branding is a set of core values that give Bognor Regis its unique identity, and reflects on what is important to focus on in everything said about, and everything done to transform Bognor Regis.
Meanwhile the board has also been working on a ‘build back better’ initiative, a principle developed in response to the increasing threats from climate change.
The work has seen the distillation of key factors to consider when assessing future improvement or regeneration opportunities in the town centre such as sustainability, inclusivity, viability, creativity, connectivity and legacy.
Raof believes the pandemic has shown the importance of people and organisations working collaboratively together and while they should learn from the past ‘we should be forward looking’.
He said: “If there is disagreement, fine, we encourage debate but if you disagree with something, it’s encumbent on us all to come up with suggestions and coming up with some changes.”
He called on decision makers to be much more positive, work together and find common ground.
He added: “Rather than finding what we do not agree about, lets find out what we do agree about.”
He described how in ‘uncertain times the whole community is depending on us’, adding: “It’s lazy if we do not use our ability to find common ground and work together.”
As someone involved in the Bognor Regis masterplan produced around a decade ago, he contrasted the success of the initiative Enterprise Bognor Regis with the lack of progress made in regenerating the main town centre sites.
Rolls-Royce has opened its facility at Oldlands Farm, while Warburtons and other businesses are moving into the Salt Box site.
And while some improvements had been made in the town centre, ‘nothing has happened on those two strategic sites’.
In order for projects to be successful, he felt there needed to be compromise and work must be cross party so they could transcend local election results.
His message was: “Act positively and constructively, otherwise we are failing the community collectively.”
Meanwhile his passion for the town shines through.
He said: “I regard Bognor Regis as an absolute jewel, but not many people seem to know that.”
He listed its ‘tremendous attributes’ from the great natural setting to its tourism, entertainment, leisure and hospitality sectors, and strategic allocations delivering not only homes, but also new employment opportunities.
While it might have been regarded as a commuter town 20 years ago ‘it’s not true anymore, with great opportunities to both live and work in Bognor Regis’.
He also praised the town’s great schools and colleges and the University of Chichester campus, which has very high student approval rates.
He mentioned the ‘resilient’ high street and the ‘tremendous strength of partnership working’.
As far as the town’s future is concerned, Raof wants to see a greater focus on the emerging student population, which he felt would soon become a ‘hugely important cohort’.
Work should look at how they can be induced to continue to live and work in Bognor, with one of Raof’s suggestions to offer more sports and leisure activities, watersports being an obvious example. But it could also include things like wellness programmes or outdoor gyms.
He pointed out how a walk along the Esplanade even during lockdown at the weekend showed plenty of people enjoying a sunny stroll along the seafront.
Another advantage for Bognor Regis was its flat town centre making it accessible and inclusive for all types of people.
This could be strengthened by new Changing Places facilities.
He also felt the town needing to think about how it adapted to climate change and reduced a reliance on cars, whether it be travelling more by bike, on foot, train or bus.
He pointed to previous successes in the town when the public and private sector had worked closely together and believes this is the key to getting more exciting projects off the ground in the future.
Addressing regeneration of the town centre, Raof said: “This really needs to happen. No more false dawns, let’s have more compromise and work together.”