A decision on the return of the Chichester ice rink is to be delayed until after the district council elections this summer.
Grass repairs at Priory Park occupied a large portion of the discussion at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee this morning, which voted in favour of the ice rink’s £1,000 deposit being retained until satisfactory reinstatement works had been carried out.
It also agreed to cllr Andrew Shaxson’s suggestion that the council publish the total costs, both past and ongoing, incurred by the council in terms of officer time dealing with the ice rink, in the interests of transparency.
But the ice rink was also commended for drawing visitors to the city and providing fun for all ages, particularly in view of pressures on the high street.
Officers told the committee that Chichester District Council had proactively sought a contractor to bring in an ice rink with the aim of providing a city centre attraction.
S3K Limited, which provided the rink in Priory Park this year, was the only one of five companies to submit a proposal that met the council’s brief.
Cllr Pam Dignum said she visited the ice rink with her grandchildren, who had ‘the most fun they have every had in Chichester’.
“Some of them came back another time to take part in it because for them it added an extra excitement that never been there in Chichester before, and that is important.”
She acknowledged that there had been ‘temporary problems’ for some members of the public but stood by Priory Park being ‘for the leisure of the people of Chichester’ and said the ice rink had had a positive economic impact.
A report to the committee outlined reasons why Priory Park was a preferred location for the ice rink, which ranged from demand on parking during the Christmas period to the emphasis on a city centre location.
Cllr Peter Budge said he was in favour the ice rink coming back to Priory Park as ‘quite frankly there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else’.
He praised the attraction for being generally very well run, although the paper 18+ wristbands given out to regulate the sale of alcohol could be slipped off and handed to underage customers, and a stamp system might be more suitable.
He said: “My feelings on it – good idea, good for the young people, good for Chichester, perhaps not the right place, but where is there?”
In response to observations that £1,000 for a deposit was very low compared to other established events, he dryly noted it was still 1,000 times the £1 ground rent.
City councillor Richard Plowman told the committee that as a specialist in botany and grasses, he was very concerned the grass in Priory Park would not recover without ‘serious work’, particularly due to toxins from woodchip now ingrained in the soil.
He said: “Although the grass may establish itself what we’ve actually done is to put weed killer into the soil.”
Officers gave assurances that the district council groundwork team had ‘no concerns’, all reinstatement works were being paid by the contractor at its own expense, and further remedial work was planned including drainage, top soiling, fertiliser and re-seeding.
Some of the damage was due to the archeological dig earlier in 2018, they said, which had led to areas being filled with woodchip during the hot weather to make the area safe.
The committee voted unanimously in favour of retaining the deposit until grass reinstatement works had been completed and asking for breakdown of officer time spent on the project.
Cllr Shaxon’s second recommendation, that an open market tender be carried out at commercial ground rent rates for any future event at Priory Park or elsewhere, was also voted through.
Cllr Apel also requested any decision on the ice rink would only be made after the new council had been elected, although the decision will remain delegated to officers.
All recommendations made by the committee are to be decided by the district council’s cabinet.