The intention of Fenwick’s Café to stay put after 2020 received a boost this week as council plans for Priory Park were put on hold.
Dawn and Rob Bunker, who have run the business since 2014, have temporary planning permission and a lease that both expire at the end of 2020 and are hoping to extend both.
However Chichester District Council officers’ preferred option for enhancements to Priory Park, costing an estimated £599,000, include removing the café buildings and instead letting the brick pavilion out as a café.
But cabinet members voted to put the majority of the proposals on hold until the planning issues for Fenwick’s Café are resolved today (Tuesday June 5).
Tony Dignum, leader of the council, described how the approach recommended by officers ‘presents a considerable problem’ and they were all aware of the popularity of the café.
He said: “Furthermore it has planning permission until late 2020. We do not know now whether the operators will be successful in being granted an extension of planing permission after 2020 if they should seek such an extension.
“This is a matter for the planning function of the council and the planning committee.
“Until that issue is decided it is not sensible to commit public money to refurbishment of the building known as the brick pavilion when it’s not clear what its future use would comprise.
“So I’m proposing today a much reduced proposal.”
Plans to demolish the old depot buildings and restore the Coade Stone statue were both supported, with a revised budget of £57,000.
Jane Kilby, cabinet member for housing services, said: “I’m actually pleased to see your revised recommendations. We all accept that work on refurbishment needs to be undertaken within Priory Park but there are too many improbables in my mind at this stage.”
These included the visibility of new toilets, the future of the air raid shelters and facilities for the bowling club.
Peter Wilding, cabinet member for corporate services, said: “It does not seem to make sense to embark on a whole programme until the planning future of the café is resolved.”
Roger Barrow, cabinet member for residents services, added: “The café is very popular and we just need to wait and see what happens in the future with any planning application.”
Afterwards Richard Plowman, chairman of the Friends of Priory Park, who has been calling for Fenwick’s to remain after 2020 called the cabinet decision a ‘good result’.
Earlier in the meeting Dawn described how she had a meeting scheduled with council planning officers later this week.
Speaking to the Observer last week she said: “Where is the business sense? There’s a perfectly good café, the public love where it is, it’s safe, it’s friendly and it does not cost the council any money.”
In response to our story Fenwick’s Café received a huge outpouring of support on social media.
One reader said: “we visited the other day with a school class of children with complex health needs and they couldn’t have been more friendly, accommodating and helpful we need more place for families like this.”
Another Facebook user wrote: “It’s a wonderful café in a superb spot that greatly enhances the park. Not only does it not cost the council anything, but it provides the council with income from the rent paid. The idea of closing it is simply ridiculous.”
Another added: “Fenwick’s is such a wonderful café, bringing the community together, with amazing owners and staff.”
At the start of the meeting Alan Green, chairman of the Chichester Conservation Area Advisory Committee, suggested the four air raid shelter buildings should be retained.
Mr Dignum said there was no definite proposal to demolish the shelters.
Meanwhile Simon Tooley, president of Chichester Bowling Club, described its intention to move into the modern half of the brick pavilion as the existing wooden bowls pavilion is too small for the club’s current needs.
Mr Dignum suggested that future uses of the brick pavilion would be explored at the next stage of the project.