VOTE: You didn’t give us the time to buy our centre

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Campaigners claim vulnerable members of the community will lose out after it was announced a valuable building had been sold off to a private developer.

Steve Taylor, leader of the group which fought to save the Fernleigh Centre for people in Chichester, said it would be difficult to replace such an important facility.

“I think certainly the need for facilities in Chichester for community groups and the voluntary sector are very, very great,” he said.

“It is a great disappointment that we have lost what would have been a valuable space over a long period of time for the people of Chichester.”

Kingsbridge Estates has announced through its agent Aston Rose Chartered Surveyors it had acquired the Grade II listed building in North Street.

Previously owned by West Sussex County Council, the centre was the home to dozens of community and voluntary sector organisations for many years until the county council announced in 2009 it was too expensive to run.

Mr Taylor pleaded with the county council to allow campaigners to put together a bid to buy the building.

He expressed his bitter disappointment about its sale and said it would be difficult to find another site within the city.

“On behalf of all the people who worked hard to save the Fernleigh Centre to see if we could get it to continue as a community space for voluntary sector resource, we are very disappointed,” said Mr Taylor.

Mr Taylor said its loss was already being ‘keenly felt’ and said it was unique because it was one of the few community resources within central Chichester.

“The county council were never prepared to talk or negotiate with us at any point. It is a real shame. They were never prepared to give us more time to raise funds from lottery or other sources, which I think would have been possible if more time had been given.

“I’ve never understood why they wanted to withdraw something which, particularly in the current situation, could have fulfilled a significant role and taken a lot of pressure away from services they have been running themselves.”

But West Sussex County Council said the building was empty for a year before being marketed.

“The sale was widely advertised, and there was every opportunity for offers to be made,” it said in a statement.

While community facilities were being created at the new Graylingwell development, Mr Taylor said it would be unrealistic to expect them to replace those previously provided at the Fernleigh Centre.

“I hope that at some point a similar kind of premises will be found and that an opportunity will be identified in centre of Chichester,” he said.

“It is quite obvious there is a need which can’t be replaced by facilities in satellite villages and further out from the city centre and I don’t believe we are doing enough for young people and vulnerable people in Chichester.”

Mark Hooper, of Kingsbridge Estates, said it wanted to carry out a sympathetic redevelopment and was currently in discussions with a number of a potential occupiers.