Bognor Regis Herald — Scathing attack on Arun by local youth officer

Arun Ccuncil is under fire by a local officer of a youth organisation for its role as landlord of the Number 18 Project, which ran for over 20 years at 18 Waterloo Square until the charity management quit, unwilling to deal with Arun any longer, earlier this year.

Liz Allen, N18 Trustee for the past 7 years, and formerly project leader and secretary of the Bognor Fun Bus which ran for 28 years, says she is clear she was misled by Arun officers over their reasons for their actions.

“What they claimed is that we had to undertake £31k of repairs sending in a well-briefed external surveyor, at a cost of £1500. He said we had to completely redeocorate internally, ignoring clear evidence of work in progress in that regard as a part of a phased programme we had over 5 years. There were claims of internal water leaks but no proof it was not caused by external issues in part. The whole thing was a nonsense. Couple to that the fact we had a good claim that Arun had denied us an annual payment of £7k for 8 years which was agreed as part of their contribution to the project which, incidentally, we did not start, it was a partnership between Arun and West Sussex from 1992, we only formed in 1996 solely to manage the project for both councils.”

Liz says she pointedly asked Arun officers what would happen to the 11 room premises if the project closed. “I was ASSURED the Council had no other plans. They tried every inducement to get us to quit — our job was done, they didn’t think we could manage it, and Jan our chairman got a very wishy washy email from Arun’s Leader, Cllr Gill Brown which included a sugary tribute which under the circumstances we now know was utterly hypocritical.”

“They turned to threat and litigation eventually taking us to court where the judge clearly told them they had to make a case not just claims. We put in a counterclaim for that £42k. They were told they had to produce records which appeared not to exist after this time, they couldn’t even find a record of the Barnham Youth Project they themselves ran over the Station ticket office in the mid 90s. “

Liz says that one serious reason the management had to shut the project was after a visit by the fire officer at N18’s request earlier this year. In 2014, a water penetration in a downstairs room caused the suspended ceiling to be removed revealing dangerous wiring which was removed immediately but also the original butcher’s shop ceiling (hooks still in it) with holes in it. It had clearly been like that for years, certainly prior to the project occupying the 75 High Street part of the combined premises. Before then it had been empty and prior to that used by Elim Church.

“After the N18 Committee took on management in 1996, it became clear there was a lot of work needed to make the premises suitable, at first Arun claimed no money but in 1999 a survey was undertaken, Jan found a copy, and it clearly said that such spaces as the suspended ceiling had not been examined in the survey and that this must happen and that space CLEARED. That did not happen, so when Arun applied for government money to do up the premises in 2002, this was not part of it. Indeed, until we uncovered the report and the state above the suspended ceiling, we had no idea this was the situation. The response of an Arun underling - we took the place as seen. Can you credit that for sheer irresponsibility, the safety and lives of young people, volunteers, staff and visitors at stake. The holes compromised the fire delay provision meaning fire would have spread quickly unknown in an old building. Indeed the electrician who removed the wiring, with some bare ends, told us he was surprised we had not had a fire.” She says Arun denied any responsibility. “That was shameful, and they tried to make us shell out for their inaction as landlord.”

She says the charity quit after accepting an out-of-court payment from Arun, made by their agency solicitor “as we left the court in Chi” because “frankly, the thought of dealing any longer with this crew was unacceptable. We’d rather start something new away from this Council.” She was referring to plans to create a new mobile youth facility for the area.

She had been inclined to leave things at that but the recent application by Arun (to itself) to change use of the premises from community to 2 flats and 2 shop units has made her furious and wholly cynical. “They told us they had no other use in mind. It was simply they wanted the work done, within 3 months or court. Now we find they want to do this, having robbed our kids of their base. It was hard enough keeping it going, especially with them as landlord, but now the tawdry truth seems to have emerged, They will surely spend more than £31k to achieve their stated aim and I simply refuse to believe they did not have this in mind all along, even if the Archangel Gabriel pops down to tell me otherwise. They sacrificed one of the very few youth facilities remaining where kids can just walk in and relax so they can generate rent/rates for their coffers. One is left with a very nasty taste.”

Just down the road in the Square are the Arun-owned, fire-ravaged and derelict premises which blight the Esplanade and Square, partly masked by a mural undertaken mainly by young people with the legend (contributed by Jan Cosgrove) “It’s Our Future”. There is a Freedom of Information question in re this site at this time and the Herald will report Arun’s reply as it is also landlord of this site which has been derelict for some years.

Liz’s last words: “To any local charity etc, the lesson I have is never deal with Arun. They ate a nightmare. I used to think Jan perhaps exaggerated about them — truth is, I found them far worse than he had said over the years.”