Arun District Council investigates 'shambolic' Look & Sea Centre vote: 'there are lessons to learn'

Arun District Council has admitted there are lessons to learn after it received three complaints into a vote on the Look & Sea Centre's future which was described as a 'shambles'.

An Arun spokesman confirmed that three official complaints were received following the meeting of the overview select committee on November 20.

Campaigners outside the Look & Sea Centre in Littlehampton

Campaigners outside the Look & Sea Centre in Littlehampton

Councillors narrowly voted to reject the call-in of a cabinet decision to turn all of the riverfront landmark into a café, restaurant or bar and get rid of the visitor information centre and educational experience as we know it. Click here to read more about the cabinet's original decision.
The voting process was criticised by members of the public, with one councillor asking what they were voting on just after chairman Norman Dingemans asked the committee to make its decision.

On Monday, council officer Liz Futcher responded to Littlehampton town councillor Derrick Chester, who was among those who complained, with the findings of her investigation.

She said there were ‘lessons to be learned' in how the rules of the meeting are communicated to members and ‘what their role is at a call-in meeting’, which was something that group head of policy Jackie Follis ‘already intended to review’.

However, she added: “My findings, however, do not demonstrate any significant failure in the conduct of the meeting of the overview select committee on November 20, 2018, that affects the decision taken by the committee.”

Reacting to the outcome of the investigation, Mr Chester said his issue was not with the council’s officers, but the conduct of its councillors.

He said: “At the end of the day, it was an extremely badly handled meeting.”

Conservative councillor Roger Elkins put forward a motion to refer the October 15 decision back to the cabinet for reconsideration, which was seconded by Barbara Oakley.

The vote was briefly tied at five in favour and against until another councillor voted against.

Conservative Robert Wheal’s proposal to reject the call-in then received seven votes, with four against – sparking uproar in the public gallery.

Dr James Walsh, the councillor who spearheaded the call-in, described the vote as a ‘shambles’ last week.

At the Littlehampton Town Council meeting on Thursday, he said that he and Liberal Democrat colleagues ‘vowed to keep on fighting the decision’ to get rid of the visitor information and educational experience facilities.

He said: “We will also take our responsibilities as a town council seriously and leave no stone unturned to see how best we can provide visitor information and accommodate these school groups in partnership with others.”

Councillor Ian Buckland added: “I’m sick to my stomach looking at these Tories ripping the heart out of our town.

“Under the terms of Arun’s decision we could end up with an oversized McDonald’s in there if we are not careful.”

An Arun spokesman said Jackie Follis would present a review report to the committee ‘in due course’.

What do you think of the decision? Email news@littlehamptongazette.co.uk

(Video taken at a rally of a Facebook group called Look & Sea Rescue, which was campaigning to reopen the centre. Click here to read the original story.)