Plans to repair and improve Rother’s largest council-owned car park have been deferred as new council leaders look again at the cost of the project.
At the first meeting of Rother District Council following the local elections, councillors decided to defer making a decision on allocating up to £330,000 to resurface and repair the Camber Western Car Park.
The recommendation to defer had been put forward by Cllr Jonathan Vine-Hall, the council’s newly appointed cabinet member for strategic planning, gypsies and travellers.
Cllr Vine-Hall said: “The reasoning behind this is it is a commitment for an amount equal to just over 10 per cent of the current year’s operating deficit.
“While the money from this is coming from the earmarked reserves, those reserves have already been identified as reserves that will need to be reallocated to cover the expected significant deficit next year.
“Given new councillors have not really had enough time to fully understand the council’s very serious financial situation in detail, I believe it is prudent for that decision to be deferred until that situation is fully understood.”
Cllr Vine-Hall said the costs and income of the project had not been ‘sufficiently detailed’ in the report from cabinet and that he believed the £330,000 estimate to be ‘very high’. However, he added it was “clear some work needs to be done” at the car park.
He also said the deferment would not affect the start time of the project – set to run between October 2019 and March 2020 – if it were to be approved at a later date.
However, the recommendation sparked some concerns among Camber’s local Conservative members.
Cllr Sally Ann Hart – who represents Camber as part of her Eastern Rother ward – argued the need for repairs had been laid out in a recent traffic impact study.
She said: “Camber has enormous issues with traffic that impacts on a much wider area.
“It has been going on for many, many years and this council under the previous administration commissioned, with the police, a traffic impact study to look at how we could ameliorate the traffic issues in Camber.
“One of the recommendations was to improve Western Car Park in order for it to be utilised more and most of the year round and for safety reasons.
“In terms of health and safety, in terms of the environmental impact on people living in Camber this is something the council actioned as part of the recommendations of that study.”
Meanwhile Cllr Paul Osborne, who also represents Eastern Rother, urged councillors consider the popularity of Camber Sands among tourists and the income it brings in to the council.
He said: “Camber, as you know, is possibly one of the most popular beaches on the south coast and becomes extremely busy.
“In a four hour period it can go from a population of approximately 1,000 people to 28,000 people. That is a premier league football crowd turning up in a seaside village.
“We need something to happen to the car park to ensure we get the maximum use out of it and get the cars off the highways as quick as possible, safely parked up and onto the beach.”
However, he said he would ‘be happy’ with a deferment to look at the overall costs, as long as the project was not cancelled outright.
This view was given some support by Cllr Kathryn Field (Lib Dem, Battle), who is the council’s new cabinet member for environment and public realm.
She said: “As this now falls within my portfolio, I want to reassure local members that they will of course be included in any discussions we have on this subject.
“I believe, looking at it now without having seen the detail, that we would anticipate the work being carried out as originally scheduled in October ready for the next season.
“We do understand the importance of the revenue stream from that car park to this council.”
Council leader Doug Oliver added that he believed the need for the work was ‘paramount’ but cabinet wanted to ‘make sure the numbers are absolutely right’.
Following further discussion, councillors voted to defer making a decision on the project to a later date.