Opposition councillors questioning progress of Worthing’s regeneration and health of the high street were admonished by a senior councillor this week and told to ‘stop knocking’ the town.
Labour and UKIP were warned would-be investors were listening to councillors’ comments and would not pump cash into the town if they did not hear messages of confidence.
The caution was issued by Worthing Borough Council deputy leader Kevin Jenkins as he answered questions posed by Labour’s Richard Mulholland and UKIP’s Mark Withers on Tuesday (July 17).
Mr Mulholland queried progress on persuading Stagecoach to relocate and free up its Marine Parade depot for long-sought redevelopment. Mr Withers asked about street signage to help struggling businesses, remarking about the ‘dying’ high street in a comment he later said was a generalisation, not an attack on Worthing.
Mr Jenkins said: “If we say that development is being held up it is a big headline – wrong – It is factually inaccurate. If we say that Worthing town centre and the high street is dying – wrong – it is factually inaccurate.
“It is easy to make broad brush statements but you must look at the facts underneath because every action and broad brush statement will be reported and investors coming into this town look at what’s being said - on social media and by the council.
“They want to know that we have confidence in our town and if we haven’t got confidence in our town we are not serving the people of Worthing.”
Mr Mulholland claimed Stagecoach was ‘holding up the development of Worthing’ by failing to move on and urged leaders to resist what he termed as a ‘lacklustre approach’ to relocation. Leader Dan Humphreys said he ‘needed to do more work’ on the issue before attacking the company.
Mr Jenkins said negotiations were ongoing, with consultants looking at whether Decoy Farm, a former landfill site in East Worthing, could be a suitable new base.
“To say they are holding up the development of Worthing is a wild statement,” he said, as he waxed lyrical about progress at the Teville Gate, acquisition of Union Place and strategies to boost the economy and seafront.
Responding to Mr Withers, Mr Jenkins said town centre vacancy rates were around half that of the national average. “Stop knocking it across the parties,” he said.
Speaking after the meeting, Stagecoach South managing director Edward Hodgson said: “Stagecoach is fully engaged with the relevant parties regarding possible relocation of the bus depot and hope that ongoing discussions will result in a solution that works for everyone.
“We wish to see Worthing town centre thrive and become the destination of choice to many more residents, businesses and visitors. We look forward to continuing to serve the area with attractive and convenient bus services.”