Councillors have approved plans to turn the Look & Sea Centre in Littlehampton into a café, bar or restaurant.
At last night’s cabinet meeting at the Arun Civic Centre in Maltravers Road, Littlehampton, councillors voted unanimously to seek an operator to provide a café, bar or restaurant for the whole building. Click here to read more about the plans.
Council leader Gill Brown said: “The building is in a fantastic position, with river views and a car park opposite. It has everything going for it.
“A new operator will breathe new life into it. It is a great opportunity for Littlehampton and we need to move as quickly as we possibly can to get a new operator in there and get it up and running.”
A planning application will be submitted to change the use of the upper floors of the building.
Councillors were questioned by members of the public about why it gave the centre a £20,000 grant months before its closure.
Mrs Brown said the council wanted the business to succeed.
In a statement read at the meeting, she said: “Some months ago the council was approached by the trustees of the centre who asked for a grant of £20.000 to help out with a cash flow problem and rather than see the business close before the beginning of the summer season the grant was agreed.
“This wasn’t an easy decision to make but we believed it was the right one.
“The council was assured, at the time, that this help with the cash flow would ensure continuity of service to the people of Arun and to the visitors to the town and that the business would be on an even keel again.”
Earlier in the meeting, she said: “The council is clearly disappointed that despite this support, the trustees were unable to operate a viable business.”
As a charity, the Look & Sea also received an 80 per cent relief on business rates, and could have received a discretionary 20 per cent relief if it had applied for it, the council leader said.
Councillor Trevor Bence said in real terms, this was £300,000 the operators did not have to pay.
He described the operators as ‘mad’ due to their handling of the business. He said: “Anybody, after the summer we’ve just had, that can’t run a business properly doesn’t deserve to be in business – and I am very sorry to say that, because I have personally used the building.
“It seems astonishing to me that with the long summer evenings we had, the café was closing at 4pm in the afternoon.”
According to the cabinet, Arun is currently in discussion with Littlehampton Town Council about the future of the visitor information centre and educational experience.
Ian Buckland, councillor for river ward, felt uninvolved in discussions by Arun’s officers about the Look & Sea plans and wanted to know if anyone was being held accountable for the demise of the centre.
Danny Surridge, 76, from Wick, was a volunteer at the Look & Sea for more than three years. He wanted the visitor experience to remain at the Look & Sea Centre.
Regarding the future of the information centre, he said: “It seems to me that [Arun] has more or less left the town council to do what they can with a much smaller budget.”
He felt it would be hard to replicate the school trips which the Look & Sea hosted, as it ‘was not as simple’ to organise as it may have seemed.
He added: “Everything there was joined up. You had the Look & Sea and lifeboat station; you had the total visitor experience, which was great for the teachers and helpers.”