Following the news that one of Worthing's biggest department stores had gone into administration, Worthing Borough Council outlined what it was doing to keep the town centre growing.
According to national news outlets, Beales appointed KPMG as administrators after failing to get a buyer for the company on Monday (January 20).
It throws the future of the South Street store into serious doubt, with dozens of jobs at risk.
Reacting to the news, councillor Kevin Jenkins, Worthing Borough Council’s Executive Member for Regeneration, said: “There’s no doubt that this is a period of change and the look and feel of Worthing will change in the next couple of years.
“We are ready for that and will continue to work closely with the Town Centre Initiative, individual traders and private landlords who own the majority of the buildings to understand their concerns and support them where we can with our limited resources.
“We will also continue to look to the future, to ensure that our town centre becomes a thriving mix of shops, workplaces, good-quality homes and exciting experiences, so that it becomes a place that people use all hours of the day."
He said they had 'ambitious plans' to roll out free public WiFi with gigabit broadband speeds, which would have 'the potential for transforming how visitors and companies see our town centre'.
Other improvements included 'new pedestrianised areas, increased leisure opportunities and the return of the Worthing Observation Wheel', to make 'a visit to Worthing more of an experience', Kevin said.
He added: "We are also progressing with major regeneration proposals, such as the scheme to redevelop Union Place, bringing homes and commercial space, along with an expanded cinema to the town centre.
“Things will not be easy, and there will be challenges ahead, but by working together I know we can ensure the town centre has a future for years to come.”
Before news of the business going into administration was announced, the council had been working with Beales and the private owner of the site to create a smaller store.
The existing site was due to be split into a 6,000 sqft store in South Street for Beales, freeing up 5,200 sqft to be turned into smaller units for independent traders in Montague Place and a series of one, two and three bedroom properties created above the retail spaces, nine of which would be affordable housing. These plans were approved by councillors in December.
St Clair Developments was carrying out the plans for the Beales site. It has been approached by the paper to find out how the news may affect the redevelopment.
A council spokesman said compared to the national average, Worthing's shop vacancy rate was still low - six per cent compared to ten per cent nationwide - and new outlets were moving into the town, such as Bert’s Homestore opening in Montague Street next month.
Beales is one of the country's oldest department stores, starting in Bournemouth in 1881, and has 22 stores with more than 1,000 staff members.
It completed a management buyout in October 2018 led by its chief executive, Tony Brown.
In the year to March 2019, Beale Ltd posted a loss of £3.1m, up from £1.3m for the year earlier as costs swelled and sales dipped, the BBC reported.