LITTLEHAMPTON'S future is something worth investing in if a massive £480,000 government grant, to build the world's longest bench, is anything to go by.
The 1m seat, which would be part-funded by Gordon Roddick as a tribute to Dame Anita, could stretch from Mewsbrook Park to Pier Road, and become a major tourist attraction, according to its supporters.
James Walsh, a member of Arun District Council's Littlehampton regeneration sub-committee, said the grant, awarded by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), last week was "superb news".
"It confirms that there is external confidence in the direction the town is taking, and in the improvements we are making. It really will put us on the map, and keep us there."
Arun will now hold a public consultation on the scheme, part of the overall Littlehampton Seafront Strategy, a project being overseen by the regeneration committee, which is aiming to attract 250m of investment into the town over the next two years.
Not everyone is pleased with the news though. More than 100 signatures, against the plans, were collected in July, when the idea was first muted.
Littlehampton resident Lynn Martin, who set up the petition, said: "A simple bench would have been nice as a tribute, and somewhere to sit, but this is ridiculous.
"It is such a large amount of money, why can't it be spent on the town centre, or on youth facilities, things that we actually need?" she said.
"It will not be long before it is vandalised, and it will just become another place for drunks and drug addicts to hang out."
Councillors were keen to point out that none of the estimated 1m build cost would come from the public purse.
Dr Walsh said: "This money is designated for art projects. It cannot be spent on housing, schools or anything else."
Littlehampton's deputy mayor, Mark Butler, added that the scheme would not cost the people of Littlehampton a penny.
"I am absolutely overjoyed that Littlehampton has managed to secure this sort of money, and it shows that faith has been put into the town.
"We have got to start thinking about the future. If we get it right now, we can leave a wonderful town for our children and our children's children."
The preliminary drawings of the bench were designed by London-based Studio Weave, with help from pupils at Connaught Junior School.Maria Smith, director at Studio Weave, said it was inspiring to work with the children.
"The project itself is very exciting. We're not exactly sure of its precise length as yet, but it looks like it will be about 600m long when measured around all it's curves and wiggles!"
Catalyst for regeneration
From tip to tip, the bench would be around 480m, but the 600m length beats the current record holder, at Kiel Canal in Rendsburg, Germany, by almost 100m.
The grant was one of 13 made by CABE, which is funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, under the government's Sea Change programme.
The commission's chief executive, Richard Simmons, said: "What all the projects share is a desire to use the combination of culture and good design as a catalyst for regeneration."
Details of Arun's public consultation on the Seafront Strategy will be released in the coming weeks.
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