Delays to Littlehampton town centre improvements a ‘PR disaster’
Repeated delays to improving the public realm in Littlehampton town centre have been heavily criticised by Arun district councillors.
Back in 2019, £2.45million was awarded from the government’s coastal communities fund, £564,000 was secured from Coast to Capital’s local growth fund and contributions were agreed by both Arun District Council and Littlehampton Town Council.
However work has still not started yet, with one of the major delays due to a tendering exercise for the project needing to be re-run after a funding shortfall was identified last year.
This now means Arun currently only has enough money to deliver phase two, covering the High Street shopping precinct, and phrase three, transforming East Street through to the junction with the High Street and Beach Road.
At this time only the designs for phase one, for Terminus Road from the railway station to High Street will be worked up.
A contractor has been selected and paperwork is expected to be signed shortly, with work anticipated to start in the late summer possibly in September.
The council was heavily criticised for delays at a Littlehampton regeneration sub-committee meeting on Thursday (March 11).
At the meeting, Arun’s director of place Karl Roberts warned there could be even more cost pressures as the price of materials increases.
Shaun Gunner, leader of the council’s Conservative group, dubbed it a ‘PR disaster’ and described how elected members had not been fully informed.
He felt they should have dropped the Beach Road section and kept the stretch from the railway station, adding: “I’m extremely cross about what has happened here. I’m extremely cross about how the public and traders have been treated as well as this committee and members.”
Mr Roberts explained they had included the Beach Road section because of extra funds secured from the town council.
But committee chairman Emily Seex (Ind, River) felt they had not been consulted properly on these changes and now faced a situation where the town would be ‘divided down the centre’ with both old and new paving.
She added: “There’s been poor management of the project and that has to be accepted and we need to look at that outside of this meeting and how we learn the lessons.”
The Conservatives pointed the finger of blame at James Walsh, Lib Dem leader of the council and cabinet member for the economy.
Mr Gunner felt he had been ‘asleep at the wheel’ and ‘not paying attention to what is going on’.
In response Dr Walsh denied taking his eye of the ball and described how there had been ‘unacceptable delays for all sorts of reasons some of which are entirely due to Covid’.
He added: “I want to see this delivered because it will provide tangible benefits for the traders in Littlehampton, the residents and shops of Littlehampton and for the economy of Arun as a whole. I’m as disappointed as anybody else that is not going ahead in March but that was based on the best information I had back in January.”
Alison Cooper (Con, Rustington East) described the communication around the project as ‘absolutely shocking’.
Meanwhile Grant Roberts (Con, Arundel and Walberton) said: “I think the public see this as a bit of a disaster.”