Even those most loyal of Littlehampton residents would admit that the town centre looks tired at best, tatty at worst – a problem which will soon be fixed.
After securing a grant of just under £2.5m from the Coastal Communities Fund, members of Arun District Council have been given a glimpse of the first two phases of a regeneration scheme which they hope will start later this year.
At a meeting of the Littlehampton regeneration sub-committee on Thursday night (June 13), members were told that the initial work would stretch from the railway station, along Terminus Road and the High Street, stopping just short of the Arcade.
It would also cover short stretches of Clifton Road, Duke Street and St Martin’s Lane.
Caroline Gosford, of the council’s economic regeneration team, said: “What the scheme is trying to do is to just bring the town up-to-date a little bit.
“We’ve got the lovely seafront and iconic things like the bench and the performance area, we’ve got the Riverside walk. The town is getting a little bit left behind at the moment.
“What we need to try and do is bring the town up to that same level of quality and enable it to flourish and to draw people to come from the seafront and the Riverside into the town, come more often, stay longer, spend more.”
The other three phases of the work will cover East Street through the High Street Junction and Beach Road; Surrey Street to the Look and Sea Centre, Pier Road and New Road; and the War Memorial roundabout.
That work will, of course, need more money, and Ms Gosford, who has also worked on the Bognor Regis regeneration, was confident it would be found.
She told the meeting: “What experience of lots of grant-funded projects tells me is that if you can get phase one off the ground – or phase one and two as we’re doing here – it’s much easier to get the money for phase three and four because you have instant match funding.
“You can say ‘here look we’ve got £2.5m we’ve spent on this already plus all the money we’ve spent doing the designs – if you give us another couple of million, we can do the rest of it’.
“That goes down very well with funders. It makes it easier when you’ve got part of it delivered already because that makes a much stronger argument.”
The work at the railway station will see the entrance changed to make access easier, the pavement widened and the double-lane taxi rank made into one long rank, complete with a drop-off area for the public.
The meeting was told that Network Rail was ‘highly delighted by the concept of the scheme and are saying bring it on’.
The issue of anti-social and criminal behaviour in the town was raised and, while members were told things were ‘not in a great place’, they were assured there was ‘lots of activity going on in the background trying to tackle that’.
This included plans to improve CCTV coverage in the town centre, with the possibility of another CCTV tower being added ‘to give better coverage in the precinct and some of the side streets’.
June Caffyn (Con, Courtwick with Toddington) said she had been told that people were not enjoying Littlehampton as much as other areas because of rough sleepers in the town centre and people begging for money outside Sainsbury’s.
But chairman Ian Buckland (Lib Dem, River) said the problem had been ‘hyped up’.
Mr Buckland told members: “There is a hell of a lot of work going on within our town centre to sort out the anti-social behaviour and also the street community.
“I get really fed up with what I’m seeing on social media. It’s been hyped up out of all proportion.”
Pointing out that there was nothing that could be done if people refused to accept help, he added: “I get quite angry because Littlehampton is a fabulous town, it’s a great town, but it’s not the only town that’s got these problems.
“Unfortunately it’s highlighted because of social media and it’s dragged through everyone’s front door and we don’t need it.
“We need to nip it in the bud, put a cap on it, because the good things are happening and it’s just unfortunate that it’s the little bad things that are making our town blighted.”
Members raised a number of concerns about the regeneration project.
Andy Cooper (Con, Angmering & Findon) said that narrowing the roads and widening the pavements was ‘giving the green light to creating a lot of pollution that’s going to sit in the town’.
He added: “We need to be mindful that we don’t create standing static traffic.”
The issue of whether or not to keep the clock tower was also raised, with members told it was ‘still under discussion’.
The clock was not included on maps shared with the meeting, with designers keen to preserve the line of sight along the High Street.
But leader Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) insisted that the public and town council wanted the clock tower to stay.
He said: “The town council and Littlehampton town councillors have been absolutely adamant all through the consultation that the clock tower does not obscure the view down the High Street.
“If you put yourself in a certain position yes it does, but if you move a yard to one side or a yard to the other you can see past the clock tower all the way down the High Street.”
When it came to the work itself, members were told that it would be carried out in stages, with as little disruption as possible to the traders, all of which would remain open.
Ms Gosford said: “We haven’t got much clear information to share with you at the moment and won’t have for some months until we’ve got this tendered out and a contractor appointed.
“We are working away in the background on things we can do at this stage – talking to traders and what have you.”
It is hoped the work will start later this year and finish is early 2021.