Good news for Littlehampton – Arun District Council’s Coastal Communities Fund bid has been successful and work will soon begin on enhancing Littlehampton town centre.

Artists impression of regenerated Littlehampton Town Centre – image courtesy Arun District Council.

While I congratulate all those involved in securing this funding, I have concerns at Arun District Council’s ability to successfully deliver a lasting and real regenerating scheme for Littlehampton town centre.

Artists impressions are one thing – but having the imagination and foresight to deliver something more than new paving and planters, is another.

For example, there are a number of quick and easy fixes that Arun as a council could easily introduce, which in my view, would have an immediate impact on improving town centre visitor numbers.

Number One – Finally tackle the problems of Littlehampton town centre street drinkers. Arun District Council have introduced special powers to seize and dispose of alcohol and move anti-social drinkers. So why not use them? A prolonged zero tolerance campaign on street drinking will yield substantive rewards.

Number two – Call off the over-zealous parking enforcement officers, the now detested litter wardens and boot out the paramilitary styled ‘business wardens’ all of whom are a parasite on the town’s backside.

Number three – using the savings to fund a town centre police officer and base them in drop-in either the Town or District Council’s offices.

Number four – Improving street cleaning – I’ve given up relying on the council’s cleaning contractors, every morning I clean the area outside our shop and the neighbouring CAB. In the 2 years I’ve been in Anchor Springs, I’ve yet to see any decent attempt at street cleaning.

Unfortunately, the delivery of Arun District Council’s previous Littlehampton regeneration schemes aren’t exactly encouraging.

Take Pier Road, for example. Here Arun District Council oversaw a £22.5m joint regeneration scheme with the Environment Agency, scheduled to take 6 months, which dragged on for almost three years. The disruption to businesses resulted in heavy financial losses and ultimately delivered very little by way of tangible benefits to the area.

If you doubt this – despite spending £22.5 on building new flood defences, the flood risk on the Environment Agency’s flood risk scale remains at exactly the same ‘high risk’ level as it did prior to building the flood defences. And Arun District Council still refuse to grant planning permission for ground floor residences citing ‘flood risk’.

Surely when the authorities spend £22.5m on new flood defences, the flood risk should be reduced?

At the launch of the scheme, Arun District Council announced their regeneration scheme would create 37 new jobs for Pier Road. However, the reality has been business closures and redundancies.

What was once a an old fashioned, atmospheric quaint seaside road where visitors sat on a wall eating fish and chips while watching the harbour activity, has been replaced with a raised concrete runway, that is now stained like a nightclub floor in Benidorm, following a Stag or Hen party.

Unsuitable bins for a windy seafront/harbour area.

Simple things like bins. Why would anyone put the above bin arrangement on a windy harbour walkway? Much of the contents of Pier Road’s bins ends up blowing into the road, river and sea just because the brains at Arun District Council cannot understand/accept that the bins such as the one pictured above are unsuitable for seaside/harbour/windy locations.

I’ve sent the council pictures and designs of suitable, and ultimately cheaper alternatives, which have been ignored. Ironically, Arun are responsible for littering Pier Road and the seafront area, something they arrogantly refuse to accept.

Regeneration typically leads to higher business rates and shop rents

Prior to the council’s ‘regeneration scheme’, Pier Road was a thriving prosperous business area. However, now it’s in a fairly sorry state with a number of Pier Road’s longest standing businesses either closed permanently, or forced out by high rents. All the Pier Road business owners that I have spoken to, report that trading figures have never returned to where they were pre-regeneration works.

No sooner had Pier Road reopened following the works, my shop landlords sold these buildings to speculative property developers who raised the rents substantially forcing us to relocate the Dutch Bike Shop to the town centre.

Our shop premises, which we painted every year and was home to our successful bike shop business is now an eyesore, land banked for future redevelopment, but wanting an interim tenant to pay rent while the landlord waits until the market is right for them to build houses.

Our old shop in Pier Road, home to the Dutch for over 16 years.

Pier Road’s iconic favourites – Dinky Doo Diner, The Nelson hotel, Balaton’s, the Moorings Tea Rooms are all now closed. Even Arun District Council’s own flagship ‘Look And Sea!’ went bankrupt at the latter part of 2018. The council now looking for new tenants.

Immediately following the council’s regeneration of Pier Road – all the road’s business premises were revalued by the government’s Valuations Office., leading in many cases to increased business rates.

A nice walkway, a few tropical grasses in a sandy border and an ‘design award’ is all that’s needed for the government and local councils to stick their hands deeper into the pockets of all-ready over-taxed small business owners.

For years, Pier Road, which was prior to the council’s regeneration scheme a very successful, profitable trading area continues to suffer since the council’s well meaning, but poorly executed attempt at ‘regeneration’ .

I hope the same scenario isn’t repeated in Littlehampton town centre and lessons can be learnt from the Pier Road experience.

This project will need to be managed carefully to ensure Littlehampton town centre remains open during what will undoubtedly be, disruptive works.

While £2.5m to improve Littlehampton’s town centre is good news for us all. A close eye will need to be kept on those tasked with delivering this scheme to ensure it doesn’t further lead to more business closures in an already challenging retail landscape.

Ultimately, Littlehampton town centre needs more than a council revamp. There has to be a willingness amongst the many slum landlords to finally improve the appearance of their properties, lower rents, and accept that the days where they could charge £25,000 year for 500 sq ft of crap retail space are long gone.

Shop owners must also change their ways and create a retail experience that makes their business a place visitors are willing to travel to and spend their hard earned money in. The days of hanging a ‘use us or loose us’ notice in the shop window are long gone.

As business owners, we must offer sufficient incentives to our customers to keep our cash tills ringing.

As always your comments welcome, thanks for reading.

Paul

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