Denton Gardens, situated to the east of the pier and south of Brighton Road, has an ornamental sunken garden, raised terrace and herbaceous border.
But earlier this year, concerns were voiced about Worthing Borough Council promoting ‘an exciting opportunity for an adventure golf/leisure activity operator’ and how this would threaten the ‘tranquil and calm’ space.
The newly-formed Friends of Denton Gardens has now launched a petition opposing the conversion of the shelter overlooking the seafront as part of any proposals for the gardens.
It says: “We utterly oppose the commercial development of the shelter. We exhort the council to recognize and respect both its historic and community value and that they restore and protect it for present and future generations.”
At the time of writing it has more than 300 signatures.
One signatory said: “I often sit here in the sun reading or watching the world go by. Many others get similar pleasure.”
Another wrote: “I believe some things should be kept, simple, free and for the community. This shelter fits perfectly between the rowing club and beach cafe and is a place people of all ages and economic circumstances can enjoy watching the world go by without having to spend money. It is also a link to the past and history of Worthing.”
Writing to councillors on behalf of the Friends of Denton Gardens earlier this month, Nadine Barber said there was growing public concern about the threat to the gardens and in particular the way in which ideas to convert the gardens and beach shelter ‘appear to be being pushed through without regard for local opinion and due process’.
She added: “It would be a tragic turn of events if the centenary of Alderman Denton’s gift to the town was marked by the digging up of half of this precious green space, and the loss of public access to the distinctive and historic beach shelter.”
Her email went on to describe how a brochure marketing the southern end of the gardens and beach shelter had specified an end of May deadline for expressions of interest.
Although there were some interest in developing an adventure golf course, there had originally been none in converting the shelter into a cafe.
However they were later informed that this was no longer the case and that a new expression of interest which included the shelter was now under active consideration.
She asked: “What is the justification for creating yet another cafe in an historic and distinctive public amenity beach shelter, one that is listed in the register of parks and gardens of local historic interest?
“Why not just restore and cherish it for the elegant and well used public amenity that it has always been?”
According to the council the shelter was always included in the marketing of the site, which was done to see if the area could be upgraded to provide a regional attraction.
No formal commitments have been made at this stage.
A council statement from May said: “This site has long been identified in the Seafront Investment Plan as a place to enhance our leisure offer. This has become even more apparent with Covid and the increased demand for outdoor recreation spaces, which also pull people into the town centre/seafront.
“At the moment, we have only seeking expressions of interest to gauge the market. Any developer/operator will be required to obtain relevant permissions, which provides an opportunity for neighbours and other impacted parties to formally respond to plans.
“The current operator has been spoken to and is aware of the situation. They will have this season to operate but we’re starting the process now with the aim of getting a new agreement in place for Spring 2022.
“In terms of the cafe, we’re expecting this to only be secondary/ancillary rather than the main function. This will be looked at in reference to the proposals but we’re very conscious it needs to compliment what is already in the area.”