Despite a rainy Saturday morning, councillors, residents and members of The Littlehampton Society gathered by the lime tree in protest over the plan by Arun District Council which argues that removing the tree will improve the view and sight lines from East Street and create more space for pedestrians at this end of the high street.
Four-time former mayor of Littlehampton Malcolm Belchamber was among the crowd, and said: “I am delighted to see so many people out this morning who have come out to support the retention of the tree.
“It is a very good display of the public feeling.”
The 74-year-old said the district council wants to cut down the tree and plant another one a few feet away as part of the £3.5million town centre improvements, which, he said, ‘seems a bit nonsensical’.
“To remove it and to expose the tatty arcade is a retrograde step – and to replace it with a tiny, wispy tree a few feet away that will get vandalised or die without being watered,” he added.
He argued that the council could move the mature tree instead or give it a hair-cut.
“I have found three companies who could remove it and the cost is peanuts compared to the town centre regeneration plans.”
Mr Belchamber added that seven trees in the high street had been cut down over the past six to seven years.
“In this day and age, we are being encouraged to plant more trees, not get rid of them.
“They soften the precinct and make the high street and town a bit more attractive and calm.”
Councillor Dr James Walsh echoed Mr Belchamber’s concerns: “It’s important when we’re renewing the high street we don’t throw out the good and well-loved features that we’ve got.
“There are very few trees left here and it takes years for them to get to this size – we need to keep it and to plant more around the place.”
The pair’s comments came three weeks after Christine Wiltshire expressed her dismay at the plan.
Mrs Wiltshire, of Clun Road, told the Gazette: “The council is saying it is obscuring the view of the archway, which, it says, is an important aspect of the appearance of the town centre.
“I personally think that it enhances the archway. And I think a healthy tree cannot cause a detriment to an appearance.”
The district council said to compensate for the loss of the tree, it will be planting additional new trees and greenery as part of the £3.5m public realm project, which includes new pavements, road surfaces, planting and street furniture along High Street, Beach Road, part of East Street, and on stretches of Clifton Road, Duke Street and St Martin’s Lane.
It has since said: “At present, plans are to remove the tree to improve the visibility of the arcade, but we continue to explore a range of options.”