First steps taken on levelling-up projects for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

The first steps towards delivering projects costing £19.4m in Bognor Regis and Littlehampton have been taken.

Illustration of what a revamped Littlehampton seafront might look like
Illustration of what a revamped Littlehampton seafront might look like

Arun District Council submitted a Levelling Up Fund bid to central government in June and was told of its success in October.

Now the council has taken the ‘very first steps’ towards several major regeneration projects which will be paid for by the new funding.

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During the policy and finance committee on Thursday (December 9), councillors voted in favour of accepting the funding; agreed how it would be allocated; and agreed to hire extra staff to deliver the Levelling Up projects.

What a revamped Alexandra Theatre in Bognor Regis might look like

‘Tight timescale’

Due to the ‘very tight timescale’ set by central government, the committee will oversee all aspects of the Levelling Up Fund project.

Council leader Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East) said: “It is vital to progress the project as quickly as possible and to put in place the relevant resources.”

Officers said this marked the ‘very starting point of both projects’ with deputy opposition leader Matt Stanley (LDem, Marine) calling it the ‘best urgent item since the new administration’.

Grant Roberts (Con, Arundel and Walberton) gave thanks to the local MPs who supported the project, as well as to council officers for putting in a successful bid, and the government for granting the funding.

“Even though I personally thought we could have gone slightly further, I very much welcome this and I’m very thankful for all the work that’s been done and also thankful to this Conservative government for giving us this award,” he said.

James Walsh (LDem, Beach) said: “It’s going to be one of the biggest projects that Arun district has had for many years, certainly since the Wave was built. 

“It will have a significant and regenerative effect in both towns.”

Extra staff approved

Officers expressed the need to get ‘cracking at pace’ as the first funding award will be made in February 2022 and funds need to be spent by the end of March 2024.

Extra specialist staff will be recruited at a cost of £55,000 this financial year and £220,000 in the 2022-23 financial year to help manage the project.

This will come from underspends in the current financial year and will be factored into later council budgets.

Dr Walsh said there was ‘no alternative’ if the projects were to be delivered on target.

How will the funding be used?

The funding will be used for improvements to The Alexandra Theatre, in Bognor Regis, and Littlehampton’s seafront and riverside.

A total of £12.1 million will be allocated to the theatre project which could see:

• increased seating capacity

• additional arts and cultural floorspace

• new gallery and control rooms

• Changing Places accessible toilet

• an enhanced façade

• improved energy efficiency

£7.2 million will be allocated to the Littlehampton improvement projects which are set to include:

• a new social hub, concessions building and showers

• car park improvements 

• Changing Places toilet facility

• additional walkways and performance space

• new play spaces

• social spaces 

• additional planting

Growing wishlist

The scope or the projects is ‘not exhaustive’, according to officers, but some councillors were keen to add to the wish list at an early stage.

Francis Oppler (LDem, Orchard) believes funding should be allocated to improve the Regis Centre’s roof as well as creating a new meeting hall or events space.

“If we don’t do something drastic with the roof, in two years time it will still be leaking,” he said.

“Something that Bognor Regis as a town has lacked for probably two decades now is a large hall or meeting space.

“It would be a half job, or worse than half a job, if we don’t reinstate a full size hall.”

Whitbread PLC currently hold a lease for part of the Regis Centre, which houses the Alexandra Theatre and Brewers Fayre pub and restaurant.

Negotiations previously stalled when Arun DC sought to take control.

As a result, the Levelling Up funding is unlikely to be used for this part of the building and officers say the council may have to foot the bill at a later date.

This was highlighted by Dr Walsh, who said: “I believe discussions should take place with Whitbread to see if we can get a way forward so that we don’t end up with a really wonderful, half regenerated building and, frankly, a tatty bit on the front.”

Officers said that talks are ongoing between Whitbread and the council.

What is the Levelling Up Fund?

The Levelling Up Fund was announced in the Chancellor’s 2020 spending review with further details released as part of the 2021 budget.

This has made £4.8 billion in funding available in order to improve local infrastructure.