Comment: Trees should not be priority

Worthing Society supporters gathered outside the town hall on Wednesday in protest against the felling of three sycamore trees as part of the Montague Centre plans SUS-160107-145006001

Worthing Society supporters gathered outside the town hall on Wednesday in protest against the felling of three sycamore trees as part of the Montague Centre plans SUS-160107-145006001

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Trees are important but shoppers will never flock to town centres solely because of greenery.

The quality of the retail offer is the key – and increasingly the need for leisure businesses is vital.

Artist's impressions of plans for the Montague Centre SUS-160524-095330001

Artist's impressions of plans for the Montague Centre SUS-160524-095330001

As always, our coverage will remain neutral and balanced. But it is why, in my own, personal view, councillors were right to approve £15million plans for Worthing’s Montague Centre, which could see the likes of Prezzo and Nando’s move in.

It was striking that, despite long-standing council policy to retain traditional retail uses in the prime spot, most cared only for the future of three sycamores.

Thousands signed a petition against their loss and replacement with a glass kiosk, asking why the chains could not make do with existing empty units.

Barring £1.2million improvements to Montague Place, Worthing has had no major investment for years. It is a fact much-bemoaned.

But when the opportunity to change that came, some sought to stymie the plans, prioritising three trees over a major economic boost.

Imagine a situation where a trio of trees stood tall around a wilting shopping centre, which lay barren and empty. No-one would enjoy the specimens, for few would need to visit the centre.

It is easy to say that the chains should go elsewhere, or other private developments should be the priority.

In the real world, it is not that easy. The chains are king and they control where they want to go and how much space they need.

‘Fine’, one might say. We could shut the door and defiantly decree that things should be on our strict terms.

But many others, many young people, will welcome the big names hoped to be part of the project. When the doors open, thousands will flood in, quickly outnumbering the petitioners. From Worthing’s perspective, it is far better they flock there, rather than head to Chichester or Brighton as many currently do.

It was right we debated the issue and I congratulate the Worthing Society for their well-run campaign. It is right to explore the option of relocation.

The trees should not, however, stand in the way and I believe councillors made the correct call.