Bognor Regis town centre ‘is punching above its weight’

Millions of investment has been spent improving Bognor Regis town centre, including London Road
Millions of investment has been spent improving Bognor Regis town centre, including London Road

Millions of pounds of investment in the town centre has helped Bognor Regis cope with recent tough retail trading conditions.

Arun District Council, along with a range of other partners, helped secure funding to improve London Road and Station Square, while West Sussex County Council delivered enhancement to the High Street.

A final evaluation report of the public realm scheme has been completed and was discussed by Arun’s Bognor Regis regeneration sub-committee on Monday night.

Matt Stanley (LDem, Marine), chairman of the sub-committee, said: “We are doing very well as a town.

“We have some really unique independent businesses which are vitally important from a retail perspective and are attracting a wide range of food and drink outlets.”

The first phase of work looked to turn the precinct into a modern and largely vehicle-free space creating a more intuitive walking link between the seafront and railway station.

The square outside the railway station was then transformed, improvements to Station Road have made crossing for pedestrians easier and High Street enhancements complemented changes in London Road.

Officers described how the improvements have taken place against the backdrop of the worst retail trading conditions in living memory.

Footfall increased by 3.2 per cent in 2016/17, dropped 2.5 per cent in 2017/18, but has rebounded in 2019, up four per cent in the first five months.

These figures all outstrip the average for coastal towns nationally.

According to officers: “This indicates that Bognor Regis is punching above its weight against its peers in terms of footfall in these tough trading conditions.”

Vacancy rates across the town centre halved from 13.3 per cent in October 2012 to 6.7 per cent in September 2018 although it has since risen to 8.6 per cent in May 2019.

Meanwhile the percentage of retail premises has reduced, with food, drink and leisure sector units rising.

Tony Dixon (Ind, Aldwick East) said: “Overall I think the town really has improved. There is a better ambience in the town.”

But he pitched the idea of possibly making Queensway a residential area and mainly concentrating the town centre in the High Street and London Road, given the challenges businesses would continue to face in the future.

Elaine Stainton (Con, Felpham West) explained that people told her they did not shop in the town due to the number of rough sleepers.

It was explained by officers the council’s community safety team was working hard to offer support to these individuals.