Worthing residents reveal how they would improve the town centre - and we peek into its ‘continental’ future

Our survey may have revealed what Worthing residents want from their town, but what changes would they make if they were handed the reins?

According to the survey results, first on the to-do list would be to clean up the streets, brighten shop windows and revamp the Montague Quarter.

Worthing's independent traders. Front row, trader and TCI members Andy Sparsis, Samantha Whittington, and Diane Guest TCI chair. Pic Steve Robards

Worthing's independent traders. Front row, trader and TCI members Andy Sparsis, Samantha Whittington, and Diane Guest TCI chair. Pic Steve Robards

Parking prices would also be slashed to encourage more visitors to the town.

Read more on the results of our town centre survey here: This is what Worthing residents voted as the food chain they most want in the town

More pedestrianisation, particularly of South Street, would improve the flow of the town centre, with more covered seating for shoppers to relax, readers said.

Filling vacant shops with independent traders would be another priority, but many respondents suggested cutting business rates to achieve this – a decision that rests with the Government, not the local authority.

Worthing's pier and seafront was voted residents' favourite feature

Worthing's pier and seafront was voted residents' favourite feature

Worthing’s town centre manager, Sharon Clarke, is a member of the Town Centre Initiative (TCI), a group of traders which works to promote the town.

She said Worthing was in a period of ‘transition’ amid changing consumer trends and Brexit uncertainty.

Even so, the town has a shop vacancy rate at around half the national average and boasts 155 places to eat and drink – more than double than when the TCI was formed 17 years ago.

“The biggest issue for town centres is footfall,” said Mrs Clarke, who added Worthing’s seaside location gives it a ‘footprint’ 24 per cent smaller than inland towns, which have neighbours on all sides from which to attract visitors.

“People see shops closing because people aren’t coming to support them,” she said.

“The more people come into town, the better shops they will get. Businesses have to see there’s commercial sense.

“Going forward, towns will become community centres, with doctors and dentists in community hubs.

“In Worthing we will see social shopping, where people will meet friends and enjoy leisure activities in a lively, pedestrianised area.

“We’ll also have a good retail offer, that people will use when they’re in town.”

The Herald’s survey showed a vision, supported by work carried out by the TCI and Worthing Borough Council, of a ‘continental style’ town, with outdoor seating in pedestrianised streets.

Bustling centres attract more trade, said Mrs Clarke, and help reduce anti-social behaviour and make people feel more safe.

But the TCI, traders and council were recently forced to unite against huge county council increases to outdoor seating licence fees, which businesses said could be the ‘final straw’ for many traders.

Councillor Kevin Jenkins, the borough council’s cabinet member for regeneration, supported a letter to the county council condemning the move and said the council was determined to bring people into the town with amenities and new homes.

Several town centre shops have already been earmarked for flats, such as the old Mothercare and Beales sites in South Street and the former Poundland in Montague Street. Mr Jenkins also pointed to the success of the observation wheel, which saw more than 40,000 visitors this summer, and added the rollout of ultrafast broadband would be a boon to residents and businesses.

With a multi-million pound project to ‘upgrade the look and feel of the town centre’, starting with the pedestrianisation of Portland Road, the continental vision may not be far away.