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Changing Times | Grand visions have been feature of town’s past

Over the past year we have seen a variety of plans for the future of our town. There have been quite a number of speculative developers throughout the history of the town, starting of course with Sir Richard Hotham who was to develop this seaside resort between 1786 and 1799. He provided the basics for future generations.


In the 1820s there was a definite building boom during which time the areas around the Steyne and Waterloo Square were developed. This was followed by a number of quite small plans. However, the town had to wait almost 50 years for the next large phase, when Arthur Smith developed the Victoria Park Estate commencing in 1865.


His work involved areas such as Victoria Drive, Norfolk Square and the Post Office in Charlwood Street. By the 1880s another major plan materialised to develop the seafront with the Bognor Hotel Company when they intended to build approximately 32 terraced houses.


However, only four were built and these were amalgamated into the Carlton Hotel on the Esplanade.  Over the next decades there were many proposed developments, which never reached a conclusion. The town, of course, also experienced two World Wars and a depression. During the 1930s there was another building boom following the Kings visit.  However, by the start of the 1950s things began to change.


Over the Whitsun week-end in 1950 it was claimed that over 37,000 visitors came into the town for the bank holiday. Newspaper reports of the week-end claim that it would appear that ‘it looked as if all the cars in England have come to Bognor to-day’ an exaggeration, but apparently the town’s garages were ‘busier than they had known for years’.


The report continues with details of the number and type of visitor also the amount of entertainment provided over the weekend.  One piece of information that I found quite interesting was that there were 499 coaches which had parked in the East Coach Park, the site of today’s Butlin’s.  Many of the older generation have told me of the great numbers that regularly came into the town.


Within a few years, the Chamber of Commerce was extolling the great opportunities that were being planned for Bognor Regis. However, in the 1950s when the town had a population of 25,000 some saw this as an ‘awkward size, – making Bognor betwixt and between – traders too ambitious with their ideas for projects, old retired residents shy of adding to their rates’.


Nevertheless, the Chamber had plans for expanding the promenade, cleaning up the seafront and also the provision of an arts centre, which according to one member could be adorned by  ‘a figure of the Goddess of Art and Sculpture bearing a torch, which could be lighted to guide the fishermen home on dark nights’.


In the early 1950s, there were many talks and discussions on the way forward for the town. There were a variety of discussions on whether the developments should be for the town’s people or just for the visitors.


One of the people involved remarked that, ‘up to the present so much of the town’s income appears to have been spent on projects to please visitors and only a small proportion on the needs of residents who are the long-suffering backbone of the district’.


One of the major discussions in the town in the 1950s was regarding the class of clientele in the town. A concept that today would not form part of any town development was considered very important at that time


The preferred type or class of visitor was very much considered. One report gave as a reason for loss of trade in York Road – the removal of the glass canopy over the pavement, in the High Street – as yet another reason apparently, according to the press,  to view the town as having ‘gone down’.


Taxi drivers were also commenting that there had previously been a better class of people visiting the town at the beginning of the century, when visitors came for three weeks or even a month.


The main problem for one taxi driver was that people now came by ‘coach’ to the town thus emphasising the lack of class who would require his services.


In 1960, there was a major plan for the town centre. Part of the literature described the town as: ‘the tide comes right up to the sea wall and the promenade becomes crowded and dangerous.


‘In addition the town lacks a focal centre, possesses very few facilities to encourage visitors and has a growing traffic problem.’


This documentation then describes the plans alongside an interesting sketch of the view down London Road as, ‘this scheme will comprise shopping centres, offices, flats, hotels, traffic free promenades, entertainments etc., set in the informal gaiety of arcades, sheltered squared gardens and is phased to integrate with existing buildings and to give a natural and a logical development to the town.


‘It will result in the evolution of a holiday and residential centre, which is busy and thriving all the year round and will make Bognor Regis the most exciting and attractive resort on the South Coast’. However none of these plans came to fruition.


Other developments have concentrated on the seafront area, including this 1967 view complete with its motel, shopping mall, swimming pool and conference hall.


There have been other plans over the years.  Some of which have been similar to the above in that they consist of very major alterations to the town as it existed at the time of the plans, thus creating almost insurmountable problems, due to demolition and rebuilding required to achieve the described project.


The latest plans for the regeneration of the town seemed to provide a cohesive look at the current central area of the town.


They aim to create a safer and more attractive environment for the benefit of businesses, residents and visitors alike.


These plans appear to be different to those in the past in that they are involving the residents, and are  of a more practical nature.


They utilise and enhance what we have today without the grandiose building plans.


There will be certain elements that are not to every ones tastes, and we are lucky that there are still groups of people who have sufficient belief in the town to research the requirements of us the residents, and to try and enhance the area for all.

Posted in Lifestyle.