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Changing Times | Hopes were high for town’s distinctive building

Over the years, I have taken residents and visitors on a walking tour around Bognor Regis. Each walk produces its own memories, but each time we turn into the Queensway we become engaged in discussions, and sometimes arguments, about the merits or otherwise of this one development area.

 

In 1957, there was a newspaper report on a new development and that was to be Fitzleet as we know it today. Plans were in hand to commence in April, 1958, once planning permission had been granted.

 

The proposals were to include road work and the clearance of the site. The development was for two 100ft high nine-storey blocks of flats, which would be the tallest residential buildings in the town. There were also to be shops, offices, and garages.

 

A Mr Lowther, for the developers, said: “Naturally we are very glad to get the go-ahead signal, for this will have a tremendous impact on the town.”

 

Referring to the threatened demolition of the Fitzleet Chapel, an historic landmark in the town, he said: “Regrettably, this must come down.

 

“We have explored every avenue in the hope that it could be retained, and would gladly have given it away if it could have been removed. This has not been possible so the building must be demolished, as it is close to the site of one of blocks of flats.”

 

Building work finally commenced in 1960 and consisted of 143 flats and 31 shops. Did you know that when the flats were first available they cost £4 per week? I suspect the people renting there today would like to pay this amount!

 

It makes quite interesting reading to see the views of the time, as reported in the press, such as, ‘You cannot live in the past. If you attempt to do so, you are bound to slide backwards … I look at it as the pattern for the future of Bognor Regis’.

 

The company, which was ultimately involved in the building produced a press release at the time, which read: “Apart from instances of isolated buildings, Bognor has not changed for many years, and for this reason great attention has been paid to the character and aesthetics of the development to ensure that it will blend in with the more extensive redevelopment at the centre of Bognor that is destined to follow.”

 

The commemorative plaque was unveiled on Saturday, June 11, 1960, by the Duke of Richmond. (I wonder where this is now) There were more than 100 guests present to see the commencement of the ‘thrilling development’ of the times.

 

It was believed that the most modern design took great courage on the part of the developers, but it was also felt that ‘the design of the building was likely to make people take a deep breath, but it was inevitable’.

 

The Duke commented that this construction was how we would live in the future! The Duke also mentioned that he was pleased to say that he would be able to see the new flats from his home in Goodwood – I wonder if the present Duke feels the same today!

 

The chairman of the ‘Fitzleet Estates’ at that time remarked that: “I think you will agree with me that it is high time England has some very fine seaside towns.

 

“We decided that when we came to Bognor, if we could not rebuild the town, we would like to rebuild part of it. Here we are going to build a sort of town within a town, a very fine town in a very fine setting.”

 

By the 1980s, changes were beginning to take place within the Queensway to the extent that a petition attracted more than 300 signatures as shopkeepers protested at the proposed change of use into offices that had been requested for one of the shops.

 

One person who was interviewed stated that the area, ‘was a nice little shopping area, with a busy thoroughfare. We have a nice mix of shops, and if we start losing shops to offices it is obvious we are going to start losing customers’.

 

The advertising for the area promoted its convenience with a wide range of shops available including, foreign and English restaurants, gift shops, photographic shop, florist and a garage.
there have since been many changes to the area, from supermarkets to licensed premises. We still have a restaurant, but no garage. Today, we have a ‘wind tunnel’ to some, during stormy weather, and an eyesore to others, but how interesting it is to see the views of local people when this construction was commenced.

 

In 2009, the tower became the focus of a training exercise for the local fire brigade. It was one that they hoped never to repeat for real. The imaginary fire took place on the 11th floor and fire crews were rushed to the scene from around the county. A number of people were ‘evacuated’ for the exercise and 50 firemen went into the building.

 

It is one of the few individual buildings in the town that has been shown on postcards, as part of the encouragement to bring visitors to the town. Also, of course, the views from the top, for those lucky enough to experience them, providing excellent vistas of both the sea and the South Downs.

 

For many years, a gentleman called Todd Sweeney collected sunshine statistics from the roof of Fitzleet House, which were then forwarded to the Met Office in London to assist with national statistics, and,in 1983, one group of Cubs arranged a special tea party on the roof of the building as part of the national tea-making fortnight.

 

Today, the roof is home to masts and aerials for dealing with our communication requirements with an array of aerials and masts for phones and is, therefore, out of bounds to the public.

 

It would be interesting to guess the views of the town residents in the year 2040 on the type of redevelopment of today.

Posted in Lifestyle.