A project that matters ...
Littlehampton’s transformed East Bank waterfront is a powerful argument for how an urgent need for new infrastructure can – and should – lead to better places to live, work and visit, if only we see the bigger picture.
Littlehampton: Landscape-led flood defence at its best. Regeneration images all © Toby Smith
“Seeing residents and visitors alike enjoying the area and the atmosphere it creates in that part of town is a joy.”
Cllr Paul Wotherspoon, Arun District Council
Our coastal towns are on the frontline of climate breakdown. Up to 2,000 homes in Littlehampton, West Sussex, were at risk of flooding.
A leap in the right direction
Sea levels are rising, putting more of our coastal towns in jeopardy. Scientists warn that within our children’s lifetime, levels around the UK will rise by at least 1 metre. By 2080, around 1.2 million homes are estimated be at significant risk of flooding, with 100,000 properties facing coastal erosion. We cannot go on as if nothing is changing.
Of course, climate breakdown creates significant challenges. But many of these challenges also offer up incredible opportunities, if approached in the right way.
In Littlehampton, West Sussex, up to 2,000 homes and businesses were at risk of flooding. Arun District Council (ADC), in partnership with the Environment Agency, recognised this as a chance to bring about wider transformation and lasting change.
Illustrative masterplan to enhance the flood defences at the same time deliver improvements for local people. A kick-off workshop helped establish the community’s priorities, making the transformation a shared endeavour.
The solution to better protect vulnerable homes in Littlehampton was a new tidal wall along the east bank of the River Arun, strengthening the town’s flood defences against a century or more of predicted rises in sea level. The design features 3,000 tonnes of steel sheet piles.
The project could have stopped there with a highly serviceable concrete and steel barrier, except that the Council wanted to go further and to use the circa £19 million investment into the wall as a trigger for the transformation of 2.5km of Littlehampton’s rundown waterfront.
The award-winning LDA Design and CH2M scheme punches above its weight, maximising benefits to local people by establishing easy and inviting connections between town and beach, riverside and seafront. The project has created a more integrated stretch of waterfront that offers new views: an inviting place to walk, rest, meet friends and while away the hours.
“It is a delight to see the East Bank in its full glory.”
Delight is in the detail
Our ‘people first’ approach meant we started the project with a workshop with the local community to establish a shared vision and to define what people felt was important about the place. The consensus was that the new-look waterfront should be spare and in keeping with the local context, with a focus on quality.
The resulting design is practical, simple and graceful; it draws on influences and materials seen across the town.
A new waterfront promenade along Pier Road and a wider walkway along the banks of the River Arun both sit above the road. The difference in levels allow for stepped terraces and provides shelter for an array of coastal planting designed to withstand salt and wind, to offer year-round interest and enhanced biodiversity.
The planting here feels natural, informal, and even spontaneous. There are shifts in colour from bright drifts that help to define the promenade to more muted tones as you move further inland. Sea holly sits against a backdrop of bold feather grasses, plants that attract bees and butterflies have been favoured.
Materials that age well ensure the design is cost-effective and lasting. Striking timber-terraced seating, designed to encourage people to lunch and linger, is made of Kebony, a sustainable and durable alternative to tropical hardwood. The wood will fade to a beautiful silver patina over time.
Ease of maintenance was also a priority. Our design eliminates the need for watering and ensures only a low-level of ongoing maintenance is required.
Piers Road before and after – a cramped low wall hugging the road has been replaced by a spacious and inviting promenade.
Southern Lighthouse before and after.
For the many
Before the regeneration, estimates suggest 1 million people visited Littlehampton annually, generating a revenue of £35 million. After the waterfront transformation was completed, numbers immediately rose by 5 per cent.
More people are also spending longer in the area, boosting the local economy by an additional £2.8 million. A programme of events means that people are also visiting all-year round, leading to an increase in permanent employment, rather than seasonally dependent work.
The evidence clearly suggests that the coastal restoration of Littlehampton has not only taken 2,000 homes and businesses out of flood risk, but also delivered lasting economic and environmental benefits for the many. Major infrastructure has the power to deliver better places, if only we let it.