A council leader has rejected suggestions that a town centre is attracting more “chavs” to its shopping areas.

A recent community profile of Worthing, based on Government figures, revealed that deprivation in the town had increased. Now Worthing Town Centre Initiative is conducting a survey, which will compare the postcodes of shoppers questioned in 2006 with those quizzed today, to find out if people from more affluent areas are shunning the town.

But borough council leader Keith Mercer denied Worthing was becoming a “chav town”.

Some traders believe the town’s richer residents are now shopping in Chichester. But Worthing town centre manager Sharon Clarke suspects this may be a misconception based on changing fashions.

Mrs Clarke said: “We have received some comments from traders that affluent shoppers are no longer coming to the town. But this is very difficult to verify.

“Some of the retailers are saying the demographics of the town have changed.”

She believes the change could be down to more families, mortgaged to the hilt and with less disposable income, moving into the larger properties once occupied by wealthy pensioners with plenty of spare cash to spend.

She added it was also possible that many of the town’s richer residents worked away from Worthing and therefore didn’t visit the shops as often.

Mrs Clarke hopes the survey might back up or disprove the anecdotal evidence. But Conservative councillor Mercer said: “I reject any suggestion that Worthing is becoming a chav town.

“Let’s assume my wife is one of the posh shoppers. She does a lot of buying now on the internet. I think a lot more people are using this method of shopping today.

“Most of these posh shoppers have multiple PCs and broadband in their homes so I am sure this is a significant factor in these suggestions.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Bob Smytherman, the borough council’s shadow cabinet member for regeneration, said: “There remains a lot of money in the town.

“Some people are still wandering around in tweeds or having haircuts which cost £50. But deprivation is very much on the increase over a wider area and this is a cause for concern.”

However, Coun Smytherman admitted the poverty bar had risen during the past 20 years.

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