A firm date has still not been set for work to get underway on Brighton's landmark i360 tower.

A series of delays and the worsening economy have hampered the £20 million project, due to start in July 2007, raising fears it could collapse altogether.

However The Argus can reveal that although building work will definitely not begin in the next four weeks, a provisional date has now been pencilled in for the autumn - 15 months later than originally planned.

It comes as other major building projects across Sussex are sidetracked or shelved altogether as banks and other financiers pull the plug as the threat of recession looms.

Architects Marks Barfield, the firm which created the London Eye, said it remained committed to the i360 and that it was "still on track".

A spokeswoman said: "We remain very optimistic it will be open by Spring 2010."

Geoff Lockwood, chief executive of the West Pier Trust, said the overall cost of the project had not risen, despite soaring commodity prices which have caused construction overheads to soar.

He said: "The price has been controlled as far as I'm aware. The construction period has also been reduced so the overall opening date of Spring 2010 remains the aim."

Mr Lockwood met David Marks, managing director of Marks Barfield, yesterday (TUESDAY) to discuss the project.

Ted Kemble, Brighton and Hove City Council cabinet member for major projects, added: "The project is very much on track.

"There have been delays for various reasons but my understanding is that it will still be built by Spring 2010."

Marks Barfield has already invested several million pounds in the i360 plans and has already secured contracts for the building work.

The West Pier Trust claims the majority of funding for the project, which is coming entirely from private backers, is in place, with only a "final tranche" now awaited.

It said the building work was not dependent on the seasons and so could begin in the autumn and carry on through the winter.

The trust said it was confident the West Pier would also be rebuilt.

Its long-term aim is to re-establish the structure, which has been destroyed by two fires, as a major tourist attraction along with the i360.

But further work on that project will not begin on it until construction is "well under way" on the i360.

i360 Fact Box: The i360 will be one of the tallest structures in Britain ñ bigger than Portsmouth's Spinnaker tower, the London Eye and Blackpool Tower.

The viewing pod will hold up to 100 people at a time and allow 4,000 people a day to have views of up 25 miles in every direction.

Tickets will cost around £8.

It will create around 40 full-time jobs.