Saturday, 28 April 2012

Improvements to the retail & leisure offer in Eastbourne

When I took part in the recent debate at the Planning Committee meeting where the Harbour Retail Park plans were considered and spoke in favour of approving this application, without imposing damaging restrictions I did so, not because I favoured the Harbour over the Town Centre (even though I am very proud to represent Sovereign Ward) but because I am ambitious for all of Eastbourne and genuinely believe that the town and its people not only deserve both sets of improvements but that the combined offer of both will result in even more people choosing to visit Eastbourne and spend their money here.

What was witnessed before and during the planning committee meeting in terms of speaking against the Harbour Retail Park application by the backers of the Town Centre scheme is perhaps understandable given the challenging economic climate we look set to retain for at least the next two years, but it should not be allowed to create long lasting damaging divisions that risk depriving Eastbourne of its full potential. I suspect it is for that reason alone that politicians including myself have declined to comment since the Planning Committee meeting.

However I have been moved to speak out following local media coverage of the story which in my opinion, risks dividing the town un-necessarily by inviting people to join Team Arndale or Team Crumbles and dwelling for far too long on the fevered comments of a tiny minority who if one studies the online topics on a regular basis, often enjoy a rant on a host of stories in a fairly negative manner. I would challenge our local media to rise above these arguments and start looking in detail at the many other issues and provoking debate on those.

These include; 1) how we can ensure the proposed extended Arndale Centre links better with the other retail areas of the Town Centre, namely Little Chelsea, the Enterprise Centre, Terminus Road & Seaside/Langney Road etc which are predominantly occupied by some fantastic independent specialists that could and should be capable of competing with The Lanes in Brighton and The Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. 2) how we can access the Portas grants to help regenerate the many empty shops in the streets throughout the Town Centre. 3) how we remove diesel alley without confusing the public transport offer. 4) how we make better use of our existing Town Centre car parking spaces in under used multi-stories. 5) how we pay respect to our heritage in terms of building design without failing to allow things to evolve. 6) how we link all of the fantastic reasons to visit Eastbourne together so that more people choose to spend their money in our town. 7) how we get the many passionate individuals and groups within Eastbourne to work together to promote what we have rather than waste time and energy with negative and un-productive comment.

Today local interest group ‘Eastbourne Can’ are trialling their ‘take a tenner’ event where people are encouraged to go and spend £10 (or more if they wish) in Little Chelsea’s independent shops. Some of the retailers are getting into the spirit with special offers to encourage customers to try their products. It is my belief that more ideas like this coupled with a wider focus on the many unique selling points that Eastbourne offers like our Town Centre, Cultural Offer, magnificent seafront and downland and of course the wonderful Harbour & retail park which to date remains our best kept secret, that will lead to us generating real growth and ensuring that visitors choose Eastbourne over our competition for shopping and leisure in the future so let’s all work together in this aim in future!

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