EASTBOURNE’S councillors are surely playing a dangerous game in their delicate handling of two would-be developers for new shopping complexes in the town.
Planning committee members had been asked by their council officers on Tuesday night to agree to conditions that would have restricted popular High Street stores from moving out to the harbour.
The behind-the-scenes jockeying was designed to find some semblance of harmony in a three-way courtship between Eastbourne Borough Council and developers Legal and General and Prudential.
Instead, it threatens to put the town in the divorce courts even before the marriage has been consumated.
Legal and General is the company planning to invest £70 million in redeveloping and extending the Arndale Centre. Prudential has its eye firmly on a multi-million pound facelift of the shopping complex at Sovereign Harbour.
In an ideal world the council - most of us for that matter - would love to have both developments. A new and vibrant town centre offering, alongside a redeveloped Crumbles complex at the harbour, would give the best of both worlds. A dream ticket that ought to put Eastbourne back on the south-east shopping map.
But equally, who would blame either developer for wanting it their own way?
Eastbourne isn’t the only town desperate for a major injection of money and there are plenty of others who would love to lead either of these developers down the aisle.
By yesterday, both suitors were threatening to jilt the council. Legal and General described it as “a self-inflicted blow to the town centre by the elected members”. And Sovereign Harbour campaigner Ian Weeks countered that if it were Prudential that pulled out, the beneficiary “wouldn’t be the town centre, it would be Tunbridge Wells and Brighton”.
Ironically, all of this comes in a week when the Herald tells of Eastbourne’s bid to become a Mary Portas pilot town - one of those chosen from around the country for £100k worth of investment to help regenerate its town centre.
Inspired and recruited initially by MP Stephen Lloyd, a “town team”of businesspeople showed how much passion and determination there is to help Eastbourne reshape its shopping future.
Their plan has been submitted and even if it were to be unsuccessful, there is now a momentum and force for change.
Those town team members would have been happy guests at the wedding with Legal and General. Now they are left waiting in the pews, wondering if the bride will be their preferred partner . . . or the Prudential . . . or neither.
If this is a game of bluff - on whoever’s side - it is still a very worrying time for a town on the brink of something special.
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