Malcolm Rasala: putting the heart back into Eastbourne’s high street

Terminus Road, Eastbourne May 8th 2013 E19118P
Terminus Road, Eastbourne May 8th 2013 E19118P

TERRY LEAHY knows a thing or two about high streets and retailing. After all he built Tesco into one of this country’s premier shopping destinations.

In a recent article he pointed to the effect of the digital revolution on shopping. Shops are closing unable to compete with online. “Online shopping has killed entire business models that were built on the premise that you needed a shop to sell your product”. And, online is here to stay.

His remedy? Make shopping fun, make shopping a pleasurable social experience. Savvy retailers and landlords have woken up and smelt the coffee, investing in coffee shops, cinemas, restaurants, gyms. They realise that vibrant high streets are more than just place you go to shop. Community centres, nurseries, doctors surgeries, art galleries: the successful high street is a social place, not just a market.

It is an environment which doesn’t fall quiet when the shops close, but is alive at night as people live there.

Terry Leahy rightly criticises some town centres for being “clearly not designed for the way we live now”.

He argues for three specific changes:

1) We need to stop the steady rise in car park charges.

2) A local high street should be designed by just one architect.

3) Business rates need radical reform. “The system must change so that rates reflect the economic activity of the store”

I would argue too:

We should abolish town centre car parking charges altogether. More people coming into the town centre will inspire more businesses to set up thus increasing the EBC’s rates income.

Human beings are inspired by brilliant architecture and beauty. Why do we go and look at Britain’s great cathedrals and palaces? Why are the buildings on the seafront inspiring? Terminus Road should be made inspiring, modern, now, architecturally spirit uplifting.

Google what Norman Foster did for the Marseille Harbour; maximum impact, minimal expense.

Eastbourne Borough Council is currently advocating a CIL; a Community Infrastructure Levy. What more certain way to turn developers off of investing in Eastbourne. Imagine you are a developer faced with a CIL charge in Eastbourne or another opportunity without a CIL. Where would you put your money?

Terry Leahy concludes “There is a partnership to be forged, one that can preserve (the high street) by hauling It from the analogue into the digital age. The high street is dead! Long live the high street”.

The Eastbourne town centre plan hints towards this. But it says nothing about great, inspiring architecture.

It pictures largely rather samey buildings seen in a hundred different towns. And designed by multiple architects.

The great cathedrals and palaces we admire were designed to beat rival buildings; rival towns centres. Not copy them.

Surely we deserve a town centre driven by the desire to create something powerfully more beautiful than elsewhere, uniquely more inspiring, more social, more creative, more brilliantly uplifting?