Eastbourne people should seize the opportunity to comment on the Borough Council’s latest blueprint for the future of the town centre.
That is the view of local resident and former Eastbourne Society President Dr John Pick, Emeritus Professor of City University, London who, in a long career as an academic and consultant, advised many authorities in the UK and overseas on cultural strategy and regeneration.
He is urging residents to respond to a consultation exercise following publication of the council’s redrafted Town Centre Local Plan which will act as a development guideline over the next 15 years. The council was required to make amendments to its original submission following criticism by a planning inspector.
The revised version is available for scrutiny at local libraries, the town hall and on the council’s website, and all residents are invited to submit comments on its ‘soundness.’ The Town Centre Local Plan includes the scheme to extend the Arndale Centre and various proposals for new traffic, parking, pedestrian routes and public open spaces.
Dr Pick believes the document remains seriously flawed with ‘confusion throughout between the buildings and spaces EBC proposes should be developed, the purpose to which they might be put, and the hoped-for outcomes of that regeneration.’
In his own submission to the Planning Inspector he criticises the document for its lack of credible up-to-date research on retail spending, cultural activity and visitor profiles.
He says it appears to have been developed in ignorance of changes in retail spending online, national and international tourism patterns, the impact of digital technology on cultural provision, and the current squeeze on public expenditure.
Dr Pick says the council should stop ‘fantasising’ over returning the town’s theatres to their past glories and consider to what practical uses they can be put. He points to Leeds, Bournemouth, Nottingham, Salford and Tunbridge Wells at places where theatres have found new life as museums, specialist shopping malls, media centres, television studios and arts diners.
He describes as ‘curious’ the absence from the report of any mention of the Royal Hippodrome Theatre, described in 2006 by the director of the Theatres Trust as ‘potentially Eastbourne’s best theatre’. And he points to the ‘gaping omission’ of any mention of restoring a museum to the town, insisting that attractive, undercover, properly serviced heritage and museum services are essential to the regeneration of any UK resort.
“Eastbourne conspicuously lacks such provision”, he says. “The danger therefore is that increasing numbers of tourists – particularly the higher-spending ‘cultural tourists’ – will simply use it as a dormitory town from which they will go out each day to enjoy the more interesting stories which Hastings, Battle, Arundel, Chichester and of course Brighton now tell about themselves.
“A good Town Centre Plan would focus on changing the visitor profile for Eastbourne, and that should include proper museum and heritage provision.”
The council says that the planning inspector will decide whether to hold a public inquiry.
A spokesperson added, “We would like to thank Dr Pick for taking the time to read the Town Centre Local Plan and for offering his thoughts.
“Dealing first with the point made about a strong voice in local planning, the Town Centre Local Plan has been subject to one of the most robust and extensive consultation exercises ever conducted in Eastbourne. We have used a mix of the latest digital technology and traditional methods to engage the young and old in the process over several years to shape this key document.
“Additionally, we would like to point out that the ‘Tourism, culture and arts’ section in the Town Centre Local Plan, starting on page 21, deals with the importance of the Royal Hippodrome Theatre, and is far from being absent from the Local Plan.”
“Any suggestion of a lack of visitor research is also misleading. The council recently received the results of a study by a leading global research company into the visitor economy, undertaken between June 2012 and February 2013, which analysed the motivation and behaviours of both visitors to the town’s attractions, including tourists and residents, and people in the town for other reasons. We will be sharing the results of the study soon.”
People have until April 5 to make representation. Comments can be sent to the planning department at the Town Hall and also copied to The Inspector, Eastbourne Town Centre Local Plan, Department of Communities and Local Government, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1 5DD, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org