WHERE is the vision? If you were selling Eastbourne in 2011 what features of town life would you to choose to push? The beach? The Downs? The sea?
Or is the question more what would you choose to ignore?
A depressed and dying town centre? The failure of regeneration along Seaside Road? Little Chelsea’s lack of support in becoming a destination shopping zone like Brighton’s Lanes or Tunbridge Wells Pantiles?
An uninspired theatre programme for the coach loads of elderly tourists that used to come here?
The heap of places to drink on the cheap, pound stores, bookies and charity shops springing up?
If you drive into town along the Willingdon Road the first thing you meet is the empty shell of the old Caffyns garage.
If you arrive by train, you meet a row of empty shops opposite the station.
If you take the bus, you get off to a selection of saver shops?
Whatever way you look at, it’s going to be clear to any visitor that Eastbourne is dying on its feet.
Further out of town, the shell of the old Towner gallery is seriously depressing. This could be a fantastic community arts centre with a cafe, cinema, music venue, a place that Old Town is crying out for.
Instead it’s just left to rot until a developer stumps up some cash and turns it into private apartments. More public space sold off into the bargain.
The same is true on the other side of town. The great Victorian buildings along Seaside Road are left to rot, landlords content to leave them as bedsits. And what could be an inspiring tree-lined avenue by the sea full of theatres, independent stores and restaurants remains grimy, empty or boarded up.
Where are the jobs the young people in our town can aspire too? Where is the thriving town centre full of unique stores and ideas?
Why is Eastbourne with all its cinemas, theatres and venues still not claiming so much of what comes to Brighton and Hastings?
It is someone’s job in this town to have a vision and take us forward. Whoever’s filling that role at the moment is failing big time
With the local elections looming we should all get involved and really hold the people to account who are putting themselves up for office.
Here are two suggestions for anyone who is seeking for my vote.
1. Lower business rates. The current level of rates on local traders is insane, almost ten times of those in places like Hastings.
If we are to encourage innovative and exciting new businesses into the town we have to give them financial room to grow.
The disappearance of great little businesses like Local Roots and Wellie Boots should be made a thing of the past. We have some fantastic start ups growing here like The Bumper Bookshop, The Tri Store, The Funky Viking, Urban Industry, Sunny Foods but this is despite council policy not because of it.
2. Bring the people of the town back into the centre and not just to shop. Brighton children’s parade (May 7) is one of the best days out a kid could have on the south coast. Why are we not doing something similar?
The town is full of schools, youth groups, faith groups, drama groups, let’s get them out on the streets for at least one weekend a year and fill the town centre with a lot of positivity, noise and smiles (anyone who points to Airbourne at this point beware. Not everyone who lives here finds war planes as blips on the horizon and men with binoculars that enthralling).
There is so much more. A kids movie festival using the cinemas, the Towner and the Under Ground Theatre when the weather gets bad.
Tonnes more live music, food festivals. Higher profile for more sports events and more support for great sports start ups like Tennis in the Park and The Sussex Cycle Company and perhaps most importantly for our football, rugby and cricket teams
A thriving town centre will benefit everyone here. Jobs, opportunities, growth, house prices, general well-being and just the fact your heart doesn’t sink at the thought of having to negotiate the Arndale Centre.
Whatever happens, doing nothing isn’t an option. And there are far easier and more inspiring options than the proposed megastore eye sore that will never be built and nobody wants.