It is obvious that Eastbourne needs to attract new cohorts of high-spending tourists. Unfortunately there is no reliable evidence that the Towner (which we were told would increase local tourism by 5%, and make Devonshire Park ‘vibrant’) has made any appreciable difference to the number or type of visitors that Eastbourne attracts.
Nor will any of the ‘regeneration’ projects we are promised over the next five years, in themselves, do anything significant for visitor numbers. Glamming up the theatres in Devonshire Park , like restoring the bandstand and the pier, will merely restore things to what they were 40 years ago – with one important difference. There is, because of the rapid development of IT conferencing, no longer any call for the medium and small-scale residential conferences that the town could once attract. And while some people may welcome the extension of the Arndale Centre, it will not in itself attract new visitors, not least because the same shops can be found in every sizeable town or city in the UK.
What our town desperately needs is a new Eastbourne attraction that does justice to the town’s history, which complements Eastbourne’s existing attractions, and which is also of a scale to offer serious competition to such tourist magnets as the London Eye, the Eden Project in Cornwall, or the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.
Fortunately there is just such a project to hand, of exactly the right scale and character. We have become too used to haggling over inland projects, and it is now time we looked seawards. The time is ripe to celebrate the biggest and most momentous event in the history of our coast – the 1690 Battle of Beachy Head.
The Battle of Beachy Head, of which few people in Eastbourne seem to have heard, was bigger in scale than the Battle of Trafalgar. We do not celebrate it because at Beachy Head the Anglo-Dutch fleet was routed by the French. But that defeat led to dramatic change. The shocked public contributed, in just 12 days, over £1m. to a fighting fund, half of which went to found a new Royal Navy, while the rest helped to create, in 1694 the Bank of England. Thus Beachy Head was instrumental in establishing for the next three centuries both Britain’s trading power and its dominance on the high seas.
We are fortunate in having the ideal site to show off this momentous event. The Martello Tower and Wish Tower cafe site, which consultants are now beginning work on, could contain sound and light experiences, lookout posts on the scene of the battle and a themed restaurant, much like the larger scale constructions to be found on major historical sites throughout Europe. At the same time we should renew our efforts to have Beachy Head developed as a World Heritage Site.
Only then could Eastbourne look forward to attracting those high-spending ‘cultural tourists’ who want more than piers and bandstands, and who at present spend their time and money in places such as Canterbury, Portsmouth or Chatham, which are inextricably linked with British History. Is it too much to hope that one of our Parliamentary Candidates might have the vision to look towards the future, instead of patching up the past?