The times are a-changing and the new year marks a handful of new projects coming to fruition in Eastbourne.
Not only is the Congress Theatre refurbishment to replace the front of the building on schedule, there are ambitious plans for the Devonshire Park area to make it a top cultural destination and a blueprint will be unveiled in the coming months for a permanent Wish Tower restaurant.
But perhaps the biggest change for Eastbourne in the coming months will be the extension of the Arndale Centre and a major redesign of town centre roads.
Sadly, in recent years the 35-year-old centre has become outdated with shoppers heading to Brighton and Tunbridge Wells instead.
Owners of the shopping complex, Performance Retail Limited Partnership – in which Legal and General has a majority share – is confident that will all change with the £85 million extension which includes more than 20 new shops, seven new restaurants and a multiplex cinema over two floors.
It means all the shops currently between the newsagent next to Game and the Gildredge Pub will be knocked down to make way for the extension.
The process of acquiring those properties is nearing completion and the Gildredge Pub has already been boarded up in preparation for demolition.
One of the businesses which was above shops along that stretch of Terminus Road, Leaps and Bounds Nursery has relocated to the former Waverley Pub site.
Other shops along the stretch have been offered positions within the new extended centre and Next is expected to take up a flagship position opposite the railway station with H&M on the other side.
Bill Plumridge has been the Arndale Centre manager for the last 25 years and says it’s an exciting time ahead.
“When it opened in 1980, the Arndale Centre was a fantastic addition to the town centre,” said Bill.
“Today, it is competing against bigger and more modern shopping centres in Brighton and Tunbridge Wells that offer a wider variety of shops, restaurants and leisure facilities.
“With an expanding population, Eastbourne needs to attract shoppers to the town centre by bringing in new retailers and leisure operators in large format units which don’t currently exist and to allow existing retailers to expand and broaden their range.
“It’s a very exciting time for the Arndale Centre and for Eastbourne. When we carried out our public consultation for the scheme, it showed the overwhelming majority of local people were in favour of the extension that will create around 650 jobs.
“The plans are progressing well. There are many stages in a scheme like this and while it may seem to local people that there isn’t a lot going on, the work behind the scenes is non-stop.
“We’ve recently seen the announcement that Next will be anchoring the new extension alongside H&M and Cineworld, which is great news and there will be further announcements to follow as new retailers are signed up.
“With an additional 22 retail units, a state-of-the-art nine screen cinema and seven restaurants coming into the town, this development really will give a huge boost to the local economy and enable Eastbourne to compete with neighbouring destinations.
“The support of Eastbourne Borough Council and local people has been fantastic.
“This year we will really see things start to happen as work on the west entrance and shop facades begins in advance of demolition works.
“And, of course, there have been plenty of changes within the existing centre, the latest of which was the opening of the fantastic new Pandora store.
“I am extremely proud to have been the Arndale Centre manager for what will be 25 years this year and am really looking forward to seeing the exciting transformation of the shopping centre.”
The memorial on the railings outside the Gildredge Pub to 15-year-old cyclist Jason Hylands, who died after being hit by a truck at the junction of Gildredge Road and Ashford Road in June 2004, is also being moved and will be incorporated in to the new Arndale extension.
There could also be a name change at the centre as the name Arndale has no relevance to Eastbourne at all. Arndale Centres were the first “American-style” malls to be built in the UK and Eastbourne is one of 23 named after Arnold Hagenbach, a baker with a talent for property investment, and Sam Chippendale, an estate agent from Otley, set up at the end of the Second World War a company called the Arndale Property Trust, the name being a portmanteau of Arnold and Chippendale.
As bosses at PRLP carry on negotiations behind the scenes with retailers to move to Eastbourne, they say they are in talks with quality family restaurants to take up positions on the upper floor and that Cineworld will operate the multiplex after moving from the Crumbles retail park.
Bill said, “A modern multiplex cinema in the town centre will be a real boost to the evening economy in Eastbourne and that a consequence of this could be that stores in the centre will want to open later on certain evenings to take advantage of this.”
As well as increasing the capacity at the car park with two extra floors, there could be more good news for road users and pedestrians.
East Sussex County Council is behind new design proposals for Terminus Road which includes moving what is known as Diesel Alley where all the bus stops are towards Bankers Corner and into Cornfield Road, alterations to the railway station pick up area and taxi rank as well as reallocating road space to pedestrians and public realm.
A public consultation has been held on the proposals which the county council, responsible for highways, says key design adjectives are to improve the public realm and connections with the wider town; reallocate road space to pedestrians and public areas, reduce the conflict of buses and pedestrians, improve the relationship and connection with the railway station, future proof design to aid potential future pedestrianisation and co-ordinate the design of street furniture and signage.
Actually doing away with traffic lights and introducing a shared space roundel outside the railway station where Gildredge Road, Ashford Road, Terminus Road and Station Parade meet and removing unattractive barriers and road crossings has also been looked at but received a mixed reaction from locals.
The county council says both it and Eastbourne Borough Council have been actively progressing the details of the Terminus Road Improvement Scheme over the winter. The scheme which is due to start in the autumn will see a number of major changes to Terminus Road and Cornfield Road including:
* Complete resurfacing of footways and carriageways along Terminus Road from outside the railway station southwards to Cornfield Road
* Introduction of a new landscaping, incorporating new planted areas, seating and lighting in both Cornfield Road and Terminus Road
* Removal of a kerb up-stand between the junction of Ashford Road/Terminus Road to where Terminus Road merges into Cornfield Road
* Significant widening of footways between the junction of Ashford Road/Terminus Road to where Terminus Road merges into Cornfield Road.
* Removal of old street furniture including railings and bins.
* Removal of bus stops from Terminus Road and incorporation of new modern bus stops into Cornfield Road.
* Introduction of new bus stops near the train station and the redevelopment of the station forecourt.
An East Sussex County Council spokesman said, “This is an exciting time for Eastbourne. The scheme aims to create a much more pedestrian-friendly environment through Terminus Road, with the footways dramatically increasing in size and the width of the carriageway decreasing adjacent to key shopping areas.”