Investment vote of confidence

THE Chamber of Commerce is delighted plans for the extension of the Arndale Centre are proceeding and welcome the commitment to the town shown by Legal & General and Strathclyde Pension Fund.

While Eastbourne has fared better than many town centres during these difficult economic times, we cannot take our relative success for granted.

The fact national retailers are showing an interest in the town and require larger shops to trade from is something most towns acxross the country can only dream of.

The £70m investment in our town centre is a great vote of confidence in Eastbourne and catalyst for long-awaited improvements.

While many see the growing predominance of the larger retailers as a negative influence, one only has to go to Churchill Square in Brighton, or Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells, to see how popular they are.

A large number of shoppers use these larger stores and the crowds in modern shopping centres are testament to that.

It is also worth noting both Brighton and Tunbdirge Wells have thriving independent retail sectors as well.

Increasing footfall in the town centre will bring beneifts to other businesses and make the town more attractive to the smaller indepenent retailers that provide the variety and colour that play such an important part in creating a positive shopping experience. It will also help to reduce the number of vacant shops in the town.

It is easy to get nostalgic about times gone by, bemoan the loss of Bobby’s, Plummers, Barkers (Army & Navy) and the fact that you can no longer park your Hillman Imp in Terminus Road, outside Woolworth’s for four hours, free of charge. However, times have changed and our town town centre has to adapt to survive, let alone prosper. The Internet is here to stay, as is out of town shiopping and the proportion of households with access to a car has risen from 14 per cent in 1951 to 75 per cent in 2010; there are more households with access to two or more cars than without any access at all. All these factors, and many others, present challenges that our town centres have to overcome to remain competitive, attractive and relevant.

Change is often difficult to accept but Eastbourne is lucky to having an opportunity to move forward with such a massive investment in the town centre, as well as the £14 million development at Sovereign Harbour and the new Morrisons supermarket at Hampden Park. Investments of this magnitude are not made speculatively and the Chamber of Commerce shares the confidence in Eastbourne that these schemes display. Whilst welcoming such positive investment and evolution, we must also ensure that changes enhance those characteristics that already make Eastbourne such a beautiful town and the Chamber will be working with all parties to ensure that happens.

Mark McFadden, president Eastbourne & District Chamber of Commerce.