Following the recent announcement by The Department for Communities and Local Government of their rejection of Eastbourne Borough Council’s proposals to amend the byelaw which would have allowed cyclists and pedestrians to share the promenade between Fisherman’s Green and the Wish Tower, there are now plans to produce a comprehensive cycling and walking strategy to be put in place by the council before any cycling is permitted on the seafront.
It is difficult to see how such a strategy can be devised when there is still no progress on the Eastbourne Ring Road Review. Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce has been strongly campaigning for a review of traffic in the town centre since 2013 and there is widespread support among local businesses to reduce the volume of traffic driving through the town centre and improving the quality of streets and public spaces, finding new ways to promote safety, economic vitality, and making the shopping streets more attractive for both pedestrians and cyclists.
ESCC started work on the review in 2014 and while there have been traffic counts carried out and computer modelling attempted, after 2 years there is still no tangible progress and we do not appear to be any closer to having any draft proposals to work with.
Although there are works proposed in conjunction with the Arndale redevelopment, the rest of the town centre remains dominated by motor traffic, much of which goes through the centre of town from one side of Eastbourne to another, with pedestrians confined (often by steel railings) into narrow corridors along the edges of streets, which are both daunting and dangerous to cross, even for the fleet of foot. Eastbourne’s ring road has not been reviewed since the 1968 Eastbourne Urban Plan and has become an outdated restriction on the potential of the town centre to thrive as well as a disincentive to visit it. Like many others,
I was shocked to learn from the World Health Organisation that our town is the third worst in the UK for PM2.5s, particulates that penetrate deep into our respiratory systems, and seventh worst for the larger PM10 pollution.
The volume of traffic in the town centre inevitably contributes to this, yet there is no plan to address this.
While a wholesale ban on motor vehicles throughout the town centre is impractical, there is significant scope to dramatically reduce traffic levels in streets which should be dominated by people. For example, ‘car-free Sundays’ have been very successful both here and abroad.
Although street design tends to polarise views, there are plenty of examples of shopping streets in Britain and abroad which are either traffic-free or have very low levels of traffic, where the resulting environment encourages shoppers, pedestrians and cyclists and increases footfall for shops. Neon Noel and Little Chelsea’s Christmas market give an idea of what can be achieved when streets are not dominated by cars.
There has been much publicised dissent between the various groups campaigning for improved access, most notably along the seafront, but there is a common shared desire to make the town a better place for people, of all ages and abilities.
It is surely time to set aside those differences, focus on the many shared aims and unite to press for action rather than tolerate further decades of dithering and argument. The Chamber board considers a collaborative approach to the walking and cycling strategy in conjunction with the ring road review is essential if we are to make any progress.
So often Eastbourne leads the way in many areas but we are at serious risk of falling behind with our town planning and failing to capitalise on the huge investment about to be made in our town centre and the potential for it to be so much better for those that visit, work and live in it.
Mark McFadde, director & portfolio holder for Transport and Infrastructure, Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce.