I have been following letters and comments in the paper on the pier debate with interest and now feel compelled to write to set out my personal opinion.
Part of my day job as a chartered surveyor involves ‘place making’ on multi-million pound commercial property investments around the South East for institutional real estate owners. Whilst not a new concept, place making is frequently used in the industry to describe the process by which places such as town centres, neighbourhoods or even individual properties are planned, designed and managed to maximise their potential and value.
I moved to Eastbourne two years ago and believe that for a town of this size and location it should be better on many fronts and has significant potential to move forward and improve. This is happening and there are many examples in the town where good place making can be seen driving this change.
In the private sector you can see Legal & General on the Arndale Centre, Eastbourne College on Project 150 and independent, on trend and contemporary cafés, eateries and stores setting up around the town. Eastbourne Council are also playing a significant part in terms of their plans for Devonshire Park, the theatres, the Wish Tower Restaurant, beachfront initiatives and general public realm improvements throughout the town.
Collectively these schemes are all pushing Eastbourne forward in the right direction with all the social and economic benefits that has and will bring in the future.
Needless to say, the pier should have a key part to play in all this and I am pleased that the well-intentioned new owner recognises its importance to the town, can clearly implement change and is prepared to make sensible investment in it.
However, I am concerned that the changes that I have seen so far do not follow any sort of good place making principles, are not complimenting other contemporary schemes coming forward in the town and are therefore in my opinion not taking the pier in the right direction.
This is evident to me in simple things such as the colours selected for redecoration, so-called improvements made to the Victorian café and in the choice of newly-installed street furniture. It is concerning as these are dreadful in my view and before the far more difficult longer term decisions on major uses and physical alterations are made.
Everyone should appreciate that delivering a viable long-term solution for the pier is no easy task, particularly given its listed status, and it is likely to need long-term financial support and subsidy by the new owners to even get to a break even point.
However, there is no excuse for not carrying out proper planning and design and there are many examples of piers that are getting it right.
I therefore fear that without following a proper place making process, and delivering this, the pier will contribute little to the progression that Eastbourne is making elsewhere and may actually go off in a direction that holds it back.
That would certainly be a missed opportunity for the town.
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