Multi-million pound plan to transform Eastbourne

A major regeneration of Eastbourne could be kick started if a £19 million bid from the government’s Levelling Up Fund is successful.

The fund is from a £4.8 billion government initiative which aims to ‘level up’ the country so communities which feel like they have been left behind get a chance of catch up.

The borough of Eastbourne has been named as an area of highest priority to benefit from the fund and a £19 million bid was submitted for the funding on June 18.

If successful, the funding will be invested into the town to improve the economy, cultural projects will be given a boost such as creating an education centre at Black Robin Farm on the South Downs, and connections will be improved between the town centre, downland, and disadvantaged areas.

Eastbourne town centre: Terminus Road SUS-200408-154117001

A letter from Christina Ewbank and Nicky Fisher, the chief executive and president of the Chamber of Commerce, was sent to Peter Sharp, the borough council’s head of regeneration.

The letter said the chamber supports the bid for ‘a major regeneration of Eastbourne town centre and cultural investment’ and there is an ‘ambitious vision for art, culture, heritage, environment, leisure and hospitality’.

It said the funding will ‘cement Eastbourne’s place as a prestigious year-round seaside destination through high quality cultural and social experiences for visitors and residents, delivering sustainable and inclusive economic growth in a post-covid and Brexit environment’.

If successful, the bid is expected to ‘transform Victoria Place’ by pedestrianising it, encouraging a ‘night-time economy all year round’.

An artist's impression of the development in Victoria Place. Photo from the Chamber of Commerce. SUS-211207-114213001

It says recent investments have already started to deliver ‘huge improvements’ on which the town can build on, such as ‘the enhanced connectivity between the seafront, town centre and the South Downs, and state-of-the-art redevelopment of the cultural Devonshire Quarter’.

The letter finishes by saying, “It is fantastic to know that if this Levelling Up bid is successful, it will significantly boost investment in skills development, commerce and cultural tourism and attract further creative industries in skills development, commerce and cultural tourism and attract further creative industries and inward investment to the town and the surrounding coastal area.

“We wholeheartedly support the ambition of this bid and look forward to hearing of its successful outcome.”

Speaking after the bid was submitted, Mrs Ewbank said, “The important part of this fund is to engage the disadvantaged communities in Eastbourne and particularly young people.

An artist's impression of the pedestrianised area without the sail awnings and lights. Photo from the Chamber of Commerce. SUS-210807-090454001

“We are aiming to get unskilled young people working with artists like Conrad Shawcross and/or Grayson Perry to develop major sculptures across the town. This will unleash their creativity while teaching them skills like welding, metal work and engineering. Imagine how proud they will be to see their work on display.

“We will become known as a world class cultural centre and could begin to sell our community sculptures globally.”

A letter was also sent to Mr Sharp from David Harland, the chief executive officer of the Eden Project International Ltd, which supported the bid.

Mr Harland’s letter echoed much of what was said from the Chamber of Commerce and spoke about ‘linking the South Downs to Eastbourne town centre and disadvantaged areas’.

He said, “At the Eden Project we understand that meaningful art has the power to challenge received wisdom, to provoke, captivate and inspire. The meaningful art in Eastbourne’s bid will engage and challenge the whole community, as well as visitors to the area.”

Mr Harland also said he was ‘shocked’ to learn that four wards in Eastbourne are some of the most deprived areas in the UK, with Langney in the bottom four per cent and Devonshire in the bottom 10 per cent.

Mr Harland said, “We look forward to hearing of its successful outcome and to working with the town to develop what looks like a very exciting levelling up project.”

Both letters also discuss the council-owned Black Robin Farm – a site at Beachy Head which saw the farm buildings converted into holiday cottages earlier this year.

The letters say, “The vision which spans a town-wide celebration of Towner’s centenary in 2023 and the creation of a world-class culture and education centre at Black Robin Farm, offers an incredible opportunity to build a wider cultural, creative and tourism ecosystem which will break down barriers, raise civic pride and open up opportunities, driving economic and social growth in a deprived coastal town.

“It will create valuable new jobs and opportunities for start-up creative businesses developing creative sector growth.”

Despite these endorsements of the bid, the Eastbourne Eco Action Network hasn’t supported it.

Miles Berkley, the executive director of the group, said they couldn’t back the bid because ‘no assessment had been made of the overall impact of the three projects with regards to the carbon emissions generated in their construction, ongoing operations and of the surface transport associated with visitors’.

Eastbourne Borough Council committed to achieving carbon neutrality across the town by 2030 but Eco Action wants a carbon negative policy across the Levelling Up projects.

Although Mr Berkley said ‘individual elements within the three projects maybe classed as sustainable’ he argued ‘we need to use this opportunity to build back better and actually start delivering on promises’.

Mr Berkley said, “We hope that a carbon negative policy is still adopted if the bid is successful, indeed one of the organisations supporting it. The Eden Project has a declared intent to become carbon negative at its Cornwall location by 2023. It would be sad, and regrettable if Eastbourne was left behind, when it needs to get ahead.

“We’re not standing in the way of anything, we just need it improved for the sake of future generations, and to address the genuine concerns of young people who will have to live with this.”

Results of the bids are expected to be announced next month.