Did the patients order this?

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Lewes District Council headlines its plans for development at The Downs,

Seaford as “Just what the doctor ordered.”

Quite rightly Diana Hitchen poses a number of questions which amount to the query: “Is it what the patients ordered?”

Of course, we don’t know the answer to that query because a large sum of money appears to have been approved without any public consultation and with the process even extending to a degree of secrecy.

Subsequent to the press release, attempts to obtain further details of the process and proposals have been unsuccessful and expectation of contact from LDC officials has not been fulfilled at the time of writing.

Clearly it is easy to agree that improved health facilities would be beneficial to the town and should be welcomed in principle.

However, the points raised by Diana Hitchen all require answers and in addition there are a number of other issues.

The Downs site was acquired by Seaford Urban District Council following the closure of the school in 1964 specifically for the provision of Leisure Facilities and Council Offices (discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk) and at the time this included the land at Bydown and a large playing field opposite the Downs buildings adjoining Hartfied Road.

Both these areas of land have since been sold and both sales were very controversial at the time.

In particular the sale of the playing field gave rise to objections because Seaford was – and is –underprovided with such facilities and the sale was considered to be in breach of the uses originally envisaged.

However, the sale went ahead – not because the field was in any way surplus to requirements but because government regulations at the time allowed the proceeds of the sale to be used to finance the building of a new primary school without impacting on the County Council’s overall capital borrowing. Undoubtedly the new primary school was welcomed but, given the chronic shortage of playing fields, a case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’

The proposed Health Hub seems to be repeating the process. The illustration lacks detail but it appears that the children’s play area will no longer exist, there will be less grass playing area (to cite provision of a mini-pitch is a touch misleading) and the over 60s provision will be substantially less – and certainly less independent – than at present.

Of course, such disadvantages could be forgiven if there are genuine major benefits but again detail is not forthcoming. Statements like ‘providing a more holistic approach to healthcare’ or ‘working hand in hand with support staff in a dynamic way’ don’t give us practical information and if we are to be offered more services – what are they?

Obviously, if the new buildings offer increased space and better facilities they would be major advantages but the actual location of the facilities on the site raises the prospect of a rather uncomfortable interaction between patients and players moving between the playing fields and changing rooms. It also leaves open questions about an ability to expand facilities if the population increases. It is far from clear that the physical link of health facilities with sports activities necessarily offers benefits that outweigh the disadvantages of the location and I am left with a suspicion that - as before – the real reason for choosing The Downs is the availability of land owned by LDC and therefore the cost implications.

It is also a matter of debate as to whether the proposals meet the original purpose of the land although the provision of a convenience store certainly does not.

On a similar note, the provision of eight apartments is to be welcomed for providing much-needed accommodation but is presumably financed – at least in part – by the associated convenience store. Such a store could potentially place a strain on the car parking provision and would certainly threaten the viability of both the existing convenience stores in Alfriston Road and Sutton Corner Garage.

The suggested employment opportunities provided by the Downs store could easily be outweighed elsewhere. As Diana Hitchin suggests, a pharmacy – such as provided at the new Seaside Centre in Eastbourne – would be helpful, but a convenience store is at odds with the concept proposed and simply makes no sense – apart from the finance of course.

Offering criticism of a scheme that is seeking to address long-running problems in Seaford runs the risk of being accused of being something of a curmudgeon.

However, I write more in disappointment than anything else that we appear to have arrived at a situation where any public discussion will be in terms of the detail of provision at the Downs rather than longer term plans covering all aspects of health care, social care, and recreation in Seaford. It is particularly disappointing that the known sensitivity about the use of The Downs site has not been acknowledged by more open initial discussion.

As far as I am aware, East Sussex has not yet sold Homefield Place so there remains scope for broader discussion involving at least one other site or the revenue from the sale of that site.

Ultimately, the wrong solution, or one that is only achieved at the expense of something else, will simply create more problems for the future.

Roy Bellingham

Downs View Road, Seaford