I’ve recently been helping to judge the annual Eastbourne Business Awards, the results of which were announced at the town’s fabulous five-star Grand Hotel on 3rd November.
Joining the judging panel was a tremendous pleasure – and a massive eye-opener. The town where I was born, schooled and ran a family business for the first few years of my commercial life, has certainly come on apace in recent times.
It is now home to some truly vibrant businesses, large, small and in-between. I was lucky enough to meet some of the people running them and to hear about lots of others who are helping to provide the town with good year-round jobs for its fast-growing younger demographic. Once cruelly dubbed as ‘God’s waiting room’ it is now anything but.
I am full of admiration for the men and women who have played their part in enabling Eastbourne to grow and prosper – particularly as they are managing to do so in a town and area with some of the worst transport links in the country.
Unless you’ve got an unlimited supply of Prozac handy, I don’t suggest you try driving into or out of the town at rush hour. It’s an absolute nightmare.
I wasn’t at all surprised to read recently that Eastbourne is one of 43 towns in the country that breaches World Health Organisation rules on air pollution. At 15 micrograms of toxic particles per cubic metre of air, it was level with London, Leeds and Salford as the second worst town or city after Scunthorpe. The WHO recommended safe limit is 10. Brighton also scored above the limit on 11.
Doubtless there will be many theories and excuses put forward for this sorry state of affairs, but I can’t help thinking that the lack of investment in a decent road network hasn’t helped.
I accept that in a town with the English Channel on one side, it’s always going to be hard to keep the main arteries flowing freely. But surely something could and should have been done before now to stop them getting as clogged as they do.
And in how many towns in the country do you have to drive for the best part of an hour before meeting a motorway? I can’t see that the change in the law to allow learner drivers to practise on motorways in 2018, providing they are accompanied by a qualified instructor in a dual-control car, is going to affect those in Eastbourne and its environs struggling to find anywhere that allows them to spend any reasonable time in top gear.
Still let’s be grateful for small mercies. The recently announced plans to spend £75m on improving a nine-mile section of the A27 between Lewes and Polegate, including making part of it dual carriageway, is a step in the right direction.
As the town’s MP Stephen Lloyd said: “Any improvement of this shocking road is good for Eastbourne. However, this does not mean that I will stop pushing for what we all know Eastbourne really needs – and that is a dual carriageway between Polegate and Lewes.”
I, for one, won’t be holding my breath on that one.
Neither do I hold out a great deal of hope that Southern Rail can provide the solution. Even when there is no industrial action taking place, Southern’s trains aren’t the most reliable for getting people from A to B. So no great solace there for anyone looking to let the train take the strain rather than risk the roads.
Hats off then to Eastbourne’s enterprising business owners and managers who are managing to keep the town buoyant despite the difficulties of moving people and goods around.
Long may they prosper. They certainly deserve it!