As you would expect I continue to keep a close eye on the Covid-19 infection rate in Eastbourne. This remains above the national average, but the number of new infections in the past week is now mercifully below 300. This means that from a record high level a few weeks ago, it appears that the current lockdown is having a positive impact on reducing the spread of the virus. This news, coupled with the speed that the vaccination programme is being rolled out, will I am sure be making many of us ask, ‘how much longer the restrictions will be in place?’ We are unlikely to know the answer to this before the 22nd February, which is the date that the Government have published for their next announcement on the way forward. Whatever they decide it will not be an easy decision, as it needs to balance the concerns over the economy and peoples’ mental health of staying in lockdown with the risks of lifting restrictions too soon, only to see infection rates spiral once more. If there is one thing that I am sure most of us are agreed upon, it is that we do not want to see another lockdown later in the year.
Whenever lockdown is finally lifted there will be many challenges for us to face, both as a local community and as a nation. Children have had their education severely disrupted. Many people have lost their jobs, unemployment levels are high; businesses of all sizes have closed and Government at all levels have financial challenges as they have had to borrow to make-up for lost income and to pay for the impact of Covid. Locally it will be important to do all that we can to support our local economy and I will say more about that in a future article.
This week the Government announced that the elections planned for May (in our case those for the County Council and Police and Crime Commissioner) will go ahead. Due to the pandemic, it is not currently clear just how easy this will be. Political parties have not been allowed to deliver literature recently due to the lockdown and so getting their messages across will be more difficult than usual. These elections are however important and with uncertainty over the safety of going out it could be sensible to apply for a postal vote. Anyone can do this, details of how to apply can be found at www.gov.uk/.../publications/apply-for-a-postal-vote or you can contact the electoral registration officer via the Council phone number 01323 410000 for more information. Whichever candidate you might consider voting for I would urge you to take part and vote. Democracy is a precious part of the make-up of our country, you only need to look at places where it does not exist to understand the risk of losing it.
Conservative councillors refused to back Liberal Democrat budget amendments that would have allowed £1.25 million spending (revenue and capital) on initiatives to boost the local economy and respond to the climate change emergency.
Cllr David Tutt, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group explains:
“The County Council declared a climate change emergency, yet the Conservatives made no provision at all in their budget to fund actions to deliver this. Our proposals included installing electric vehicle charging points and putting the County Council’s own house in order by installing low carbon heating and solar energy. This would have had an impact on the local supply chain, helping local businesses.
We should be taking a leadership role in this, not simply making empty statements that mean nothing unless they are backed up by positive action”.
Cllr. John Ungar, Old Town Eastbourne added:
“The recent Scrutiny Review on becoming a carbon neutral council is a start but it was very narrow in scope. There is much more that the County Council should and could be doing. We need to move much faster – the clue is in the word “emergency”.
The response to a question about idling engines outside our schools was frankly complacent. The Conservatives seem unwilling to take any positive action to drive forward what is probably the most important issue for all of us both locally and globally”.
Cllr John Ungar further said:
“We should be adding carbon neutral clauses into all contracts issued by East Sussex County Council. There are opportunities here which the Conservatives are refusing to consider”.
At the time of writing, Eastbourne and the rest of East Sussex were in the latest restriction measures. Whilst there is some light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines being rolled out, it seems likely these restrictions will be with us for some time.
With many residents in Meads potentially vulnerable, the Borough Council has been helping those who need it. If you or anyone you know needs help with medicines, groceries, befriending services or business advice, you can get in touch with the Borough Council community hub on 01323 679722. You can also search online for “Eastbourne Borough Council Covid community hub”.
Over the Christmas period and into 2021, the #EBtogether campaign has been calling many who need help and advice, or just a friendly voice in these difficult times. Lib Dem volunteers here in Eastbourne have made almost 6,000 welfare calls to vulnerable residents since the start of the pandemic, with several hundred being made to isolated residents over the Christmas and new year period. Josh Babarinde OBE, organiser of #EBtogether said: “The best thing we’ve provided through this are good, old-fashioned chats that have made sure Eastbournians know they are not alone. We are here for them. This is what the Eastbourne Lib Dems are all about.”
Nationwide Building Society have closed their branch on Terminus Road whilst they carry out upgrades to the building and facilities.
Ever-mindful of the impact on residents, Peter Diplock spoke with regional managers in December to outline his concerns. Peter said “It’s brilliant that Nationwide are improving facilities and committing to the long-term future of the branch, but I was concerned the temporary closure might affect Meads and town centre residents. Not everyone is comfortable with online banking and if you want to pay cash into your account, the only alternative seemed to be travelling to Bexhill or Hailsham.”
Happily, after Cllr Diplock spoke to local and regional Nationwide managers, it seems measures have been put in place to safeguard customers. Peter said “Nationwide have assured me they’ve identified those most at risk, assigning them personal banking teams to ensure no one feels isolated or unsure what to do if they need a service. Nationwide have promised to keep me up to date, but of course, the proof is in the pudding, and if residents have any trouble accessing Nationwide’s banking facilities they can contact me.”
Potentially dangerous trip-hazard pavements and large potholes have been repaired following reports by Councillor Peter Diplock. The County Council have responsibility for the quality of pavements and roads, and it can often be an uphill task getting them to make the necessary repairs, particularly to pavements.
Peter said “I’ve spoken with several residents recently who’ve had nasty falls due to uneven pavements. As well as the awful physical effects, a fall also really shakes people's confidence. These trip hazards result in more pressure on the DGH and more need for follow-up care, all of which could be avoided with a little more investment and pro-active management from County. I’ll continue pressing them to do more to maintain our streets.”
Following several weeks of very high rates of Covid-19 infections in Eastbourne, it is good to see a sizable reduction in the past 7 days, but at 400 there is still no room for complacency. Hopefully, this downward trend will continue with the rollout of the vaccines. I have however had a couple of concerns about this programme raised with me this week. The first from a gentleman who was given the vaccine, who was surprised that there were no posters explaining that it takes 2-3 weeks to become effective, nor does he remember being told this by staff at the site. The second from someone who doesn’t drive and has been shielding. They had a letter inviting them to be vaccinated in Brighton. When they called 119 they were told that “there were no slots available in Eastbourne, the best they could offer was 17 miles away in Ticehurst”. I find these issues concerning and am asking for them to be addressed.
Whilst much of our attention is understandably centred on the pandemic, other things are happening. One of which is a plan to improve the rail network in the South East. Although the results will probably be several years away, this sounds like good news. Better routes, faster journeys and clean trains will encourage many to leave the car behind, which in turn will improve air quality. One issue that I am pressing for as part of this work is the inclusion of a new station at Stone Cross. This is not a new idea, indeed along with my colleague Alan Shuttleworth, we have been campaigning for this for decades, as it would serve much of the eastern end of Eastbourne and help ease congestion of cars travelling to the town centre. Many years ago, we persuaded the County Council to include it as an aspiration in their transport plans, but to date the rail authorities have not agreed. The size of the population in that area has however grown considerably with the estates which have already been built on the Wealden side of the line and so with a bit of a push, maybe the time for the rail companies to take this seriously has finally arrived.
I received an email this week from a lady who was concerned about my recent remarks about visiting Butts Brow and pointing out that to do so is within the Government guidelines. To clarify in case there is any misunderstanding. I am not challenging this (as long as people are not travelling long distances to do so) but wanted people to be aware of the risk of large numbers heading to such beauty spots whilst the Covid infections rates are so high locally.
Covid infection rates, whilst slightly lower this week remain high in Eastbourne and currently place us as having one of the highest levels in the country. It is not clear why this is , as rates in other places have dropped much faster during the current lockdown. Locally, our hospitals are stretched, and staff are working flat out to address the challenges. I know that I have said it before, but this virus is a killer. Already the number of deaths in the UK is similar in number to the total number of people in Eastbourne, which drives home the seriousness of the situation. We now have several vaccination centres with the Sovereign Centre open and the Welcome building at Devonshire Park being setup. Therefore, providing supplies of vaccines are available, local people should not need to travel too far for their injections. Being vaccinated is an important step forward in fighting the virus, but not a licence to ignore the restrictions. Firstly, it takes several weeks for the antibodies to build-up and secondly, you could possibly still be a carrier of the virus and pass it onto others.
With so much focus upon Covid there is a risk of missing other things. Last Wednesday was Holocaust Memorial Day. It is important that the world never forgets the horrors of the Holocaust. The millions of: Jews; political prisoners; members of the gay community; travellers and those with physical and mental disabilities who were killed by the Nazis, during the second world war. I took time to reflect on how fortunate I am not to have lived at that time, but also to remember more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. We must all in our own way be prepared to stand-up against oppressive regimes if such events are to be prevented in the future.
Being at home so much I have embarked upon the long-resisted task of tidying-up my home office. Whilst doing so I came across some old copies of the Eastbourne Herald. It was interesting to be reminded of names from the past and events such as the opening of Upwyke House. To also see pictures from a long-forgotten Carnival. It served to make me yearn for the return to the events that Eastbourne is famous for but cannot take place again until we are the other side of this pandemic. I am sure that we will get there. In the meantime,
As we enter the third week of the new year, it is of course also the third week of the third national lockdown and the question that people are asking me is, whether this is making a difference to the Covid levels? The answer is that it is probably too early to say. Levels in Eastbourne remain high but appear to have stopped increasing, hovering just under the 1000 mark. This is a weekly figure and there are more than this number of people in Eastbourne with the virus, so the need for caution remains. With more and more people being vaccinated there is real hope for the future. Being vaccinated does not however bring immediate immunity, as it can take several weeks for the antibodies to build-up once you have had the injection, so even once the majority of the community have been vaccinated it will be a while before it is safe to mix again.
If you are like me, you will be working from home, spending seemingly endless hours on video conferences, staring at a screen running something like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. This change in the way we work has been effective for many of us, but one of the challenges for many families who have children home schooling is ensuring that they have the computer equipment to enable this to happen. Local company TechResort are working hard to help them overcome this challenge and they need your help. They understand that quite often, with several school age children and parents working at home, a family needs more than one device.
TechResort have therefore issued an appeal for second hand computer equipment. Most of the functionality needed is quite basic but needs to be of a sufficiently recent specification to ensure that they can receive regular security updates. So, if you or your company have laptops, phones or tablets which are no more than 10 years old and are happy to donate them to a good cause, please contact them at www.techresort.org they will ensure that the devices are cleaned and checked, and all data removed. They will also update or replace the operating system and issue it together with a bag, to someone in need. Likewise, if your children are in need of equipment for school, please let them know, they just might be able to help.
The campaign to stop developers from building across Friday Street Farm is hotting up. Following Wealden Council granting permission, Eastbourne councillors are trying to stop the development. Langney councillors Alan Shuttleworth and Candy Vaughan opposed the plans at the Planning meeting – citing a wide range of issues why this site is inappropriate. 170 objections had been ignored by Wealden Planners.
Eastbourne is only allowed to deal with the access from Eastbourne on Pennine Way, but we are putting up strong arguments around the lack of the full funding of required road improvements which would be needed. As Alan said, “We will not give up the fight to protect this site of special interest, with its enormous impact on the environment and likely increase in flooding issues as well as the increased congestion on the local road network and the impacts on local health services.”
Next Planning meeting is on 26th January. We will continue the fight.
Cllr Alan Shuttleworth has also made representations on the new Wealden Local Plan.
Langney councillors are continuing to support local people through the lockdown. If you would like to join a “Langney ZOOM Lockdown Club” please let us know. We are also working with schools to highlight the growing concerns around lack of Government planning which has left local families struggling to offer home learning without devices, as well as growing food poverty and mental health issues.
If you have a surplus laptop/tablet/computer we can arrange to have it cleaned and then pass to a family to support home education.
Cllr Alan Shuttleworth has led the local Schools’ campaign and also led the campaign to stop the closure of the Walk-In Health Centre at the station, which is so important for many vulnerable people. We will offer support wherever possible and are determined to achieve as fast a roll-out of vaccinations to NHS and care staff, key workers and all the most vulnerable as quickly as possible.
For help phone Community Hub: Call 01323 679722