The weather has changed, the leaves are falling from the trees, autumn has clearly arrived and the nightmare, which is the Coronavirus is still very much with us. Indeed, much of 2020 has felt like a bad dream which we long to wake up from. Among the few bright spots have been the way that the Eastbourne community has rallied round to support those in need and the dedication of key workers to protect us and keep essential services operating. The pandemic has been extremely costly, many businesses have closed and there has been a big surge in unemployment. No layer of Government has escaped. At the Borough Council, when the cost and the loss of income are combined, they come to more than £10m, of which Government has so far paid £1.3m. At East Sussex there is a £7m gap between cost and reimbursement. At the start of the lockdown Government promised to reimburse Councils for both cost and loss of income, I hope that they deliver on that promise, but they are not without their problems as the national debt now exceeds an eye watering £2 trillion. The greater cost however has been the loss of human lives. I am sure that the thoughts of us all are with those who have lost loved ones. This pandemic is far from over. Speaking with the Leader of a Northern Council this week, he was telling me about the speed at which it is once again spreading. Clearly, we all still need to do all we can to tackle this.
Just before sitting down to write this article, I read the news that due to the delay in the release of new ‘blockbuster’ films, Cineworld is considering closing all of their cinemas. This would be a dreadful blow to the economy and result in more job losses, I sincerely hope that it can be avoided. There is however some good news as Towner are reopening their cinema. One of the films to be screened on 17th October is ‘Hope Gap’. Filmed at Seaford, the setting reminded me of one of the walks I took during my ‘staycation’ this year. It has a good storyline around relationships and if you can get tickets, it is worth seeing for the local scenery.
It is now 25 years since Eastbourne hosted the first International Children’s Conference on the Environment. This was a far-sighted event and drew together children from around the world to consider how to tackle the environmental challenges of the day under the banner ‘Leave it to us’. I was talking to Antonia Lucas this week. Together with her husband, Lord Ralph Lucas, she is working on a celebration of this event during the anniversary in November. More about this in a future article. In the meantime.
The Covid-19 news is not good. The number of new cases reported daily in the UK continues to rise and is frequently exceeding 600. This at a time when many are struggling to be tested, so the true figure is most certainly far greater. Although it can be inconvenient, I believe that this level of increase warrants tighter restrictions. I am not however convinced that the 10pm curfew of pubs and restaurants makes sense in this context. The vast majority of these establishments in Eastbourne are extremely well managed and I find it hard to believe that you are any more likely to catch CV19 after 10pm than before it. I know that it is argued that larger numbers may gather in pubs after that time, but with controls in place it is possible to manage these numbers and probably safer to manage drinkers in this environment, than drive them to illegal house parties, where social distancing will be impossible. The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by this pandemic and deserves to be trusted to look after customers in a responsible way.
The consultation over the future of the ‘walk-in centre’ at the Railway Station has now closed. I have met with NHS managers a couple of times to discuss this and stress the importance of this facility for: those who live in the town centre; residents who have a need to see a doctor urgently; the homeless and visitors to our town. I hope that those making the decision on this understand the importance of the centre and decide to keep it open.
I am pleased to learn that as from the 13th October East Sussex County Council will be reopening the remaining libraries that were closed due to Covid. These include Hampden Park and whilst the facilities will be limited, it is good to know that the building will once again be accessible. For those wanting to borrow books without having to browse on site, they also offer a select and collect service.
The past week has brought bad news in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ‘R’ rate, which indicates the number of people each individual who has the virus will pass it onto has risen above 1, for the first time in months. This means that the number of people infected is once again starting to grow rather than reduce. The Government have also admitted that following much publicity to encourage everyone to get tested, there has not been sufficient capacity in the system to cope with this and as a result many people have been issued with testing appointments at the other end of the country from where they live. The new message is only to seek a test if you are showing symptoms of CV19. In addition, in an attempt to reduce the rate of infection the Government have said, that gatherings either indoors or outside should not exceed 6 people and those who fail to comply with this restriction, risk being fined.
With so much of the news concentrating on Covid-19 it is easy to miss other things which are happening. One of which is a Government White Paper, which seeks to change Planning Law. Whilst I consider the current planning laws to be far from perfect, some of the proposed changes cause me real concern. For example, currently large developments have to make a contribution to provide local infrastructure such as schools, roads and street lighting, but in future this will be replaced with a levy payable to the national exchequer. On initial reading it also looks as if local decision making will be further eroded. I believe that it is important that planning decisions are taken by local people and not directed from Whitehall. The paper is currently out for consultation and if you are interested in planning you might want to read it.
A question that I have been asked several times is “what is happening to the Bandstand?” I am pleased to say that this forms part of the Council’s Capital programme. Work will take place over the winter months with a planned reopening next April with a full programme of entertainment.
More than 6 months after the country went into lockdown, the threat of the Coronavirus is still very much with us. The number of infections is once again rising steadily and local lockdowns have been introduced in many parts of the UK and now affect more than 10 million people. Here in the South East, although we remain below the national average, we are not immune. Last week the risk rating moved from Green to Yellow which, the Government Escalation framework tells us, means that we need to have a ‘raised level of alertness’ to the risks.
Several people have commented to me that they don’t understand what all of the fuss is about and that they do not know of anyone who has caught CV-19. They are therefore very lucky. It is probably due to the protective measures that have been taken that this is the case. Let us make no mistake, this virus is a killer and it would be foolish to ignore the risks. It remains very important that we all continue to abide by the social distancing rules, as this appears to be the only way to manage the spread of CV-19 until a reliable vaccine is found.
Government changes to the maximum number of people congregating has had an impact on our local walking festival. It is still taking place, but instead of the walks having a leader, these will now be self-led. You can find details of a wide range of walks varying from ‘easy’ to ‘intense’ on the Visit Eastbourne website. I am sure that it will still be a fantastic event. It was good to be able to welcome Sir Tim Smit and David Harland (Founder and Chief Executive of the Eden Project) to Eastbourne at the start of the festival and to hear their enthusiasm for the opportunities we have to enhance Eastbourne Park. We are very fortunate to have their help and advice.
Also in town for the launch of both the Festival and ‘Beat the Street’ was Dr William Bird who founded this exercise game. I met up with him at Langney Primary Academy where staff and pupils are just some of almost 6000 participants for the event. Eastbourne is the only place in the UK where this is currently taking place. It is free to join and runs until the 4 November. Details can be found on the ‘Beat the Street’ website or at a variety of locations, including the Welcome Building at Devonshire Park. Why not join in?
As a result of the Grenfell disaster the government introduced an industry standard cladding and insulation survey the ESW1 certificate. This was meant to be for tower blocks, but the remit has been spread much wider to cover most blocks of flats including many in Sovereign Harbour.
There is a shortage of qualified surveyors able to do the certification and they are unable to get indemnification insurance in case the unthinkable happens and there is another disaster.
Mortgage companies are refusing to grant mortgages or remortgages to properties without an ESW1 certificate.
This has put a massive potential financial burden on flat owners in order to comply (and even then, the certificate is only valid for 3 years), as well as devaluing ALL apartments nationwide, by making them un-mortgageable and largely unsaleable. If we believe the media reports, the implication is that resolution could take up to 10 years.
Dr Kathy Ballard Liberal Democrat County Council Candidate for Sovereign Ward said, “The government MUST urgently intervene in this situation and find a workable resolution to this craziness. Obviously, we all understand and appreciate the need for fire safety and want to support sensible actions, but whoever came up with this debacle, clearly hasn’t thought it through. I have written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government calling for action to be taken on this matter at once. I understand from social media that many Sovereign residents have written to Caroline Ansell, MP and Sovereign Borough Councillor on this matter, but have so far received no response, let alone any action from her”.
Sovereign ward campaigner Dr. Kathy Ballard has been in talks with ASDA to secure a clear-up of discarded trolleys across the ward.
Kathy Ballard said: “Time and again, residents are telling me at my telephone surgeries that the number of discarded trolleys is increasing week by week. This has to stop.”
After meeting with the management of ASDA in The Crumbles retail park, the supermarket have committed to collecting stray trolleys that are reported to them.
Residents can report trolleys to be clear to Kathy Ballard via her Trolley Reporting Form here: https://bit.ly/33ZRKa8
Kathy has reported dozens of trolleys in the local area already.
Sovereign Ward campaigner Kathy Ballard, has been approached by a resident about setting up a community library. He has 8,000 books to donate to the new library. Kathy says, “We were wondering if there would be any interest in setting up a community library for Sovereign and would appreciate your views. Please email me at [email protected].
Eastbourne’s businesses and residents are angry that East Sussex County Council chose to impose steep display parking and on-street parking permit increases when the town was emerging from an extended lockdown due to Covid19. At the last County Council meeting the Tory majority dismissed Liberal Democrat pleas that the increases be postponed until the New Year when, hopefully, the Town will have recovered from the effects of Covid19.
ESCC increased on-street parking permits and display parking charges throughout Eastbourne at the beginning of July - display parking charges have risen between 20p and £1.90. An Eastbourne resident who was paying £25 for an annual On-Street Parking Permit for the first car at the residence will have to pay as much as £95.
Kathy Ballard says “It is incomprehensible that East Sussex County Council should increase the charges at this time. The increases are wrapped up as helping the Environment when they are in fact lucrative income generation measures for East Sussex County Council”.
Popular former MP, Stephen Lloyd, is backing Kathy Ballard to win Sovereign Ward in the upcoming county elections. He says: “I am delighted to be supporting Kathy for next May. She’s already working hard across the Ward. From the Admirals Estate to the Harbour, local residents are recognising that she’ll always put them first ahead of party politics. It’s time for a positive change in Sovereign Ward, and I believe Kathy is the right person to deliver that change.”
In what has been the strangest of years, things are changing again. Children have returned to school; more businesses have reopened and a number of restaurants are continuing to offer discounts in order to entice us back to eating out. All of these things suggest that life is returning to the way it was pre-lockdown. Whilst this might all feel good, we need to remember that the threat of Covid-19 has not gone away. We have been fortunate that locally the rate of infection has remained below the national average, but there is still no room for complacency. In common with many other countries, the number of infections in the UK has once again been increasing. In order to address this, several areas of the north of England have seen local lockdowns imposed. Such action can have a major impact upon a local economy seeking to recover from months of inactivity. So, for both the sake of our health and the Eastbourne economy, let’s ensure that we observe the CV19 guidelines and avoid the need for another lockdown here.
Last Saturday I was delighted to visit Embrace, which has just reopened. This local charity does so much to support children with special needs and their families. They have ambitious plans for expansion of their services over the next five years and I wish them every success.
One of the consequences of Brexit is that any EU national living in the UK has to apply for ‘Settled Status’ no matter how many years they have lived here. The only exception to this is if you have ‘indefinite leave to remain’ but even with this it is worth applying for ‘settled status’ as this will give you additional rights. If you need to apply and have yet to register, but are uncertain of how to go about it, there is help available. You can call the Council’s Customer First number 01323 410000, they will take your details and get someone to ring you back and arrange an appointment for a one to one meeting at one of the EU Settled Status support sessions.