With the rate of new Covid-19 infections continuing to drop and the number of vaccinations increasing I am sure that many of us will be awaiting the promised Prime Ministerial announcement on 22nd February regarding lockdown with eager anticipation. There are already clear messages about a return to school after Easter and hints about being able to book self-catering breaks. Managed in a cautious way, this sounds like good news. If all goes well, we could find shops and restaurants reopening in a socially distanced way. That will provide an opportunity to demonstrate our support for those businesses, especially the independent local ones that give Eastbourne a unique character and help them to recover from the lockdown.
Supporting the local economy is a key priority for local government. There are several sites in central Eastbourne which, as a result of various events need attention, but also provide opportunities. The closure of both T.J. Hughes and Debenhams have left two large sites empty. As a Borough Council we have been working alongside owners and other interested parties to encourage fresh use of these sites. Hopefully, the work planned by the County Council on the next phase of the town centre pedestrianisation, should make these areas attractive investment prospects. At the seafront end of Terminus Road, the Borough Council purchased the run-down flats, together with the shop units at Victoria Mansions from Administration and have invested in their restoration. The shop units will soon be completed, and I am delighted to say that there is considerable interest in them as food outlets. The other site which has concerned me greatly is that of the Claremont Hotel opposite the pier, which was destroyed by fire. The Council have been working closely with Historic England and I am hopeful that plans will come forward in the near future that will recreate the original façade of this important building.
The 22nd February marks the start of Fairtrade Fortnight. Fairtrade offers better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. It has been shown to increase standards of living and reduce risk and vulnerability for farmers and workers. The standards it sets also promote training for farmers, which can include advice on switching to environmentally friendly practices. This has been shown to lead to good agricultural practices, which have encouraged environmentally sustainable production. The standards also guide producers in adapting to climate change and mitigate their impact. When the idea of Fairtrade Fortnight first began, it could be difficult to find fairly traded products, but today they are far more readily available in supermarkets and coffee shops. I have made a personal commitment to do my best to buy fairly traded products, not just for the next fortnight, but throughout the year.