REJECTED: Bexhill pavement widening won’t go ahead – but councillors are divided

Controversial plans to widen pavements in Bexhill town centre have mostly been scrapped in the wake of social distancing measures being relaxed. 

Footways in Western Road and Devonshire Road were earmarked for temporary enlargement as part of a Government drive to encourage walking and cycling.

But Councillor Claire Dowling, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for transport, agreed with officers’ recommendations to drop the idea, due to changes in Covid-19 advice and objections from businesses.

Only the footway widening in Buckhurst Place, which runs underneath the railway bridge at the junction of Sackville Road, will proceed.

However, Councillor Kathryn Field, who is also lead member for environment at Rother District Council, expressed disappointment that not all the schemes were accepted.

She insisted it was a missed opportunity to make improvements to the town at the Government’s expense and consider ways to enhance pedestrian safety.

“It’s very sad to see the county council hasn’t listened to all aspects of people commenting – just one particular group of people who represents businesses,” she said. “That’s not, by any means, the whole story and we need to look at the wider picture.”

Devonshire Road in Bexhill town centre

The plans would have seen the closure of Western Road, as well as one lane in Devonshire Road, to support social distancing and allow pedestrian access.

In a report discussed by councillors, officers revealed that Bexhill Chamber of Commerce had objected to the proposed removal of parking spaces after consulting with 150 businesses.

The organisation had pointed out that parking was already in short supply as 80 spaces in Wainwright Road car park had been removed to make way for a coronavirus testing station.

Officers also highlighted the easing of social distancing guidance from 2m to 1m+, the lower risk outside, and new rules about wearing face masks/coverings, has changed the situation.

Speaking at the meeting on Monday morning (August 17th), Cllr Field argued that surveys had shown most parking spaces in the town were constantly used by the same people.

“It’s perfectly possible to have deliveries to businesses in pedestrianised areas,” she added. “All you need to do is have a set time for these deliveries to happen.”

Western Road in Bexhill town centre

But Councillor Deirdre Earl-Williams, who represents Bexhill West, said it was clear that Cllr Field had never been in business.

“I know for a fact that it’s sometimes virtually impossible to work within a time frame for deliveries,” she said. “If you get stuck on the M25 and miss your slot what are you supposed to do – sit there all day?”

Cllr Earl-Williams also pointed out there were no back entrances to properties in Western Road, which made life difficult for businesses such as the Co-op.

“Wetherspoons also have large deliveries and I know they do their best to get there early in the morning but it’s not always possible,” she added.

The pavement widening is part of the East Sussex Active Travel for Recovery & Growth programme that was set up to take advantage of the Government’s £250m Emergency Active Travel Fund.

This fund, which was announced in May as a way to help local authorities restart transport in their areas, is part of a wider £2bn package to get more people cycling and walking.

However, Cllr Dowling said hundreds of emails and letters had been received about the proposed schemes across the county – and there had been a lot of misunderstanding.

“This has raised expectations extremely high and it’s also become very emotive,” she said.

She explained that the projects were temporary and subject to very specific criteria and time frames that had been laid down by the Government.

“Proposals that have come forward over the last few weeks can also be considered as part of our walking and cycling scheme that’s going out to public consultation shortly,” she added.

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