Are Consultations Blocking Progress?

I think everyone is aware that traffic levels appear higher than last year and with all the new housing this will only get worse. At the same time, Eastbourne is committed to a shift towards more walking, cycling and bus journeys. So why is this change not happening?

ESCC Hailsham to Eastbourne Sustainability Corridor

It has been increasingly apparent that consultations and public engagement can result in no change at all.  You may think they are the best example of the democratic decision on the local matters but let us look at the evidence. There are more car users than any other group and many of them will want what they already have. The share of car trips has gone up by 40% since 1981 whilst bus and cycle trips have more than halved.

One of the key reasons that progress is not being made is that even with Covid-19, there is built-in inertia. The car-centric view is simply entrenched across all of East Sussex. So out of all the county’s funded Covid-19 schemes only 2 pedestrian schemes were built. Locally in Eastbourne, everything was eventually dropped “following public consultation”.

Eastbourne Draft Local Plan

There are probably four ways that consultations can be used to reinforce the status quo:

1) Only some key stakeholders are consulted

2) The questions are adapted to fit the agenda

3) The comments are simply counted as for and against.

4) Weightings are used to prioritise certain groups

The Government has said that they want to double cycling numbers by 2025, link future transport funding to current performance and set higher design standards. So for routes, away from the roads, such as Horsey Sewer or Shinewater it is possible to build reasonable shared paths. However, because space is limited in town, and cycling is marginal, either the routes are removed – such as around Terminus Road – or designed to make the least change to the road layout. Currently, there is no cycle route in Eastbourne town centre of sufficient quality to appear on either Google maps or Cyclestreets.

The same issue is true for buses. One of the reasons that there is no local Quality Bus Partnership, which would mean better and greener buses, might be that the road network would need to be re-allocated in favour of buses. That would once again face some resistance through a consultation process. There are indeed some bus lanes being added on the route from Polegate to Eastbourne but they are short and may not make enough difference to get the bus companies to invest.

With the County Council elections coming up,  now is the time to question the candidates. Do not ask if they are in favour of cycling or bus lanes, as nearly everyone says yes. Instead, ask about a specific route that you want and where there are consequences and hard choices to be made.

Paul Humphreys

Bespoke & Cycle East Sussex

Photo: Eastbourne Bespoke cycling group