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Candidates face the questions: from left, Stewart Rayment. Becca Horn, Cllr Julia Hilton, Cllr Heather Bishop, Anna Sabin, Cllr Nigel Sinden (not a candidate) and Anna Winston.

Active travel hustings identifies many failings for councillors to tackle

With half of Hastings’ councillors up for renewal, this is the time to ask candidates for their views on some pressing issues. So thinks Hastings Sustainable Transport Forum, which invited all parties standing candidates in next month’s local elections to come to a hustings and discuss active travel. Report by Nick Terdre, photos by Tony Polain.

In the event six candidates from three parties attended the active travel hustings last Saturday 14th: Heather Bishop and Anna Sabin from Labour, Julia Hilton and Becca Horn from the Greens, Stewart Rayment from the Liberal Democrats and Anna Winston from Hastings Independents.

If elected, they won’t all be new faces – Heather and Julia are councillors standing for re-election.

No Conservative candidates were available to attend the hustings, their leader Andy Patmore told the organisers. No response was received from Reform UK.

Hastings Sustainable Transport Forum is one of several groups campaigning to give active travel a bigger role in town and wider afield, along with Hastings Urban Bikes, Transition Town Hastings, the Hastings Greenway Group and Sussex Greenways, who also had representatives at the meeting. There is naturally a considerable overlap between the membership of these groups.

Not very surprisingly all the candidates who attended were in favour of active travel – providing safe and convenient routes for walkers, wheelers and cyclists to get about town and into the countryside, where possible away from traffic.

Nick Hanna put the spotlight on ESCC’s failings.

ESCC role

If Hastings ranks among the most backward areas for active travel, that can to a large extent be put down to East Sussex County Council. As Nick Hanna, chair of Sussex Greenways, pointed out in his introductory address, in the last five years the county council has spent £166m on roads and £484,000 on “cycle route construction,” though they did not actually build any cycle routes.

In Eastbourne they have gone backwards by banning cyclists from the town centre.

While finding millions to spend on roads, Hanna said, they rely on outside funding for cycling projects. And as Ian Sier of HSTF reminded the audience, when in 2014 they were granted £6m of central government funding to implement a walking and cycling infrastructure network in Hastings and Bexhill, they successfully applied to have £3m transferred to an over-budget road project (the Queensway Gateway Road, still uncompleted).

Alexandra Park fiasco

Hastings Borough Council is not exempt from criticism, as Sier also mentioned. In late 2022 councillors voted by a majority of one against implementing a cycle route through Alexandra Park, although this was council policy. The consequences for developing active travel were dire – efforts to persuade HBC to take up the issue once more failed and ESCC has now pulled out of all cycling initiatives in Hastings.

This is a matter councillors need to take up, he said, also pointing out that active travel and sustainable transport is part of HBC’s climate change strategy.

It’s not only the elected bodies which are part of the problem. According to Hanna, Sussex Greenways has run into fierce opposition from the Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve to its proposal to create a one kilometre active travel route from Barley Lane to the Bale House, despite the HBC management plan for the park requiring access to be provided for all.

Anna Sabin

In a perfect town, you can walk everywhere safely or hop on a bus, Anna Sabin said. This is far from the case in Hastings, with its narrow streets and pavements and cyclists discouraged by unsafe conditions. Moreover, the bus service has palpably deteriorated in recent months, and while the £2 ceiling on fares and buses-on-demand are valuable initiatives, the subsidy sustaining them is only temporary.

A park-and-ride scheme would help enormously, reducing traffic levels in the town centre, to the advantage of pedestrians and cyclists. Buses would also be enabled to move around more easily, with their own lanes where appropriate, which would encourage more people to use them.

Julia Hilton

Green proposals

The Greens have long campaigned for more 20mph streets, Julia Hilton said. ESCC is to look into the matter. If re-elected, she proposes that active travel be included in a Cabinet portfolio, giving it a higher profile. Since the Alexandra Park fiasco, it hardly seems to have featured in the council conversation.

What else can realistically be done? There was a general welcome for the proposed Green Connections scheme. At present there is not even any signage showing the way from the railway station to the sea and vice versa, thus encouraging visitors to leave the car at home. The situation could easily be remedied.

Among various suggestions put forward, a rental scheme for electric bikes could be interesting, offering an alternative to getting around our hilly town by car, she said.

When it comes to ESCC, it seems root-and-branch reform is needed. But there is a good chance that when county councillors come up for election next year, the slender Tory majority will give way to a more progressive cohort which will hopefully have the will to tackle the road bias among officers.

Ore Valley happenings

Meanwhile, there are activities that don’t require council consent. Ore CLT, for example, is in negotiations to take over some small parcels of land from Sea Space which will help consolidate the greenway route through Speckled Wood and Ore Valley, its secretary Tony Polain told the meeting.

Hastings Greenway Group is also active. To raise consciousness and support for the greenway concept it is planning a walk over the Ore Valley route on Saturday 27 April – meeting at Ore Station at 2pm, the circular walk will go up to Speckled Wood and back to the station via Broomgrove. (More info on their Facebook page.)

The active travel hustings was attended by just 18 people, including the aforementioned candidates, plus the proverbial dog. That is partly explained by the short notice and lack of publicity, but it is probably also the case that more missionary work needs to be done among the local population, and that is something that councillors, and those involved in local politics, as well as local media, can help with.


Ore CLT will be holding their AGM on Saturday 20 April at 2pm in the Salvation Army hall at 418 Old London Road TN35 5BB.

Greenway supporters gather at Ore Station for a previous walk.

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Posted 17:18 Thursday, Apr 18, 2024 In: Transport


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Barbara (Bea) Jean Rogers

    “Missionary work”? That suggests that other people are terrible heathens who have not yet seen the cycling light. The meeting reported on here was a classic case of the zealots preaching to the converted (except that hardly anyone turned up).

    It is not true that “active travel” is the same as cycling or “wheeling”. Even after millions spent on cycle provision by this government, it accounts for less than 3% of all journeys. The true active travel, practised by everyone (including those with mobility aids) is walking. This is also the best exercise for people at all levels of ability.

    The resistance to some of the cycling proposals is because of the cycle lobby’s tendency to propose taking space from parks and pavements, which should be safe spaces for walking. Bizarrely, the current proposals for Havelock Road involve creating cycle lanes to replace the south-bound buses – even though there is no real traffic problem for cyclists there, and they can use bus lanes anyway. The evicted buses, which carry thousands of people every day, would be forced into long diversions. Bus stops on Havelock Road which offer space and safety for people waiting would simply be removed.

    If we want to help people get around we will encourage healthy and safe walking, and improve bus routes and services.

    Comment by Barbara (Bea) Jean Rogers — Thursday, May 2, 2024 @ 09:32


    You could consider bringing in a Taxibus service

    This is where people share taxis have to prebook.

    This is used in other countries and has been introduced to this country for several years

    And in a town and county that has a lot of outlying villages and towns it would be helpful to have regular taxi runs say every hour going one way east north west and people catch and book them ahead,

    It could help disabled and replace the mobility buses which were cancelled

    Like Taxis Taxbuses pick up and drop off at your doorstep No waiting at bus stops late at night or walking down lone isolated streets and passageways on you way home after getting off the bus

    It would help the taxi service which has lost out with the cost of living and less people going out or visiting seaside

    Have a look and have a think

    West Sussex has a TaxiBus service

    I did suggest it before

    Many people save up to come into towns like Hastings from outlying towns, They told me it was as exciting as planning to go to London or a Big City
    Having to save up for the taxi trip back

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Wednesday, Apr 24, 2024 @ 23:01

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