Labour councillors are calling on the county council and Tory leader Louise Goldsmith to take more seriously the issues facing the night time economy in towns across the West Sussex area.
Labour has tabled a motion calling on the county council to undertake a detailed consideration of the issues by setting up an officer working-group with partners from the Districts and Boroughs Councils, the food and drink industry and those with expertise in events to explore the benefits that an enhanced night-time economy could deliver across the County.
The motion is being debated at the next meeting of the full council which will be held on Friday 7th June 2019.
The whole issue was raised at a recent meeting of the Environment Communities and Fire Select Committee, when the issue of the county council’s Economic Growth Plan 2018-2023 was being considered. At that meeting Labour Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) challenged the draft strategy put forward by Tory Leader of the council Louise Goldsmith (Chichester West), stating: “I am, of course, very supportive of the council’s efforts to support the local economy, but there does appear to be quite a significant omission to this plan at the moment.
“I have to ask, what is the county council planning to do to stimulate our towns’ night-time economy? What about our publicans, restaurant owners, clubs and food providers – don’t they deserve our support too? They also pay their business rates.
“I’m always taken aback when I drive through towns like Chichester, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and I see so many pubs closed or converted into a Tesco Express or some such.
“We have university towns in this county which are incredibly quiet in the evenings, for the student populations we have. It just seems to me something isn’t right, and I can’t believe it is because the union bar is that much cheaper!
“Crawley is not a traditional student town, and it is my observation that footfall has fallen in the evenings, compared to ten years ago and it would be my observation in Bognor Regis and Chichester too in that same period. I believe many more licenced premises would still be open too, if that were not the case across the county.
“I believe we need a move to a new approach offering leisure, food, events – a greater, much more attractive and vibrant mix of uses; enabling the character and history of a place to shine through; perhaps targeting families to come in to shop, eat and participate on events – markets, showcases, outdoor theatre and entertainment.
“We need something that gives people a reason not just to stay at home and come into our towns, and I think if this council had some vision on this then we could be leading the way.”
Speaking before the meeting where the debate will be held, Cllr Jones added: “I am pleased that Labour councillors have raised this because it is clear from the initial response from the county council that they don’t appear to appeciate their potential role at all and appear almost dismissive about it. Hopefully we can raise awareness and hope other councillors are supportive.
“This is certainly not just about alcohol-related activities, although that in itself is not to be ignored, but in the spring and summer months we have the weather to have much more of a Mediterranean café culture, where the shops stay open because people are enjoying events and the trade is there to justify it.
“While one hears a lot of lip service for this ideal, you don’t see as much accompanying it as firm action. We know the council says it wants lots of visitors to come and enjoy the ‘West Sussex experience’, but then they look blankly when we suggest what visitors can do to enjoy themselves in the evening is probably a substantial factor in what people are looking for when they visit somewhere in their leisure time.
“All the while, we’re missing an opportunity and it is the economy of West Sussex that is losing out. If people are voting with their feet and going to London, Brighton or Portsmouth depending on where they live in the county, we’re not meeting that challenge. And that’s what this motion is all about.”