Worthing is a wonderful town in a beautiful county. Or should I say it was. In 2006 James Brathewaite, the head of SEEDA (South East Economic Development Association) addressed most of our borough councillors and prominent local business owners in a packed Pier Pavilion. His opening statement shook the pier to its rusted iron foundations. “This town is crap!” were his first words followed by “Thirty years ago, when I first moved here, Worthing was the jewel in the crown of West Sussex. But look at it now. What have you done?” He was referring to the town’s passion for living in the past and the detrimental effect that such nostalgia has had for local business and the community.
At the time Worthing Borough Council presented the “Master Plan” this was a vision for the future and it made Worthing look like a wonderful place to live. It still embraced the car but put people, and businesses first. The town plan was people friendly with obvious benefits for pedestrians and cyclists. Despite a cost of hundreds of thousands of our money the report appears to have been shelved.
One reason why the report may have been ignored is that, unlike many other towns, we have not had the need to restructure to accommodate excessive traffic chaos. In fact, despite changes around the rest of the country, Worthing and West Sussex residents have been able to enjoy almost total freedom to drive. Some will moan about delays but in our county they are not long enough to warrant any change. There has been no move to the trains, buses, bicycles nor has the County Council encouraged any social or infrastructure changes to improve road use for those that actually need to drive. We live in a driving utopia. It’s the resident’s choice and in West Sussex the politicians think that their voters prefer to prioritise the car over any long term changes to our infrastructure. It does seem a bit selfish when you consider the change to an increasingly younger demographic in the region.
This, however, will not go on forever. West Sussex and Worthing are due for a big wakeup call and if there is no plan in place it will struggle to catch up and adapt. We could do with someone of James Braithwaite’s stature to remind the town and county that its transport policies are crap.
Just think of the hundreds of millions of pounds that Yorkshire enjoys through cycle tourism. That is easy to measure but there are also the savings to the community because of cycle commuting and the benefits to the health service with a more active population. West Sussex is one of the most beautiful counties in the country to cycle through but it also is one of the most dangerous. It has one of the highest KSIs (Killed or Seriously Injured) for cyclist statistics for any county in the country. Did you know that Worthing has the same number of KSIs for cyclists as Brighton and yet Brighton has five times the population and a far higher percentage of cyclists.
West Sussex County Council has produced and excellent Walking and Cycling Strategy (the Government compelled it to). And now Adur and Worthing are one the way to completing its own LCWIP (Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan). In fact, indications are that the Worthing LCWIP will be the best in the county. The question is: will it go the same way as the towns “Master Plan”.
Let us imagine a future, not too distant, where West Sussex County Council decides that in order to bring the County in to the modern era it would use Worthing as a beacon for change and so allocate enough funds to realise every part of the Borough’s Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan. Would it make a difference? Would accidents and injuries be reduced? Would young children cycle to school? Would non cyclists take to the bike? Would short journeys now be cycled or walked?
The answer is an absolute NO. Why? Cycling and walking infrastructure would only affect a few roads and junctions. The rest of the town would remain as it was with same West Sussex drivers who cause all those KSIs. The roads would still be the most dangerous in the county. Drivers don’t care. Local politicians have never stood up and said that drivers need to be more considerate, more cautious. If fact, some local residents still think that speed cameras are there to gain income. Go elsewhere in the country and see how attitudes are different. Go across the channel and you’ll be amazed. No amount of cycling infrastructure will help without a change in driver attitudes.
In Worthing and West Sussex we are still living in the past and, for the time being, no amount of money will change that so for now enjoy the fact that Worthing is for cars and, to reuse and previous quote, “Worthing (and we should include the County) is crap”. Enjoy your drive!