Observer column: 04 May 2018
Some time ago, we proposed the idea of a sustainable seafront transport link, in the shape of a mini-tram along the promenade, from the Old Town to Grosvenor Gardens. The idea was first put forward before the pier opened, but was put on hold at the time, pending further research on potential usage, and whether there would be enough year-round demand to pay for it. To fund that developmental work, we applied for an EU 'DESTISMART' grant for developing sustainable transport solutions.
That grant programme was repeatedly delayed - by several years in the end. However, we have finally been awarded the DESTISMART funding, for £133,000, so will now be able to research and develop a detailed business plan. We are also waiting to hear about another EU grant we've applied for, called SUFUSE, which would provide capital funding for the project. We won't hear about that one until November, but I'm hoping that the tram plan will balance out whether we get the capital funding or not.
The proposal is for a 'trackless tram' to run along the seafront promenade. The best we've seen so far is a lightweight electric vehicle manufactured in the UK by Severn Lamb, in Warwickshire. It would carry around 30 people, although there are options to extend that with additional carriages. This would help connect the Old Town to the pier, as well as encouraging tourists to explore areas beyond that, including St Leonards town centre and Grosvenor Gardens. But it would also be an all-year-round practical transport option, running all the way along the seafront. The tram would run on tyred wheels rather than rails, but would follow a defined route marked by electronic transponders, which would guide the vehicle. This makes it suitable for areas that are busy with pedestrians, as happens with modern tramways in busy city centres. The vehicle would travel at relatively slow speeds (16 kilometres per hour maximum), but as any cyclist will tell you, it's quicker cycling along the seafront cycle lane between Hastings and St Leonards than it is to drive, even when there are no traffic queues - if you're a fairly quick cyclist! We would operate two of them, so the service could run half hourly at busy times, with both trams running.
We did consider running the tram along the road, but this is much more difficult. It requires different licences and requirements for a road-going vehicle, would contribute to traffic congestion, and would itself get caught in traffic congestion on busy days.
There is a lot of development work that's needed before this would be possible. We need to look at weights and loading capabilities of the seafront structures, the available width between existing buildings and structures, surveys to determine potential usage and ticket pricing, costs and energy use, staffing, and so on. We also wouldn't want to prejudice existing attractions, so would integrate the mini-tram with the existing seafront train at the Old Town. There have even been suggestions that we could offer through ticketing to include the train, tram, and cliff railways - a 'Winkle Card', perhaps!
And there's also the possibility of generating the electricity locally to run the tram, using a wind turbine, making it a truly sustainable transport solution. So there's a lot of work to be done - but I'm hopeful now that our seafront mini-tram project will finally be realised.
Council Leader's column