Hastings Old Town in East Sussex has won the Ramblers’ prize of Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood 2018. I was invited to present the award to the town’s leaders on 16 May.
We gathered at Butlers’ Gap in George Street, an open space created by the borough council in 1995. It is the site of the former Butlers’ emporium and now is decorated with tromp l’oeil and sculptures. This is a feature of this walker-friendly town.
The award recognises and celebrates towns and cities that put pedestrians first. The Ramblers shortlisted ten towns across Britain and then the public voted. Over 12,000 votes were cast and Hastings Old Town captured 21 per cent of the votes.
The Ramblers hope that the award will encourage local authorities to think and plan for walkers, whether residents or visitors. We want councillors to sign up to our charter for walkable towns and cities. For instance, that means adopting a planning condition in the local plan for all new developments to contribute to local green space; having a green space standard, and developing a local walking and cycling infrastructure plan.
Hastings Old Town deserves the award. Hastings Borough Council is already doing many of these things. It gives priority to pedestrians, has introduced traffic restrictions, has paved and widened footways and has preserved its twittens, the Victorian passageways that form interesting routes between thoroughfares.
Ramblers’ member Anthony Slack nominated the Old Town for the award and led a campaign to win votes, posting local signs and canvassing. Towards the end he had the brainwave of approaching the college and getting the students to cast their votes for the town. Outgoing mayor, Judy Rogers, had led the council in making improvements for walkers.
After the ceremony, Anthony took us on a walk around the Old Town. He is a retired planner and extremely knowledgeable about the town.
He took us along twittens, such as Wood’s Passage—though there seems to be some dispute about the apostrophe.
We looked down on the beach and the fishing huts.
The picturesque old town has set a high standard for next year’s Best Walking Neighbourhood award.