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Mayor stands firm on skate park

The Mayor of Eastbourne has defended her stance on the controversial plans for a skate park in the Manor Gardens.

The proposal has been opposed by many in the Old Town area of Eastbourne as local residents are concerned there will be an increase in noise pollution and anti-social behaviour.

In an unusual twist the ordinarily apolitical mayor came out strongly in favour of the park. But why has she put her reputation on the line for the sake of a skate park?

“At the end of the day I’m just trying to do the best for the young people in our area of town,” she says earnestly.

Carolyn Heaps has been mayor of the East Sussex town since 2010 after serving for several years as a councillor. As a mother of two she says she has always had a particular interest in supporting the young people of Eastbourne.

“That sort of age group doesn’t get a lot of help,” says Heaps. “Young people have special needs of their own.”

Sat at the end of a grand table in the Mayor’s Parlour she explains why she broke with tradition and backed what has been dubbed by some as ‘skate-gate.’

“I noticed there were a lot of young people whizzing down main streets on skateboards. Instead of stopping the car and shouting at them I stopped the car and talked to them and asked them what they wanted,” she says.

As she talks, her passion for young people soon becomes evident. She supports the Tuesday O’Hara Fund which aims to make the treatment of young-adult cancer patients more comfortable and bearable.

She is also an active member of the Eastbourne Street Pastors, who patrol the town centre in the evening looking after those coming out of pubs and clubs.

“I talk to young people all the time, they know me. I know that they’re good kids” says Heaps.

“Most of our young people are fantastic and I wanted to honour them by giving them something that is worthwhile and is going to last for them.”

However, her unashamed support of the skate park plans has made her an unpopular figure amongst some quarters of the Eastbourne community. Critical reader’s letters are regularly published in the Eastbourne Herald claiming she has strayed from her apolitical role as the Queen’s representative in the borough. The photographs and paintings of past mayors which adorn the town hall serve as a stark reminder of her responsibilities but she claims the matter is not a political one.

“They’ve turned it into a massive political football. It wasn’t a political agenda at all, it was just getting facilities for our youngsters,” she says with frustration. “It got blown out of proportion.”

But despite the furore surrounding the issue, Councillor Heaps remains determined that the skate park is what the young people of Old Town need.

“I’ll hold my head up high. I know I’m doing the right thing by our youngsters” she insists.

When asked about the objections to the park she is unsympathetic. She feels those protesting against the proposals do not understand the young residents of the town.

“There’s a fear that young people are going to do them damage and it’s just ignorance by not knowing the young people, not getting to know them” she says. “You only have to have a couple of bad apples and the whole bunch gets tarnished with the same brush.

“Sadly, we don’t think about all those youngsters who are sat at home diligently working. They never make the press.”

But is skateboarding the right hobby to be promoting? Those who oppose the park are anxious it will become a hub for drug taking and violence but Heaps firmly believes skating will act as a positive influence.

“I think it shows a great deal of individuality and I’m all for seeing young people doing stuff that’s positive, outdoorsy, active” she says enthusiastically. “They’re not sitting in front of a screen and it ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned.

She pauses and sighs with exasperation. “I don’t know what all the fuss has been about.”

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