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The Hastings Country Park Visitor Centre as is.

The Hastings Country Park Visitor Centre as is.

A room with a view to lowering standards

Severe modifications are being proposed to the unbuilt visitor centre in Hastings Country Park. Will the new design benefit the Country Park? Bernard McGinley takes a wild guess, and finds the application still wanting.

When a new visitor centre for the Fairlight end of the Country Park was discussed by the Hastings Borough Council (HBC) planning committee, one councillor looked forward to the prospect of a drink on the terrasse.  The application was approved in March 2015. But the councillor won’t now have that sundowner, because the terrasse has been abandoned. Costs have escalated and there are “budgetary constraints”.

Instead a new building is proposed, under a new application. The planning reference is HS/FA/17/01018, confusingly described merely as a ‘variation of condition 13 (approved drawings)’ of the previous application, HS/FA/14/01033.

The substantial changes include loss of the roof garden, reduction in height, reduction in window sizes and changes to cladding. These significantly change the appearance of the building, for the worse.

Other changes in the proposals include a doubling of the forecourt width, from 4.2 metres to 8.4 metres, and metal rollers for the shutters instead of sliding timber    quite an inner-city vibe.

A bike store design is now included, which is to be on the other side of Lower Coastguard Lane, near the Grey Owl memorial with its ironic finale about ‘the protection of the wilderness’.  But as this was not part of the original site, the present application cannot be considered as a variation to the previous one.  (HBC’s overcasual use of the ‘minor variations’ route was supposed to have ended around 2014.)

Additionally, this bike store site across Lower Coastguard Lane is entirely in Fairlight, not Hastings – so this application becomes a planning matter for Rother District Council.

The applicant is HBC itself. Being HBC they describe this application as ‘some minor changes to appearance and structure’.  However the ‘FA’ in the reference stands for ‘Full Application’. Hence it is unclear whether the new application is being treated as a variation to plans or as a fresh and full application. The argument for treatment as a full application is clear, for it to be considered on its merits given the many changes. This would also include a requirement to reconsult the original consultees.

That was then

The rationale for the visitor centre was discussed and endorsed  by the Council at its Cabinet meeting of 6 October 2014, item 34: ‘The new facility was intended to provide an improved visitor experience…’

The Council was to work in partnership with Groundwork South to seek grant aid to ‘deliver’ the visitor centre.  (The remarkable award of a Green Flag to Hastings Country  Park in 2016, and again in 2017, may have helped.)

Front view of new visitor centre as originally conceived.

Front view of new visitor centre as originally conceived (image from case documents, South and West Elevation).

The 2015 visitor centre elevations can be seen here and here.

The first application attracted scores of objections, many lengthy. Objectors included Fairlight Parish Council, who complained in detail about the proposal., pointing out that it lacked

sufficient architectural merit for its very sensitive site. It is also placed too far forward, too near houses and is too large. Hastings Country Park is not a large area and cannot readily absorb a Visitor Centre of this scale without detracting from the landscape value.

The Fairlight Preservation Trust and the Friends of Hastings Country Park also objected, as well as many residents of Hastings and Fairlight.

Factors such as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) were cited, and that the proposal adversely affected the Strategic Gap between Hastings and Fairlight, the gap being a stated concern of Rother District Council.

The Revised Design and Access Statement (DAS) drew concern for its lack of a light pollution assessment and noise impact assessment, and for newsworthy statements such as:

The proposal will not result in a loss of open space [p18]

and:

The Borough Council will continue to encourage the maximum use of these facilities and will be generally supportive of planning applications for additional community facilities.

However, the principle of a new visitor centre was broadly accepted — but not this particular proposal, ten times the size of its predecessor, and with the detail in the Revised DAS about it being a venue for ‘weddings and parties’, a purpose at odds with the peaceful enjoyment of the exceptional countryside where the High Weald meets the sea.

This is now

The new application does not provide a new DAS, and consists largely of revised drawings.

The new visitors centre, following 'minor' variations.

The new visitors centre, following ‘minor’ variations (image from case documents, Proposed South & West Elevation).

The 2018 elevations can be seen here and here.

The new application is still open for comments, with a deadline of 2 February.

The current permission (for the old design) expires on 6 March 2018. There was comment in HOT at the time of the decision and after. The ‘weddings and parties’ detail led to the inference that the visitor centre was to be a function-suite-by-stealth.

Without the possibility of drinks on the terrasse, a common view is that the extensive redesign of the visitor centre has given it a portakabin feel.

There’s an additional planning application, HS/CD/17/01101 for the discharge of conditions for the original application.  (That planning permission expires on 6 March 2018.)  However, in matters such as sewerage, surface water, drainage details, hard landscaping, and materials, the relevant information has not been provided. How can the conditions be discharged when the relevant documents have not been submitted? As seems to frequently happen here, sloppy procedure by the applicant is indulged by the administrator’s validation process. 

Decision pending

The previous design was far from striking or subtle. But it had an upstairs gallery, and pillars for a colonnade of sorts. Instead, the revised version looks like an apology for something much better that does not exist. A sensitive site deserves and should expect something better  but this is Hastings, as the old saying goes.

Keeping the grass in order - the Country Park belties.

Keeping the grass in order – the Country Park belties.

What and when the planning committee will decide remains at present unknowable. Chapter 11 of the government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is full of principles about conserving and enhancing the natural environment (paragraphs 115, 123 and 125 for instance). So too is the Local Plan, with policies such as EN7 on protecting and enhancing the landscape, notably the High Weald AONB, DM1 on Design Principles and HN9 on Areas of Landscape Value. Unless these policies are bromides, there are grounds to reconsider and to make an improvement. Precedent does not suggest that outcome however.

Concerns remain that the Country Park is under threat, despite the good work of its volunteers. Many people (this contributor included) supposed that Hastings County Park was a public asset, held in trust, thanks to Major Sayer and many others.  (The Hastings Chronicle says much more.)  But if Little Warren Cottage can be sold off, as it was in 2014, with little publicity, and then expanded, how much of the rest of the Country Park is safe?

Posted 18:37 Wednesday, Jan 10, 2018 In: Home Ground

7 Comments


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT
  1. andrew mier

    If you have comments please post them on the Hastings Council website under the planning application. They will not be considered otherwise.

    Comment by andrew mier — Monday, Jan 22, 2018 @ 08:46

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    If this is to go to the planning committee for a decision and not as a delegated decision, there need to be some more objections as at the moment there are only four and at least five are required under HBC’s new rules to enable this application to be heard by the planning committee.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Jan 12, 2018 @ 12:48

  3. Ms.Doubtfire

    There is no way in legal planning terms this application can be described as ‘minor modifications’. This is the old chestnut used so frequently by our planners in this town to get round legislation and the requirement to present a new planning application. Minor modifications suggest a ‘tweaking’ of original plans….this is not the case here. This new design is completely different to the original plans.
    Why oh why do our elected councillors close their eyes to what is going on within our planning department? What is happening in this town?
    The Local Elections are coming up in May – may I suggest residents put their mark where it means something? At the present time our so called elected members appear to have little say on anything that is proposed for Hastings & St. Leonards. We didn’t vote them in for this did we??

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Jan 12, 2018 @ 10:36

  4. Eye on the ball

    The Coastguard Cafe is up for sale. If the council want to have more facilities available for visitors they can buy or lease the cafe and develop it without encroaching on precious HCP.

    Once again it seems that Hastings Borough Council are not in tune with the wishes of its residents. I will be looking forward to discussions on a whole range of planning topics during the run up to the forthcoming council elections.

    Comment by Eye on the ball — Thursday, Jan 11, 2018 @ 16:22

  5. Andy Ammo

    Does the revised DAS really say ‘The proposal will not result in a loss of open space’? Yes it does, and a few pages later (page 29) it is confirmed that the proposed building is ‘located with an arable field’.

    Why is the applicant telling porkies?

    Why is the local planning authority accepting them?

    This building is NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR HASTINGS.

    Comment by Andy Ammo — Thursday, Jan 11, 2018 @ 14:14

  6. John B

    This ‘Portakabin’ has no architectural merit whatsoever, it will be a blot on the beautiful landscape.

    It seems to me that meals and refreshments are adequately provided for by the Coastguard Café and the inclusion of the ‘café’ within the centre will damage their business.

    Countryside Act 1968 Section 7 – ‘Provided that a local authority shall not under this section provide accommodation, meals or refreshments except in so far as it appears to them that the facilities therefor within the country park are inadequate or unsatisfactory, either generally or as respects any description of accommodation, meals or refreshments, as the case may be.’

    It seems to me that the facilities just 150 metres away are adequate generally.

    Comment by John B — Thursday, Jan 11, 2018 @ 12:11

  7. Chris Hurrell

    The proposed changes have transformed what was a poorly designed inappropriate building into something resembling an oversized portakabin toilet.

    The building continues the tradition established by the infamous Rocklands bunker in Ecclesbourne Glen.

    Is this the best we can expect for such a sensitive location?

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Thursday, Jan 11, 2018 @ 11:32

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