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Message for the council from the visual protest on the Old Bathing Pool site last weekend.

Bathing Pool site campaign goes to Full Council

Does West St Leonards deserve better than Hastings Borough Council (HBC) is offering? Local residents and others certainly think so. The pandemic prevented a gathering, so there was a visual protest recently, in advance of the presentation of a petition to the Full Council on Wednesday 16th. Bernard McGinley reports, and took the pictures.

On a wet and chilly day last weekend the feelings of thousands of people were on display — in a ‘virtual protest’. Signatures of the SOBS (Save Our Bathing Site) petition were represented on flags and arranged across the site. The flags managed to suggest a water feature, but whether of the past or the future it was not possible to tell.  

Local feeling in West St Leonards continues to be that the Old Bathing Pool site can be better served than by second homes for Londoners and Airbnbs: that the OBP is an open place of recreation and exercise, and appreciating the sea together in different ways and all seasons.

Flags representing signatures on local residents’ petitions asking the council to rethink.

The local organisations West Marina Org,  SOBS, and West St Leonards Forum emphasise different and complementary aspects of making the area better. (Regeneration of the area and the local economy is an intricate matter.)

Petition (still signable)

Full Council is on 16 December but online. SOBS’s Lucie Mason will present the petition (which is still open) to HBC (Agenda Item 5), and have a short opportunity to remind the Council that they have

a chance, if dealt with comprehensively, to create a mosaic of high quality formal and informal, open space and built, leisure and recreational facilities in the area.

The preamble points out

the massive potential this site has to offer. There are already several sites in the immediate area with planning permission sitting dormant and also the large area of land adjacent to the site is already earmarked for residential development. 

The petition  asks the Council (among other things) to rethink the substantial setting of the Bathing Pool site, and not treat it in isolation to be filled with housing.

Aerial footage of the protest was shot from a drone.

A drone was used to record the visual protest as people were not encouraged to assemble, because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

A fuller video record of the West Marina area is going on the SOBS and West St Leonards Forum websites, of alternative developable sites, such as the west side of Cinque Ports Way.

Sunley and Mr Tice

For a good two years the Council has been about to close a deal with the combined might of developers Sunley and County Gate, but the contract remains unsigned. Sunley have a troubling history of involvement in labour blacklisting, and some are surprised that a Labour Council wants to sign a deal with them. The blacklisting, through The Consulting Association, was from 1993 to 2009, though the legal reverberations continue. 

Richard James Sunley Tice was the company’s chief executive officer from 1992 to 2006, and has a 5% stake in Sunley Family Ltd. He remains a member (director) of limited liability offshoot Sunley Property LLP. He went on to be an MEP and is now chief executive of Quidnet Capital Partners LLP, as well as the political partner of Nigel Farage as chairman of the self-styled Reform UK Party.   

Local authorities can’t choose to boycott or blacklist people any more easily or legally than construction companies can. (The law, as ever, is intricate.) Readers and residents might like to know who the Council are dealing with, however.

Consultation eventually 

Only when the deal has been signed will the public be allowed a little involvement. The minutes of the HBC Cabinet meeting of March 2019 recorded (para 158) regarding ‘the proposed long lease of land forming open space at West Marina’:

The Assistant Director Financial Services and Revenues spoke on the item: There is no formal scheme to be consulted on as yet. This is in the council’s development plan. The public will have a say, as will Councillors, on the final scheme.

Many feel that the time for community engagement is now, and that ‘leaseholder’ status is not even a figleaf. Once the lease is signed, the significant control will have passed to Sunley, whose expertise is in executive housing and commercial and industrial property but not leisure projects or visitor attractions. Consultation looks like ‘consultation’ of the kind that Cllr Chowney, when Leader, deplored in the Post Office regarding their London Road premises.  

This in turn puts into question the whole matter of ‘balancing the Borough’ of how can HBC regret or deplore the overloading of the Old Town by visitors in the summer months if they do nothing to spread commercial activity across the Borough. To date their messaging and community engagement on the proposals has been slight. (Cllr Batsford is an exception but his repeated assurances of 25% affordable housing have been received with increasing scepticism. Terms on the lines of destination point and leisure amenity and those tired old faves vision and vibrant get aired frequently, but actual detail remains as scant as the apparent benefit of this scheme.)  

Recent Town Deal decisions (and how they were made) have intensified the feeling of neglect in West St Leonards. Three carefully prepared projects (Project West Marina, the joint Bulverhythe/Friends of Combe Haven project, and Science-on-Sea at St Leonard’s Church) were all rejected. Local community groups remain disappointed that their detailed proposals could be so easily dismissed, without even an opportunity to present the cases to the Town Deal Board

As for the OBP site, here it remains ‘the only green space in town which has direct access onto the beach‘  (p5/7). (Others put it differently, and at length.) The England Coastal Path is soon to go through it. Why the Council wants to sell it off for blocks of flats is also unexplained. Many feel the Council, as custodians, should want to conserve such an exceptional asset, as these proposals do not benefit West St Leonards.  

Read this sign

The official HBC notice board at the Bathing Pool site says:

Please use this greenspace respectfully.

Will the Council take its own advice?

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Posted 15:32 Saturday, Dec 12, 2020 In: Home Ground

13 Comments

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  1. Patrick Glass

    INCREDULOUS AND UNCONSCIONABLE

    Bernard – Thank you so much for this (above & August, & the links). So helpful for us all.

    Those at the Meeting convened by HBC at the Royal Victoria Hotel five years ago to discuss the plans to build on the Old Bathing Pool site will remember the negative reception the plans received. The audience unanimously rejected the builder’s plans. And viewed the plans with astonishment and incredulity. Little did we know that for the last two years HBC have covertly – and virtually – handed over the site to builders with a poor reputation. Why don’t Sunley and County Gate build their towers in Braybrooke Road – or on some more viable vacant site? HBC: answer to that.

    What happened to a further Consultation? Now, we learn, this is only to happen AFTER the OBP site has been signed over to the builders. This is unconscionable – but maybe not surprising – given HBC’s nefarious planning record over the last 20 years.

    This really, really, Really won’t do. If the Council can’t see the precious asset that the OBP site is to St Leonards – many others do. People living in the area have been very active putting forward viable plans to use this wonderful site for the community. The West St Leonards Forum, Save Our Bathing Site (SOBS), and the West Marina Org’s imaginative plans clearly have the people’s vote. And these must be given full consideration. Sally Ann Hart MP supports the plans. Surely, now, the Town Deal Board must be brought on board?

    Comment by Patrick Glass — Wednesday, Dec 16, 2020 @ 02:26

  2. Theo Barrett

    Thank you H.O.T for the clarity. There’s been scant info from HBC, making these OBP plans hard to follow. Plus confusion over who the two developers actually are that HBC are negotiating with.

    Since reading this on Saturday I looked up company records for both County Gate & the much larger Sunley Group. From what I could understand ~
    The large Sunley property group were est. circa 1950’s by Bernard Sunley & remains in that family.
    The County Gate company group appear a far smaller concern dating back to 1989.

    There are direct links between one of County Gate’s directors & the Sunley group. Historically he was a director on 8 Sunley companies, his involvement dating back as early as 1995. & on 7 of them Richard Tice was a co-director.

    As another commenter stated HBC are in dire financial straights from the cuts – it would appear in this deal its Sunley with the fat chequebook. I just hope they make the right decision over chosen developer before signing off this 250 year lease.

    These drawn out negotiations have been dragging on just like Brexit – I look to H.O.T to keep us all best updated about the fate of The OBP site. Thanks.

    Comment by Theo Barrett — Monday, Dec 14, 2020 @ 14:32

  3. Keith Piggott

    Bernard’s insightful summation is salutory, reveals one more disingenuous obfuscation of open governance by this council’s planning department overtly ignoring democratic public scrutiny. Graham Wilkins recites the bathing pool amenity value to the comunity and local economy, and rightly says many of my generation recall the pleasures of balmy days there. So HBC shall retain the freehold, but have no funds to lead development — yet have spent tens of millions buying freeholds of large retail sites, yet have found no way to relieve the plight of high street retailers. …. more later, as the OS Land Registry surveyor has just arrived to confirm coodinates of our eastern boundary threatened by a property developer approved and backed by HBC planning to demolish Grade 2 listed Rose Cottage and remove boundary to annex part of the land we’ve occupied 37 years to give a garden that Rose Cottage never had, now re-erecting the north elevation with door and window set within our present garden embankment it seems they intend to excavate down to level of new doorways. Ah well, it’s only the second time in 8 years that HBC planners have swung behind developer’s annexations of our garden land we thought was safe from predation… but this is Hastings, not Utopia. SOBS beware and take note.

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Monday, Dec 14, 2020 @ 13:02

  4. Val Hunnisett

    The coastal position of the OBP is a designers dream (also near road and rail routes). Both Bexhill and Hastings/St Leonards need modern swim training and competition facilities (and a summer lido play area would be nice). Summerfields and Ravenside pools are well past their sell by. Could the authorities co-operate to get something built that will attract visitors AND benefit the health of local people young and old. It would be nice if our representatives could act together for the benefit of the whole area.

    Comment by Val Hunnisett — Monday, Dec 14, 2020 @ 12:22

  5. Graham Wilkins

    The old bathing pool site had a significant impact on the local economy and with it lasting memories for the community and beyond. People still talk about their memories of it 30 years after it was demolished.

    So what did the bathing pool do for Hastings? As the famous Monty Python sketch would echo … quite a lot!

    * It transformed these two rather tired towns into a modern holiday resort, putting Hastings firmly on tourists maps
    * It was a world-class Olympic standard pool,
    * It boasted the highest fixed diving board in Europe,
    * It was Sydney Little’s greatest achievement,
    * The most contemporary building techniques available were used,
    * This had a significant impact on the income and wealth of Hastings and St.Leonards,

    Even as late as the end of the 1960’s West St.Leonards was teeming with activity as a direct result of visitors to the pool. I’m not arguing for a new pool, however desirable that would be. I think we have to face the fact that HBC is teetering on the brink of issuing a Section 114 notice and has no money for such a project. In its current state of desperation, the council is grasping at straws. It is not considering the long-term implications of its actions or the aspirations of the people it was elected to serve.

    Shame on the arrogance of HBC, their unfortunate and aggressive rhetoric has a significant impact on the reputation of HBC for this community.

    Comment by Graham Wilkins — Monday, Dec 14, 2020 @ 11:43

  6. chris hurrell

    Great article from Bernard McGinley.

    HBC’s chosen partner County Gate has long established links with Sunley developments. Sunley have a long track record of trades union blacklisting. The hypocrisy of our self proclaimed socialist council getting into bed with a scabbing, anti trade union company is mind boggling. Surely Labour party members and local Trade unions cannot support this? Where are our local Party’s much proclaimed “principles”? Does HBC’s definition of “socialist entrepreneurship” (whatever that means) include bending over to service a ruthless blacklisting, off shore tax avoiding property developer consortium which includes Richard Tice?

    Comment by chris hurrell — Monday, Dec 14, 2020 @ 08:08

  7. Simon Sibert

    Blimey HBC what an almighty sell out. Just when you thought our council could not stoop any lower…. & the locals thought the loss of town toilets was bad. HBC just cranked up it up to a whole new level of despair & inconvenience.

    I was there at the 2017 post office meetings when Chowney received applause for damning their sham consultations. I was there at the 2019 election hustings when he received applause for damning off-shore companies & property sharks.
    This deal has been on the back burner for 2 years under Chowneys approval? Why did local Labour ever think it good idea running a candidate from this diseased broken council that treats its community so badly. They simply helped usher in this useless far right Tory MP.

    Wake up Hastings Labour get your house in order. Are you going to wheel out Sinden & Bacon decked out in their mayoral finery to welcome Sunley’s concrete mixers into town for a seafront selfie photo opp? Heaven help us. Hats off to the West St Leonards community for trying to see off this disastrous plan, thank you & all the very best of luck.

    Comment by Simon Sibert — Monday, Dec 14, 2020 @ 00:02

  8. Elaine Cuthbertson

    I agree with all the above though I wasn’t aware Peter Chowney was ever associated with high principles. I remember an imaginative architect who sadly gave up on this town but who had the idea of reviving a second pier, one for the arts, one for science. I remember discussing with Bernard reviving West St Leonard’s with a marina. He had identified unused land – I think Rail land which could be used imaginatively and bring life to that side of town. We certainly don’t need more AirbnB properties which have turned my street into a ghost street and I am sick to death of the dreaded sound of trolleys wheeling their way to their selfish destinations. They bring nothing to our town but disease and I now understand how the people of Cornwall feel. How is it that we have gone from almost no virus cases to the verge of tier 3 and potential ruin to our great pubs, restaurants and individual businesses.

    Comment by Elaine Cuthbertson — Sunday, Dec 13, 2020 @ 21:44

  9. Bobby Hall

    An excellent article sparking off some very sound comments. I have yet to hear a single argument from the council about their proposal that makes sense.

    As Bernard says, “Once the lease is signed, the significant control will have passed to Sunley, whose expertise is in executive housing and commercial and industrial property — but not leisure projects or visitor attractions.” So heaven help us avoid a dreary housing development monstrosity (but no doubt inside with beautiful apartments overlooking the sea for sale to anyone but locals).

    And the arguments for retaining the space for the community are increasing by the year, particularly as we enter a period of UK holiday making (Brexit, climate change, Covid, you name the reasons).

    Once this unique site has gone, it is gone for good. And Bernard’s message is clear, “Please use this greenspace respectfully, Mr and Mrs Council”. You will never live it down if you don’t

    Comment by Bobby Hall — Sunday, Dec 13, 2020 @ 18:01

  10. Esther W.

    I am entire agreement with Bryan & Mrs More. They both raise excellent points especially re. how difficult it will be for HBC to handle these developers. & that is SHOULD HBC wish to handle them, manage them in best way for community interest. As for the nearby residents I am terribly fearful for them, the misery they will be subject to via Sunley’s shark stealth, well versed in tactical planning games with councils via best London solicitors. They will walk all over HBC in turn HBC are throwing the residents to the wolves.

    The residents are spearheading an amazing community campaign that HBC wish to ignore. My advice would be get the best legal advice for yourselves now. Invest time in protecting your homes. It will be expensive & you will curse HBC for the situation of having to pay solicitors. Make sure it is specialist & the best. People drag their heels & avoid it, sometimes until it is too late. HBC can ignore the community, the petition even but not a good solicitor.

    This story mentions HBC’s spin doctor Clr Andrew Batsford. Reading through his social media comments is disturbing as he attempts to fan the community flames by dousing them with petrol (not water) ~ trying to convince people that a consultation after the deal is signed will somehow be as meaningful as one signed before. That they are not selling the site as it is only a 250 year lease with HBC as freeholder. Describing the development as a ‘vibrant leisure destination’ no longer mentioning the gross housing aspect. Describing any potential council profit on this seafront land deal as ‘modest’. All the time ignoring questions about the developers experience in leisure developments. The only person believing this giddy spin appears to be Clr Batsford & it appears HBC as they back his community engagement role.

    Step out from behind the curtain Clr Peter Chowney, it is time for grown up straight talking with the community you serve, it is the very least they deserve?

    Comment by Esther W. — Sunday, Dec 13, 2020 @ 16:08

  11. Mrs More

    Thank you HOT for this vital update. I did not vote Labour for this grotesque practice by our council. Yet more cack handed, lazy, apathetic short term thinking, this time over the future of the seafront. & boy do the council love a bad boy, yet again choosing wholly inappropriate business partners. I hear Peter Chowney is leading the negotiations with Sunley alongside officers, Chowney’s rank hypocrisy over this makes me rage, doing a deal with a company infamous for their offshore companies where have his high principles vanished to? The local residents will be utterly shafted as HBC planners nod this one through under the steely gaze of Sunley’s legal team. How hard did they try exploring ideas for this site, how hard did they look for best developer? Where is the vision? Where is the community involvement? There is a long trail over town of costly bodge decisions by HBC, someone should start a walking tour. If HBC were parents of a child it would be taken away from them. If this deal goes through Labour can forget my vote next May, shame on them for exposing this depressing & mucky scenario onto the community.

    Comment by Mrs More — Sunday, Dec 13, 2020 @ 14:57

  12. Bryan Fisher

    Well said Ester W.
    The community action groups in West St Leonards have overwhelmingly support for leisure & tourism on this unique site, linking the sea and the seafront. We are not looking for grandiose, expensive schemes, but we are looking for ones that will create jobs and bring in added revenue to the towns. Second homes and AirBnB lets will not provide for a future, will not extend the promenade attractions westwards, and will not offer interest to users of the Hastings-Bexhill coastal cycleway. We have been urging HBC to engage in meaningful dialogue with local residents and groups BEFORE signing away our future. Once HBC formally signs with the developer HBC will wash their hands of the community’s concerns and they KNOW the developer does not give a damn about any concerns. So sign the petition whilst you can people!

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Sunday, Dec 13, 2020 @ 00:25

  13. Esther W.

    Thank you Bernard. The council clearly need saving from themselves as they slip slide off the OBP’s high diving board dragging the community with it into unknown property shark waters. Where is the benefit other than a few quid in the till ‘for shortsighted now’ before they are faced with lengthy complex planning negotiations for overpriced flats. Have Sunley ever won awards for architectural merits Bernard? It is not like it is hard to find developers for such rare prime seafront land — were they really the best of the bunch? The BP site is a gateway into this town, it should be treated with highest respect & long term vision. If this was going down at the Old Town there would be major uproar. Poor West St Leonards, abused & neglected. Poor hard working community they deserve better than cloak & dagger secrecy over seafront land deals. Come on HBC hold your hands up, admit poor decision making & get this back on the drawing board pronto with the community & involve appropriate developers. Where is your civic pride?

    Comment by Esther W. — Saturday, Dec 12, 2020 @ 18:31

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