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One of the architects at the pop-up planning exhibition

Hastings Harbour: a local authority development control officer’s views

HOT’s Chandra Masoliver talks to retired local authority development control officer, Chris Lewcock about his views on ‘democratic’ town planning and the Hastings Harbour Proposal.

Chris Lewcock has been a lecturer in the Built Environment and Chair of Hastings Urban Design Group. He was also a Liberal Democrat County Councillor, and continues as an active member of the party in Hastings. 

CM: Please tell me about your professional career.

SoCAD_Panel_3_DD.inddCL: I am a retired local authority development control officer; I dealt with planning applications. I was a lecturer in the Built Environment – my students included builders, architects and surveyors who wished to work with and around the planning system. And until recently, I was Chair of Hastings Urban Design Group (HUDG); this is a group of architects, surveyors, landscape architects and town planners, with the aim of trying to improve the design quality in the town. For example, two or three years ago we had a pop-up shop in Priory Meadow where we gathered architects together to present imaginative designs for a number of sites around the town – like a ‘stairway to heaven’ on the West Hill. About a thousand people came. HUDG also commented on major development proposals around the Borough, for example at the Station Plaza, and the Council’s Seafront Strategy.

CM: What is your involvement with the Lib Dems?

CL: A long time ago I was a Lib Dem County Councillor for Gillingham, in Kent. Now, I am an active member, but not their spokesman – they oppose the harbour proposal, but, like everybody else, they are awaiting more detailed reports from the developers.

In my political activities I think it is important to involve communities in the whole process: ‘engaging’ them is the word I like. If you seriously believe that people have a right to independent lives, you must have an amount of engagement with them – not just consultation.

CM: You gave your opinion on the Harbour Proposal in a letter to the Hastings and St Leonards and Rye Observer on 9 September 2017. (Below is a précis of that letter.)

CL: I wrote that what had been presented as a major investment that could be a boost for the borough could actually be an over-ambitious kite-flying exercise, taking up Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC’s) already overstretched time for a pipe-dream.

I raised the following questions:

In the last two years there have been two major rock falls on the cliffs beyond Rock-a-Nore. Is it safe to build 1,300 houses and new moorings there?

Shore protection measures have restricted onshore drift to the east. What damage might a large marina projecting seaward do?

With rising sea levels and extreme storms and floods, is this a wise area to build houses at or around sea level?

Affordable housing is proposed for local people to rent, but HBC has recently stated that on grounds of commercial viability, no affordable housing needs to be provided.

What extra costs, for example mooring fees, and what disruption, will our local fishing fleet face during construction, and on completion of the marina?

Is there any marine archaeological or natural environmental interest in the seabed to the east of Rock-a-Nore that might be adversely affected by the development?

I am also concerned about the impact and cost of getting access to the development site and the distorting effect of such a major proposal in one corner of the Borough.

How solid are the credentials of the proposed developer (and perhaps their backers)? A cursory look on the internet shows Hastings Harbour Quarter Ltd., based in Tenterden, has a capital of £100.

If there is to be a development, wouldn’t the West Marina and Bulverhythe area, which has had scant investment, be a higher priority? Also, there is under-used Council-owned land at Seaside Road and Cinque Ports Way.

CM: In what ways do you and developers have a different vision of our town?

CL: Developers think in terms of profit. I am a town planner, I must also think in terms of space and balance. Developers think in terms of money – they don’t consider whether a massive scheme like the Harbour Proposal will upset the balance of Hastings.

In this particular case the promoters of the scheme could end up making money from consultation fees and preparatory work, for example, as to viability and access funded by public money without anything being built.

CM: And in what ways do Borough Councillors think?

CL: In a town like Hastings where there are undoubted problems of deprivation, unemployment and under-employment, Councillors will understandably be reluctant to reject the possibility of large-scale investments. However, they should not close down their critical faculties and divert Officers’ time and energy and commit public money to unworkable fantasies like the Harbour Proposal. If they are looking for investment opportunities, why not change where they propose to develop something?

Hastings Council has an enormous property portfolio. A lot of property has been donated and willed to the town over the centuries, much of which has been sold off, and a lot neglected. One problem is that many Council-supported schemes are property-led rather than planning-led. So it is all about money and investment, rather than place.

Chris Lewcock

Chris Lewcock

CM: So what is your opinion of the Harbour Proposal?

CL: I would question HBC’s planning strategy regarding the Harbour Proposal; the plan is so big it would distort the locality. Perhaps one fifth of the housing needed in Hastings would be met in this small area. It would change the economy of the Old Town and the highways of all Hastings. It puts everything in one small corner, which is tucked away. The local planning context for the whole Borough needs to be considered first, to assess the impact on the whole Borough. It’s too late to give a strategic context once a specific plan is approved. They just haven’t thought the whole planning process through.

CM: Could HBC have not approved the harbour proposal in Cabinet?

CL: The Council can’t stop developers making a planning application and they can only turn it down if it doesn’t conform to planning policies and standards. But HBC could have said they did not support it. The Council haven’t been asked to put money into the harbour scheme, but Officers’ time and energy are being diverted from more worthwhile projects. It wouldn’t take any imagination to refuse it on genuine planning grounds set out in the Council’s own Local Plan.

Also, the Council controls the Foreshore Trust, which as a major land owner could stymie the whole idea. It appears that the Council is supporting use of County Council and Local Enterprise Partnership funds for assessments of different aspects of the proposals. Peter Chowney is on the Local Enterprise Partnership Board. If, as leader of HBC, he had said the harbour plan simply won’t work, it would not be supported by other bodies. Maybe he wants someone else to say it won’t happen, so he is not seen as dishing a possibility?

CM: Could HBC stop the development if it were proved feasible?

CL: Proving feasibility is very unlikely, but the outcome would be much harder to predict. The Council as planning authority could still refuse the application. However the planning application is so large that the Secretary of State would have to be invited to ‘call it in’ for his decision, and then it could be out of HBC’s hands.

CM: In Nick Terdre’s HOT article ‘Council scraps planning notification letters’ (07.12.2016) you commented “It’s another example of trying to escape democratic accountability,” and when the Council justified this by saying it saved £10,000 annually, you replied “It’s a relatively small amount of money compared to what the Council wastes on consultants…they should stop commissioning pointless consultancies.” What is your opinion of the present situation?

CL: I think it’s appalling. Notifications now appear on the Council website, and on nearby lampposts. There is now a contract with Hastings Independent Press (HIP) instead of the Observer to print planning proposals, but HIP has a relatively small distribution. Unless people are really alert they can easily miss proposals which can have a significantly adverse impact. The Council has also tightened up the rules for people wanting to address the Planning Committee. So there’s really no feedback to the Council, from which they would get useful information, even if it was aggravating for the Council to have to take it on board. I find this counterproductive.

It’s also a matter of concern that residents may be charged £120 for routine planning queries – which may force them into making more time-consuming but free Freedom of Information requests.

CM: What is your definition of democracy? And how, regarding the Harbour Proposal, could it best work between HBC and the people they represent?

CL: Democracy should be about genuine engagement of people in matters that affect their lives and activities. The formal structures of election of Councillors etc. is very important – and folks should perhaps take a more active part in the process. However, good Councillors won’t just go off and do their thing, but will continuously engage with a community about emerging problems and opportunities. In the case of the Harbour Proposals local residents should have been engaged in (not just told about) this investment opportunity from the start. In this case 99% of the response has been justifiably negative; in other circumstances there might have been greater scope to debate the pros and cons and take on board local views. A current case in point is the Council proposals for the redevelopment of the West Marina lido site.

Posted 10:39 Wednesday, Mar 21, 2018 In: Home Ground

12 Comments


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  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    We all need to be very wary now Cllr. Chowney has discovered the facility of the Public Works Loan Board – not good news for Hastings.
    One has to wonder whether his original intention to convert the public lavatories in Harold Place was to be funded via this very risky borrowing route.
    It appears that the recent HBC spending spree where many millions of pounds has been spent has been funded via this money lending scheme. Muriel Matters House £4m? – the old Focus site £7m? – and others which we may never hear about. And now Hastings council has set up its own building company there will be no stopping them. With interest rates bound to rise – the future looks very precarious indeed.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 @ 09:48

  2. Bolshie

    A commendable article here where Mr Lewcock has given us a good insight about this impractical and damaging grandiose idea of a huge marina in the town.
    I note what you say here Edward about the councillors, they do act as though they are impervious to public opinion and just carry on as usual. As far as the voting goes I don’t think people think about things like this when they vote. As time and time again you see the same old faces being re-elected. The only slight difference this year will be that so many Labour councillors have decided to clock out. However, I expect those that replace them will be voted in so it will be business as usual. And Cllr Pete telling them they must back the marina project.

    Comment by Bolshie — Tuesday, Mar 27, 2018 @ 10:45

  3. Christopher Hurrell

    An excellent interview with Chris Lewcock on the Marina.

    This series of interviews has been really good and I believe that they are making a great contribution to informing the public and motivating opposition to the Marina.

    Comment by Christopher Hurrell — Monday, Mar 26, 2018 @ 15:01

  4. Eye on the ball

    Excellent article covering all the areas of concern regarding the harbour proposal. I must also support Edward’s comment about the upcoming council elections. If our councillors won’t listen to us, then we have to change the councillors.

    Comment by Eye on the ball — Friday, Mar 23, 2018 @ 14:33

  5. Edward

    Local non-democracy at work exposed. With 99% of the people affected by this scheme against it the motivation of local Councillors can only be that they believe their voting base is impregnable. It is now up to residents to use the ballot box to express their dissatisfaction.

    Comment by Edward — Friday, Mar 23, 2018 @ 09:48

  6. Steve Rodrick

    The harbour proposal as presented to us is clearly a kite flying exercise. Nobody can seriously believe a developer wants to build social housing on that site. They want to sell expensive apartments. It will be a disaster for Hastings. The decision will be made by the Sec of State not local people. It will take years of acrimonious debate in which it looks like local people will be betrayed by the council. It is a fact of life that politicians vanity leads them to support le grand projet instead of doing the much more necessary everyday stuff.

    Comment by Steve Rodrick — Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 @ 16:43

  7. DAR

    Good stuff (the article, that is – not the crass Harbour proposal or devious councillors and planners). As a parliamentary candidate, I’m afraid Chowney has shot himself in the foot if he supports this nonsense.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 @ 13:54

  8. Beth Woolf

    Is it too late to oppose this project ? How could I show my dismay for it and support those trying to stop it?

    Comment by Beth Woolf — Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 @ 10:46

  9. Kate Cosgrove

    An excellent article!

    Bravo Chandra and Chris! Tell it like it is.

    Comment by Kate Cosgrove — Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 @ 10:16

  10. ken davis

    The planning system nationally is pretty disastrous in terms of delivering better places to live and work but how that system is operated in Hastings is even worse. Those of us that work to improve things see time and again mistakes made on which the politicians fail to act so bolstering the work ethos within the planning department that anything goes.It is hardly surprising therefore that many locals think corruption is rife in local planning.I tend to think however that what operates is a mixture of an inadequate system in the first place with poorly experienced/under qualified staff combined with intransigence by Councillors to fix the problem.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 @ 08:40

  11. Ms.Doubtfire

    Genuine engagement of people in matters that affect their lives and activities? Not in this town.
    The ‘people’ are the last to hear of important issues concerning THEIR town. And it appears every attempt has been made to make it even more difficult to find out what is going on here.
    No planning notifications – just bits of paper stuck on trees or lamp posts, unseen and unnoticed. Very clever eh? And as reported in this excellent article, ask too many questions and the demand for £120 comes along…imagine this! HBC endeavours to make everything so difficut for the ‘man’ in the street and when he queries something which does not seem correct – the demand for this £120 arrives!
    There are many questions which need answers on this Harbour proposal and what’s the betting we hear nothing until it is all too late?
    Not good enough Cllr. Chowney….not good enough at all.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Wednesday, Mar 21, 2018 @ 14:11

  12. Michael Madden

    Another excellent article and interview by Chandra Masoliver, containing all the right questions and the right questions to HBC from Chris Lewcock. Very well done.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Wednesday, Mar 21, 2018 @ 13:47

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