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Cllr Peter Chowney in the Old Town

Cllr Peter Chowney in the Old Town

Hastings Harbour – Cllr. Peter Chowney’s views

HOT’s Chandra Masoliver interviews Peter Chowney, leader of Hastings Borough Council, about the proposed harbour development at Rock A Nore. In future articles she will talk to local people, including the fishing community, and report on their views and reactions. 

CM: I appreciate your granting me an interview, particularly since I said I was shocked at the undemocratic way the Council had acted, so that the people of Hastings had not been allowed to express any opinions before the feasibility scheme had been approved.

PC: It’s not ‘undemocratic’! The cabinet decision was taken by elected councillors, that’s how democracy works – you elect people to make decisions.

CM: It clearly depends on what you mean by democracy – I think you are talking about Representative democracy. Participatory democracy would involve a maximum engagement in the initial selection of the ideas or projects to be pursued, as well as debating and deciding on subsequent proposals and plans to be implemented. After all, they can affect a large number of people in our community. That, to me, is nearer to true democracy.

What is the fishermen’s view of the scheme?

PC: You’d have to ask the fishermen to find out what they thought. Without naming names, some think it is brilliant; it’s harder to launch boats these days, due to climate change. The harbour arm was built 110 years ago, but they ran out of money; now it could be extended round to protect the fishing beach, making boats easier to launch.

To win the goodwill of the fishermen, Hastings Harbour Quarter Ltd. are offering to buy or lease more quota. At present, 95% goes to the big factory boats, and only 5% to the smaller boats. Once boats less than 10 meters were exempt, and some boats gained capacity in breadth rather than length by being catamarans, even trimarans. But in the mid 1990s this was stopped by the EU – that’s one of the reasons why the fishermen dislike the EU.

Catamaran on the Old Town beach (Photo ZR)

Catamaran on the Old Town beach (Photo ZR)

CM: In the study the pictures show fishing boats on the shore and on the marina. How do you know they would still be on the beach? And what about the Net huts?

PC: There’s no guarantee, but a boat is better preserved and easier to repair out of the water. Also, it helps tourism, it makes the fishery unique and more interesting. Winch Road would not be touched; the Net shops would have to remain, and the Fishermen’s and the Shipwreck Museums, and the Aquarium, otherwise people wouldn’t come.

Rock A Nore Road (Photo ZR)

Rock A Nore Road (Photo ZR)

CM: Could there be any compulsory purchase?

PC: A private company cannot do a compulsory purchase, but the borough council, the county council, or the government, can. Where the Jerwood was built, the land was almost entirely owned by Hastings Borough Council, only a very small parcel of land was swapped with the Foreshore Trust. Queen Elizabeth 1 gave the fishermen special rights on the foreshore (beach), but over the years there were different maps, different arrangements, different acts of parliament and different agreements over the years. In the nineteenth century the government stepped in to settle arguments between the fishermen and the council, and they created the Foreshore Trust. On the map there is still the red, the blue and the pink Stade. Everything about the ownership and rights of different groups on the Stade is complicated.

CM: So the fishermen’s rights are safe with you, so long as you respect them? But would another head of the council necessarily do so?

PC: That would have to be written in stone – but that could be a danger.

CM: Would the feasibility study be of use to us in Hastings even if the project didn’t go ahead?

PC: Definitely. The Traffic study would be useful, so would the Ecological and Geological Studies, and an investigation into the cliff’s stability. It’s the upper part of the cliff that causes problems of cliff falls and landslides in the Country Park. It’s not from erosion at the bottom, like it is at Beachy Head. It was explained to me that there are clay layers which slip and slide, and then the cliff falls. Those studies would be useful. So would a study of Marine ecology – the long shore drift means it’s difficult to build anything that sticks out into the sea, because the shingle piles up on the west side and gets eroded on the east side. That would be why a marina couldn’t be built in St Leonards.

Here, at Rock a Nore, the marina would be tucked away, not getting in the way of the long shore drift. Anyway, the study would show the impact of the long shore drift.

The draft plan for the harbour development

The draft plan for the harbour development

CM: How did this project come about? Who approached who first?

PC: I heard of it about 3 years ago; it was proposed before the previous leader of the council, Jeremy Birch, died; it was dismissed as a pipe dream. When I became leader of the council, in 2015, it was one of the first things I was briefed on. I told them to go away and see how to raise the money, and to come back when they had it. A few weeks ago they came back, saying they could raise half a billion with banks and pension funds. And if the council supported the scheme and committed to an investigation, they would go to the Treasury to get the money for a feasibility study – it would be too speculative and risky for a bank.

CM: Are you personally committed to it?

PC: Not yet. If it did provide affordable housing, skilled jobs, didn’t damage the Stade and Rock a Nore, didn’t lead to a loss of car parking etc, and if it was actually technically possible, taking into account all the technical and environmental studies that would be needed, then yes, it could be a scheme to support, subject to detailed public consultation on the actual proposals.

They would also need to preserve and enhance the fishing fleet and beach launch by the design of the harbour, and an increase of quota..

Housing would have to be 25% social housing and 15% affordable housing. Maybe a condition could be that the council could invest in the scheme – use it to develop or buy or rent or sell. That could be a demand, to have the first pick, with investment at a lower rate.

CM: Yes, I noticed you talked about ‘Entrepreneurial Socialism’ in the Cabinet meeting. I was very against your closing the public lavatory in Hastings new town. As you say, the government has made cuts to council funding – there’s been £30 million cumulatively cut from a £14 million annual budget since 2010. But I know the council does have a property portfolio to make decisions from.

What money have you been given for this scheme so far?

PC: None. Up to now only time has been spent. If it went ahead we would have to employ more people. The feasibility study would be financed by the Treasury.

CM: Of course Treasury money is not strictly ‘free’- the money from the Treasury is still public money. Instead of coming out of local government budgets paid for by rate payers, it will come out of central government/Home Office budgets paid for by tax payers. Instead of the council being accountable, the responsibility is shifted to anonymous civil servants in the Treasury and Home Office. So without being consulted, the public, including the people of Hastings, would still be funding the study.

At this point, the interview ended. As we walked along Rock a Nore Road to the car park, I told Peter that I had seen the soul of two places destroyed by developers. I grew up on a Thames barge in Chiswick, where there was a large yacht basin. It was a magical place, with a complete cross-section of people and boats, some very smart and classy, others full of quirky eccentricity. Like Hastings fishing beach, there was a lot of paraphernalia around on land. Then developers moved in, and we moved out. The water was land-filled for housing. Now, all that remains is a puddle in the middle, with a few token boats. No one would want to visit there any more.

So we sailed our barge up the Thames, and out to sea, past Dover, past Hastings and Beachy Head, then up the river Ouse, past Newhaven to Piddinghoe, where we found a mooring. In the 1950s Newhaven was a thriving town and sea port with a large fishing community. Then, again, developers moved in to “regenerate” the area. Now the town is a bereft place: no real fishing industry, no shopping centre, and a vast waste disposal building nick-named Newhaven Opera House was built there – no other town would accept it. They closed the town centre with a bypass, and there is a large sign saying ‘Newhaven Gateway to Europe.’ People drive round a couple of times, trying to get in, but there’s nothing there. That is part of why I moved to Hastings. And why I am wary of developers; they have no feel for places, and probably don’t care. Money is their game.

Before getting into his car, we stopped on the foreshore, surrounded by the shingle beach, with the sea beyond, and the friendly brown cliffs behind.

Rock A Nore cliffs (Photo ZR)

Rock A Nore cliffs (Photo ZR)

CM: Where would road access be? How would the houses sit where the sea is? One thousand three hundred of them? Just how would that whacking great scheme fit in here? I’m completely bewildered.

PC: I’m not bewildered, it isn’t particularly confusing or puzzling – it’s fairly easy to see how it could be done, at least in theory. There’s the possibility of a tunnel through the cliffs, or of Park and Ride. There’s plenty of sea out there to create the harbour and marina in. The question is whether it’s technically feasible, within the budget they could raise for it.

Rock A Nore shore (Photo ZR)

Rock A Nore shore (Photo ZR)

Next week Chandra Masoliver interviews Paul Joy, chairman of Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, and co-chairman of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association.

 

Posted 08:24 Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017 In: Home Ground

11 Comments


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  1. Eileen swift

    The view east from Rock a Nore is absolutely precious and needs to be protected. I thought this area and the cliffs above it had been designated as a site of special scientific interest (SSI) as well as a special area of conservation (SAC) due to the unique wildlife and fossil rich soft rock cliff and slope. Does this not give it protection from development?

    I am struggling to see how Hastings residents would benefit from losing a beautiful natural resource to gain a view of boats. The fishermen I have spoken to have not been consulted and do not see how they would benefit. As for affordable housing, there are plenty of areas in Hastings that would benefit from some new council housing stock without embarking on expensive schemes to build in areas that are unsuitable for such development.

    I totally agree with the comments made on how democracy works. We vote for councillors based on what they are proposing to do for the area. If new proposals – especially of such an important and controversial nature as these – are put forward then councillors should be duty bound to consult with the electorate before spending our money. If they do not then they should not be surprised if they are voted out at the next elections.

    Comment by Eileen swift — Sunday, Oct 8, 2017 @ 19:43

  2. Chris Hurrell

    Councillor Chowney’s comments on “the harbour being tucked away” and therefore not blocking Long Shore Drift is a massive oversimplification of what are complex mechanisms. The proposed new western harbour arm will be infilled and longer than the current harbour arm – it is not “tucked away” and will act as a barrier to movement of material from West to East. The new harbour arm will certainly lead to the accumulation of materials to the west and a net loss of materials to the east. This is likely to increase the rates of cliff erosion to the east of the harbour.

    Councillor Chowney’s explanation of the mechanisms of cliff erosion are unbelievably simplistic. He appears to be claiming that undercutting by wave action is not a factor in cliff erosion in the Country Park. Last year he gave an equally weak explanation of how cliff erosion has caused the landslip in Ecclesbourne Glen – it has not.

    Councillor Chowney speaks of the results of the traffic, ecological and geological studies being useful. From his comments about Long Shore Drift and cliff erosion it is clear that he too could benefit from the results of such studies.

    I agree that a greater understanding of the ecology and geology is vital. However will the results of these studies be put into the public domain? The results of an HBC commissioned study into the landslip in Ecclesbourne Glen are not in the public domain. HBC are currently appealing the release of this report following an Information Commission directive to release it. The cost of this appeal to HBC is likely to be in the region of 30,000 pounds.

    Will Councillor Chowney guarantee that the results of all studies will be published in the public domain?

    As for the possibility of a tunnel – where will the tunnel emerge? The only likely place for a tunnel to emerge is at the top of the old town near the gardens between Old London Road and Harold Road.
    This would dramatically change the character of this part of the Old Town.

    Lots of promises concerning affordable housing. As Cllr Chowney says in the Observer developers evade providing affordable housing. The recent history in Hastings reinforces this – over the last 2 years 75 affordable units were expected in the local plan – zero units were delivered. There are no guarantees that any affordable housing will be provided and Cllr Chowney is wrong to claim that it will be.

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Sunday, Oct 8, 2017 @ 09:17

  3. Heather Grief

    This proposed scheme does not seem to include any housing in its picture / map. Where exactly will the 1300 homes go?

    Rather more importantly, Man proposes and God disposes.
    There is an unhappy history to Hastings harbours and harbour-building activities.

    In the 11th century we had the best natural harbour in the south-east, situated in the modern town centre valley, and the town prospered right through the 12th century until in the 13th century it was gradually rendered useless by a combination of silting up, longshore drift, cliff falls which removed much of the protection given by West Hill and White Rock, and a largely undocumented revolution in ship-building, the larger vessels needing deeper water.

    There was a natural harbour at Bulverhythe, which was used in the later Middle Ages, until it too succumbed to natural changes in the coastline.

    In the late 16th century there was a series of attempts to build an artificial harbour; this was a tale of vast expense, embezzlement, deforestation to try to raise funds, and destruction by storms within a year of each one being built, including the one built in vast blocks of stone by men from Lyme Regis, brought in as experts.

    The current harbour arm is the remains of a late 19th century harbour scheme – it was beset with various engineering and geological problems and ran out of money, so was never completed.

    Virtually all big engineering projects run massively over-budget, and are vastly expensive. Tunnelling is astronomically expensive, not to mention very dangerous. Massive works require massive amounts of very un-green concrete, and the use of diesel-driven machinery. There would also be chaos during construction, wholesale destruction of unspoilt coastline, popular with seals, with a high risk that the project would never be finished and remain as a rotting industrial site, and very little chance of full use of the marina if it is completed, since we would be the last one to be built in a market with limited demand.

    To those who hope for a decent social or affordable home, there is not the slightest chance that any such allocation will survive to be built – look at Cllr Chowney’s comments in the latest edition of Hastings Observer (8th Oct):- if the developer can claim that such housing is unaffordable, he can wriggle out of providing it; in this case, for once, he’ll be telling the truth.

    HBC would do much more good for the town by concentrating on relatively low cost and low risk ways of improving the town’s amenities and its offering to visitors (their numbers declined in 2016, compared with 2015, according to local tourist-related businesses), and bringing these to fruition. Jeremy Birch was right when he dismissed this scheme as a pipe dream. Cllr Chowney also has a shaky grasp of the concept of democracy: we vote for candidates according to what they say on their election manifestos, in the expectation that they will do these things. If something new comes along, they should find out what the electorate thinks – HOT and the local printed press could run surveys to find this out, and the electorate can choose to vote councillors out whose recent decisions we disagree with. For some reason, he does not seem to fear this possibility.

    Comment by Heather Grief — Saturday, Oct 7, 2017 @ 19:25

  4. Bernard Fox

    I think the cautious footnote to Chandra’s article is that scrutiny has an uncanny ability to seep through the gaps. Marina developments elsewhere have delivered questionable benefits for their wider community’s and the arguments pedalled in the developers shopfronts have an eerily familiar quality to them promising us all a stake in the great cycle of benefits. For developers the game is an exercise in bottom line brinkmanship with local planning, the objective being to secure better investor returns whilst eroding those elements relating to the quality of the built scheme.I can think of a number of current situations that comply with the arc of this process. I would be only to happy to be proved wrong but in Hastings old town we have a text book bag of of very difficult issues to overcome; infrastructural, cultural, historical and a plain lack of space to manoeuvre and at the end of it all you may end up thinking as much about what has been lost as gained. Make no mistake, marina’s/harbours are large industrial edifices requiring thousands of cubic metres of concrete. Real commitment to the area would require a really radical and sensitive approach to the scheme and I remain to be convinced that Hastings Harbour Quarter is made of the right stuff or is willing to think outside the box.Only a progressive approach would help fulfil the promise that this fine town really deserves.If that’s just not possible in any reasonable time frame then use the process as a data collecting exercise and take time to think things through properly without breaking too much china.

    Comment by Bernard Fox — Thursday, Oct 5, 2017 @ 23:25

  5. ken davis

    Oh, also forgot to say that I really must apply for Treasury funding for all my feasibility studies; I would be rich by now!….and why is PC asking for a zero carbon scheme when he does not insist on that for other developments in the town?

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Oct 5, 2017 @ 19:08

  6. ken davis

    Forgot to say: what we could have is a garden bridge from the country park onto the big block of flats (I hear they are popular in London), so that if the cladding caught fire everyone could escape across into the country park and then roll down the hill for a swift pint.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Oct 5, 2017 @ 17:50

  7. DAR

    This looks like a grandiose textbook scheme in how to ruin an area.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Oct 5, 2017 @ 10:16

  8. ken davis

    As a great supporter of earth sheltered buildings I absolutely love the idea of tunnelling through the cliffs but cut and fill would be a more practical solution because it would mean all the flats could actually be built into the cliff face and so would stabilise it.
    Furthermore, PC is correct to say traffic will not be a problem though he is well out of date to suggest that ‘park and ride’ is a possible solution; you need a population of a quarter to a third of a million to make that work efficiently.No, the traffic solution will come from our now inevitable move to electric cars and then to shared use i.e pooled,electric cars which would do away with individual car ownership.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Oct 5, 2017 @ 09:47

  9. Susan P

    I’m in favour! It’s exciting.

    Comment by Susan P — Wednesday, Oct 4, 2017 @ 22:07

  10. Ms.Doubtfire

    Tunnel through the cliffs? Has someone totally lost the plot here I wonder. Who suggested this mad idea?
    These cliffs are subject to landslip as has been witnessed with the closure of Eccelsbourne Glen.
    Should such a proposal proceed it would render the Old Town area virtually out of bounds whilst this mammoth development went ahead and that includes the fishermen.
    Councillor Chowney needs to take off his rose colour specs and wake up to reality. This is a non runner.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Wednesday, Oct 4, 2017 @ 15:55

  11. Anne Scott

    I think the question is not is it feasible? but is it good for the town and do we want it?
    My answer is no.
    Other Sussex marinas do little if nothing for the towns they are attached to. The view of the unique sandstone cliffs is too precious to stick 1300 houses in front of or more likely 13 tower blocks. For several months of the year it would be just a place to park a boat with little coming and going or trade.

    Comment by Anne Scott — Wednesday, Oct 4, 2017 @ 11:47

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