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Photo Chandra Masoliver

Hastings Harbour: local Green Party’s view: ‘No Marina Here’

HOT’s Chandra Masoliver interviews Julia Hilton and Andrea Needham, Green Party Old Town councillor candidates, about democracy, the implications of the harbour proposal, and the petition they have launched. She also talks to Chris Whitrow (Green candidate for Tressell ward) about his critique of the proposed development, and Joanna Sheldon’s suggestion to protect the harbour area by making it a UNESCO site.

CM: Julia and Andrea, what are your backgrounds, and how might that contribute to being a good councillor?

JH: I am an artist and landscape architect working with community groups to regenerate urban and green spaces. This involves listening to people’s dreams and wishes for the places they live, and it requires creative problem solving to turn them into reality. This is a useful skill, which I could put to work as a councillor.

Andrea Needham

Andrea Needham

AN: I am a long-time peace and environmental campaigner. I have spent much of the last five years holding local ‘regeneration’ company SeaChange Sussex to account, so I am well-placed to oppose the council’s plan to destroy Rock a Nore with a harbour complex and 1,300 luxury homes.

CM: Julia, what is your view on the democratic involvement of the local community at present?

JH: Many local people feel disengaged from politics. There is a sense that things are done to people, not with them. There are lots of campaigns and groups of people in Hastings who are not heard; I want those groups to be listened to. I want to shine a light on what’s going on.

The council has been Labour-run with no real effective opposition and scrutiny since 2010. It is time for some fresh independent voices to hold the council to account, and push for more transparency around important decisions for the town’s future.

CM: How might you achieve more participation if you are elected?

JH: We should start from the premise that the community already has the expertise, skills and ideas to develop local solutions, and I think it should be the role of councillors to seek this out. Many people don’t know that all the council meetings are open to the public and that there are opportunities to ask questions at the full council meetings. I would encourage people to use these routes to make their views known.

CM: It is your Green Party policy to oppose the Harbour Proposal. Could you say more about why you oppose it?

Julia Hilton

Julia Hilton

JH: There are many reasons why this is a terrible idea. Hastings deserves better than this. Firstly, it would ruin one of the most precious and loved landscape assets of Hastings. The current proposals entail building 1,300 houses on a concrete platform in the sea opposite Rock a Nore cliffs. This would require massive infrastructure development to provide access.

The second reason people are so angry about it is that it has been in discussion behind closed doors since 2015, with absolutely no public engagement. When we launched our Harbour Petition, I said let’s start finding ways to bring ideas and solutions to the problems of this town from the bottom up, listening to this community – not from the top down, which tends to happen once big money gets behind a project. Both Hastings Borough Council (HBC) and East Sussex County Council are supporting this scheme even though Peter Chowney recently wrote a letter to Hastings Independent Press (HIP) saying the harbour idea is purely ‘notional’. The Green Party opposes it.

Actually, the threat of this development has an unexpected bonus: it can bring people together, not just to fight it, but to replace that with a positive vision of our town’s future. The Heart of Hastings is developing an excellent model for this at the power station site, where communities can learn the skills to develop their own projects to provide good jobs and truly affordable homes.

CM: ‘Democracy’ is a word that is used in widely different ways. Could you tell me what it means to you?

JH: For a democracy to truly work, people need to be educated and empowered to influence and have a say in the type of society we want to live in. There is a concept called ‘deliberative democracy’ where a citizens’ assembly of diverse people can come together, listen to, and engage with each other’s ideas and opinions to arrive at considered decisions. We need more of this debate in our divided world. Also there should be progress towards participatory budget-setting locally.

Every person’s vote should matter, which is not the case under our current first past the post system. We desperately need electoral reform so that councils and governments truly represent the views of all their constituents. If we had proportional representation, there would already be two Green councillors on the local council.

I joined the Green Party because it is truly democratic. Policy is made by members, and local parties have complete autonomy. There is no ‘whipping’ system in the Green Party to ‘toe the party line’.

CM: Turning to you, Chris: when you launched your campaign to be a councillor in Tressell Ward, you said you were committed to opposing ‘the disastrous plan for a high rise concrete marina complex at Rock a Nore.’ You researched deeply into the harbour development plan, and came up with a detailed critique. Could you summarise this?

CW: The harbour enclosing area would be 900 meters – 1km, slightly smaller than Brighton and Eastbourne. It would provide berths for 600 leisure boats, with no locks, so it would be tidal. The harbour would require regular dredging, with costs borne by the residents.

Financial viability depends on 1,300 high value homes on a concrete platform in the sea, with a bridge for access. There would also be shops and leisure facilities and about two thousand parking spaces, and a road to carry the increased traffic.

‘1,300 homes are roughly equivalent to nine Marine Courts.’ Photo Simon Wookey, Wiki Commons.

The inevitably high rise buildings would need clearance of at least five to ten meters above high tide level to avoid flooding. 1,300 homes are roughly equivalent to nine Marine Courts. Assuming they are two-bed flats of about 60 sq m each, with twenty-five per cent extra for common areas, this is 97,500 sq m. If one storey is about three meters high, there would be about twenty-five storeys. And the cliffs being about seventy-five meters high, even if the development were over 800 meters in length, it would obliterate the view of the cliffs from Rock a Nore and would dominate the view of the sea from the East Hill Country Park.

The harbour would enclose most of the existing fishing fleet, so would they have to pay for use of the facilities?

The development would be on the edge of an existing Special Conservation Area and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Natural England has proposed this stretch of coast as a Special Protection Area for marine life.

In summary the arguments against the Harbour Proposal are:

Disruption: six to twelve years of heavy building work moving through the Old Town, including cranes, cement mixers, heavy trucks, bulldozers, etc. This would have a serious negative impact on tourism and local businesses.

Pollution: dust, diesel and petrol fumes, inevitable during building work, would reduce air quality all over the Old Town and beyond for many years. After completion there would probably be noise, soil and sea pollution from boats and road traffic. This would also have a serious effect on marine life and local fish stocks.

Erosion and Long Shore Drift: there would be shingle build up on the west, requiring maintenance costs; and erosion to the east, probably leading to further cliff falls.

With permission from Roberto Alajmo 'Paradox of Paradoxes'

“…the scale and character of a massive, soulless, concrete commercial development…” Image: ‘Paradox of Paradoxes’ by Roberto Alajmo.

Negative impact on the Old Town and on Fishing: the scale and character of a massive, soulless, concrete commercial development would be totally out of character with one of the major tourist draws of Hastings. The fishing fleet would have to share a congested harbour entrance with leisure boats, and the bottleneck would create dangerous currents with the incoming tide, making launching more difficult.

Making the Harbour a UNESCO site

CM: Chris Saunders (Green Party candidate for Maze Hill) took up Joanna’s suggestion and wrote a resume of the proposal to protect the harbour area by making it a UNESCO site. Could you elaborate on his idea?

Chris Whitrow

Chris Whitrow

CW: World Heritage status represents UNESCO’s global recognition of the environmental and/or cultural importance and merit of a site, large or small. It offers a high level of protection and binds the national government responsible to the maintenance of the integrity and the quality of the site. The application needs to be a Justification of Universal Outstanding Value.

The criteria are exacting and the process long, complex and costly, but it could be relevant to combating the threat from the harbour development proposal and could unite the many civic societies in Hastings in a shared vision.

Under the leadership of the local council and with the support of Historic England, local interest groups would prepare a prospectus to the UK’s Commission for UNESCO, who would recommend it to the Department for Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport. This would then get added to a Tentative List, and every five to ten years the UK nominates one site for UNESCO evaluation.

Hastings potentially fulfils sufficient criteria to be eligible! And the Green Party has been invited to present the idea for discussion at the next open meeting of the Hastings Society on Thursday 19 April at 6.00 pm. All are welcome, but they need to email to say they would like to attend.

You can sign the harbour petition against the marina by following this link

Photo Paul Stanley

Photo Paul Stanley

Posted 15:45 Tuesday, Apr 3, 2018 In: Home Ground

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