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By Derek Moss

By Derek Moss

Hastings harbour proposal : Electoral impact?

HOT’s Chandra Masoliver talks with Chris Hurrell, local campaigner and Labour Party member, about the Hastings harbour proposal, his experience of dealing with Hastings Borough Council (HBC), democracy and the recent borough elections.

CM: Please tell me a bit about yourself, and your experience in local politics.

CH: I was born and brought up in Hastings, returning here 18 years ago after living away for 20 years. I was active in the local Labour party in the past and rejoined a couple of years ago with the prospect of a change of leadership, and hopes of a new kind of politics. I am not active in the local party. Most of my spare time over the last four years has been consumed by my involvement in the Save Ecclesbourne Glen (SEG) campaign.

CM: What are your feelings about the Old Town and the whole Rock-a-Nore fishing area?

CH: These areas were the background to my youth. They remain very precious to me. My grandmother was born in All Saints Street to a fishing family.

CM: How has Hastings Borough Council reacted to the harbour proposal, both before it was publicly announced and thereafter?

CH: I don’t believe that HBC has handled the harbour project well. HBC has been in negotiations with the developers for nearly three years, it has had an unspecified amount of officer time spent on it and has offered no time for public consultation – the Cabinet approved the next stage of the project a mere ten days after the public announcement. This has created the impression that the project is being railroaded through.

HBC support for the next stage has enabled the project to move forward. There was no need for such support – Councillor Chowney’s video certainly gave the impression of breathless enthusiasm for the project. By giving this support they may well have set a ball rolling that they will be unable to stop. HBC have already acknowledged that this could become a regional/national project and then planning decisions will be out of their hands.

There is the feeling that HBC have already reneged on promises for public consultations. At Cabinet it was declared that HBC and the Foreshore Trust would consult with the public. In a subsequent interview Councillor Chowney has said that consultation is the responsibility of the developers only.

Councillor Chowney has stated that the development would not be on council land: “…none of it involves council land. This is a private development on land not owned by the council.”

This contradicts the Cabinet report, section 27 Legal Implications, which implies some of the land is HBC land: “Legal implications are achieving ‘best value’ in terms of of the options agreement for Hastings Borough Council land.”

The rest of the land is owned by Foreshore Trust. HBC does not technically own the Foreshore Trsut, but the statement is a little disingenuous as the land is effectively controlled by HBC as the sole trustee. The Foreshore Trust is under no obligation to allow development on its land. The cabinet approved the council’s Chief Legal Officer concluding a 10-year options development agreement with Hastings Harbour Quarter Ltd (HHQ) to give it the right to buy the land. This included investigating legal options on selling HBC and Foreshore Trust Land.

Long Shore Drift Fishing Beach 1980 and 2008

Long Shore Drift Fishing Beach 1980 and 2008

Councillor Chowney has made claims that a harbour can only be built at Rock a Nore, because unlike sites to the west it would not be subject to Long Shore Drift. This is incorrect and creates the impression that he is going out of his way to justify the harbour being built at Rock-a-Nore regardless of the facts. Just west of the harbour arm the beach has accreted by 350m from 1890 to 2003 showing how the existing harbour arm has interrupted West to East Long Shore Drift.

Other pronouncements by Councillor Chowney have been ill-advised, for example, off-the-cuff remarks about a tunnel under the cliffs, claims that the Rock-a-Nore area is not ancient , and that the net huts are not old because they are subject to regular maintenance – all reinforce the impression that he is seeking to understate the flaws in the proposal and the harms it will cause.

CM: What do you think of the Green Party’s open stance of opposition to the proposal?

CH: I think it is the correct position to take. The harbour proposal will destroy the character of the Old Town and cause harm to the ecology of the protected coastline.

CM: How might that have affected voting in the 3 May HBC elections?

CH: The harbour proposal has harmed the Labour party’s support in the Old Town. I know of a large number of Labour supporters and voters who have very legitimate concerns about the harbour proposal, and voted Green at this election. The 25% surge in Green vote share confirms this, and there was a 47.4% turn out to vote in Old Hastings, compared with 40.9 in 2016.

I fear that the harbour proposal could harm the chances of Labour winning Hastings at the next general election. During the last election the Greens stood down in favour of Councillor Chowney. This allowed Councillor Chowney to come very close to defeating Amber Rudd. The harbour proposal strongly reduces the chances of the Greens standing down at the next election. 

CM: What has the Labour Party’s response been to the result?

CH: I hope that the party will reflect on the harm that the harbour project is causing to their electoral chances. However I am afraid that a recent branch newsletter attributing the Greens success in the Old Town to ‘lies and dirty tricks” does not suggest that the party has understood the reasons for the large scale of opposition to the harbour. I have seen no evidence of “lies and dirty tricks” myself and believe the Greens fought the campaign on relevant issues

Councillor Chowney has referred to “fake news” circulating about the harbour in the Tressell newsletter:

“However, there is quite a bit of fake news circulating about this, so for the record (again):

  • No decision has been made. The council is at the moment neither supporting nor opposing it, but needs more detail before making anything resembling a decision; The council is not funding any feasibility studies, nor anything else associated with the project;
  • The project is at this stage only conceptual – we have no idea yet what it would look like, or what it would involve;
  • There are a number of demands that would need to be met before considering whether to support it, including a requirement for at least 25% social rented housing, no loss of car parking, no interference to the fishery (and the support of the fishery), and no interference or damage to businesses or attractions along Rock-a-Nore.”

It is unclear who Councillor Chowney accuses of spreading “fake news”. I don’t believe it has ever been suggested that the proposal was a council scheme or that HBC would pay for the feasibility study. HBC has certainly supported the proposal to the extent that officer time has been spent on it and Cabinet approved the project moving to the next stage – this includes authorising the council’s Chief Legal Officer to conclude a 10-year options development agreement with Hastings Harbour Quarter Ltd to give it the right to buy the land.

image-1

The HHQ proposal is not entirely conceptual as claimed. It does include a diagram showing the scale of the harbour and involves building 12oo units. It has been calculated that 9 buildings the size of Marine Court would need to be constructed. The harbour would cover an area twice the size of the Old Town and stretch as far East as Rocklands caravan park. It would increase the population of the Old Town by an estimated 2000 people.

There is a danger that if the project progresses it could be taken out of HBC hands and therefore all of the conditions demanded by Councillor Chowney would not be determined by HBC.

Rather than throwing insults at the Greens and making claims of “fake news”, it might be more useful to address the many issues arising from the harbour project – not least the very common public concerns that the council is unaccountable, fails to listen to the public and has too close relations with developers. I was hoping that lessons may have been learnt, but sadly see no evidence of this.

CM: HBC’s position on the harbour proposal still seems ambiguous: Some senior members saying they haven’t decided yet, others saying that they are adamantly not supporting it. What is your view on their position?

CH: The fact remains that HBC Cabinet approved the next phase of the project ten days after the project was announced with no public consultation. HBC officers have been in negotiations with the developers for nearly three years. The original announcement by Councillor Chowney conveyed a great deal of enthusiasm for the project. I believe that there has been a degree of backtracking from the Labour party since the original announcement due to the level of opposition to the harbour. I am well aware of the qualifying conditions imposed by HBC but fear that should the project get national support it will be taken out of HBC hands and decided at a regional/national level.

CM: While the Labour Party and Corbyn speak of democracy and the importance of everyone’s voice being heard, they have refused to officially support Proportional Representation (PR) as part of their policy, which is a pity, because the three parties together (Labour, Lib Dems and Greens) would have a good chance of being elected. Then indeed everyone’s voice would count.

If there were PR, locally, the Greens would have got three Councillors, because they got 10% of the overall vote, so they would have then got 10% of the thirty-two seats. On the same basis the Lib Dems would have got three seats, theTories ten, and Labour sixteen. Resulting in HBC made up of sixteen Labour and sixteen other parties – and they would all have to work together.

What is your own understanding of democracy, and how has it been applied locally?

CH: The first past the post system over represents the majority party on the council. 50% of the vote translates into 75% of the council seats. PR might well give a better balance to the council and allow more voices to be heard. Unfortunately 67% voted against PR when offered the choice in the 2011 referendum and we are unlikely to see it in the foreseeable future.

Councillor Chowney has given his views on democracy in a recent interview.

 I have already given you my definition of democracy: you elect people to make decisions. “

I certainly don’t believe that this top down version of decision making is democratic, it fails to engage people in decision making on issues that could dramatically affect the quality of their environment and quality of life. The party needs to engage in consultation with the electorate on such issues as the harbour and does not have a mandate to impose such projects on the town.

I see little evidence of open transparent governance and a willingness to be held to account, as promised in the Labour party manifesto.

I feel that the mindset of the local party tends towards suspicion of party members who refuse to follow the group-think of the leadership, and this extends to members of the public who criticise the council. People who campaign on local issues are written off as Tories, nimbies, or even worse – look at the way the SEG was falsely accused by a local party official of being “Tory thugs, running a hate campaign and being anti Islamic”. Labour councillors have hissed and booed when SEGs name was mentioned in full council. Councillor Chowney dismisses the campaign as “half a dozen people banging on”.

My experience of campaigning with SEG over the Rocklands affair leads me to the conclusion that most elected councillors are not listening and decision making is completely unaccountable.Councillors are unwilling to criticise the actions of officers or to hold them to account. No matter who is in local power the officers remain the same and no councillor, no matter what party, seems to have the spine to challenge them.

HBC, via the Foreshore Trust, has an interest in the land to be used for the proposed harbour in the Old Town; they currently profess to be undecided about the merits of the harbour proposal, however, should they choose to proceed, I fully expect HBC to use the same tactics against those who campaign against the harbour project as they have used against the SEG campaign. On Facebook, SEG has 1,419 members, so if HBC were prepared to go to such lengths to silence, in the words of Councillor Chowney “half a dozen people banging on about” Rocklands, then I can’t imagine what lengths HBC would go to protect a very significant commercial development and to silence the hundreds of residents opposed to the harbour.

Posted 10:38 Thursday, May 17, 2018 In: Home Ground

5 Comments


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  1. Deri

    To be clear, as sole trustee, HBC do have legal title to Foreshore Trust land. They own it. Don’t let HBC say otherwise. ‘Beneficial ownership’ is also important and the Trustee (HBC) is required to manage the property for the benefit of the objects of the charity, in this case, the public. Arguably HBC would be in breach of its duties, if the public no longer had access to land owned by the trust because, for example, parts were leased as private dwellings

    Comment by Deri — Saturday, May 19, 2018 @ 20:38

  2. Matthew Renwick

    Peter Chowney thinks we elected him to make decisions
    He said “ I have already given you my definition of democracy: you elect people to make decisions. “
    WRONG “YOU ARE ELECTED TO REFLECT OUR VIEWS AND OUR OPINIONS. ONLY WHEN YOU HAVE LISTENED TO AND TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT ALL OF THESE YOU CAN EVEN CONSIDER MAKING A DECISION.

    Comment by Matthew Renwick — Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 20:42

  3. Ms.Doubtfire

    It is a great pity Chris Hurrell does not stand for election as a local councillor – we need someone of his calibre in this town.
    The time has come for Chowney to stand down. What has this town done to deserve such an arrogant Leader who listens to nobody. And endeavours to silence those who who try to raise their concerns over issues which are of concern. Ask too many questions and this council demands payment for answers….whatever has happened to democracy in this town.
    The outcome of the election in the Old Town illustrates the anger and frustration felt by so many on the harbour proposals.
    We appear to have been ‘stitched up’ here and its shameful.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 15:03

  4. Derik

    Well said. We don’t want it! The will of the people will prevail!

    Comment by Derik — Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 14:58

  5. bogbrush

    Once again this interview puts local labour politicians on a skewer to be roasted by their own antidemocratic actions. Calling anyone who disagrees with you bad names is actually the dictionary definition of a bigot. If anyone is bigoted on the local political scene it is the labour party with their brass plated majority, due to first past the post counting. On every count the case for a harbour development falls to the facts.I only disagree with one word in Chris Hurrell’s replies, he mentions hundreds of local residents. Clearly it must be thousands. Perhaps a referendum is needed to establish what proportion of local residents are in favour or against the development.

    Comment by bogbrush — Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 11:31

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