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Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

The popular playground on the open space of the Old Bathing Pool site.

Local Plan consultation: your views wanted on council’s West St Leonards projects!

The Bathing Pool site and the proposed Neighbourhood Plan remain live issues in West St Leonards and beyond.  The Local Plan Review is open and the elections are not far off.   Bryan Fisher for  SOBS (Save Our Bathing Site) and the West Marina Group (WMG) reports on the difficulties of attracting Hastings Borough Council (HBC)’s attention.

On 27 January 2021, an eight week consultation period begins for Hastings Borough Council’s long-deferred draft Local Plan Consultation.  

This is a crucial opportunity for individuals and community groups to register any concerns they may have regarding the Council’s proposals.  Equally however it is an opportunity to put forward proposals from the community as to how they would wish to see the town develop over the next 15 years. I think most of us residents and businesses care about our local area and want the best for it, so you need to give this some deep thought. Perhaps also get in touch with organisations like the Hastings Urban Design Group or our own West St Leonards Forum for advice. Then submit your ideas!

The second item that will hopefully involve some deep thinking on your behalf is the local council election, still scheduled for Thursday 6 May despite the pandemic. Again, if you care about the local area you will want to select a councillor who will match your aspirations — whether that  be in regard to the environment, regeneration, employment, better accounting on projects, etc. So it is not just about which representative (and perhaps political party) has done well in the past, it is also about what they promise to deliver for us in the future. Our borough deserves the best councillors, but only we (the electorate) can ensure that. 

The assets of Hastings include its open spaces. Having the ability to exercise in relative safety, away from traffic, when you want and for how long you want has certainly been a huge positive benefit upon wellbeing and health in general. Areas in the Borough, such as Alexandra Park, the East and West Hills in Hastings, and Bulverhythe, Filsham Valley and the Old Bathing Pool site have been in much demand. Sadly though, just when they have proven their added value to society, some are to become unavailable.

Well-used car park as residents come to the sea front for exercise.

If HBC have their way, Bulverhythe fields, Filsham Valley and the Old Bathing Pool site will either disappear or be seriously altered as open spaces when housing is placed upon them. So if the pandemic had arrived in 2025 not 2020 — where would those in West St Leonards go to exercise? As has been stated, everyone accepts the need for nearby open spaces to exercise on or just enjoy — so why should the western end of the Borough become deprived? Even if you ignore (at your peril) a future pandemic, an extra 1,500 or so residents in the western end of Borough will make our community feel even more compressed and depressed.

Issues missed 

It would certainly be a major surprise if HBC suddenly acknowledged the overwhelming opposition to the housing developments on Bulverhythe’s flood plain and the Old Bathing Pool (also a designated flood plain); but the Council seems more intent on persistent disregard. On 16 December 2020 Lucie Mason formally presented to petitions containing a total of 2,056 signatories against housing on the Old Bathing Pool at the HBC Full Council meeting. Not only did those controlling the proceedings ignore their own constitution and declare all but 268 of the signatures invalid (thus denying a full and proper debate), they have also ignored a subsequent written protest from Lucie Mason.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that Lucie Mason’s significant efforts on behalf of the community have been ignored by HBC’s ruling party. This is far from an isolated incident. In 2020 local people and community groups were invited at short notice by a HBC-created Town Deal Board to submit project plans to be awarded UK government funding. According to the council there were 155 submissions, which is impressive given the short notice. However, every submission from West St Leonards was rejected, including the innovative ‘Science-on-Sea’ project. The reasons given for their rejection were spurious or just plain wrong. Virginia Vilela formally protested on behalf of two of the schemes that they had not even been discussed: she never had a reply.

Bulverhythe recreation ground, classified as a level 3b flood zone by the Environment Agency.

Bulverhythe frustrations

The Friends of Combe Valley (FCV) issued a statement through its Treasurer and Trustee:

FCV in conjunction with the West Saint Leonards Forum and Bulverhythe Protectors submitted a project for funding under the Town Deal. It was a matter of great regret that the project was rejected out of hand and without any attempt at explaining the reasons for the rejection.
The proposal was to implement the plans put forward for the recreation ground in the Development Strategy Review and Implementation Plan (2012-2015) for the Combe Valley Countryside Park.  The plan developed the existing informal recreational use of the site and helped with flood control, through a flood balancing lake. It would enhance the access into the Countryside Park as well as providing an important amenity for local residents.
The plan also provided an alternative to the proposals for development of the site by HBC for housing. These proposals have apparently made no progress since the public consultations at the beginning of 2020. They have been on the agenda for cabinet meetings of the Council throughout the year, but have been withdrawn from the agenda at the last minute and were not included in the agenda for the cabinet meeting on 4 January 2021.
But this last cabinet meeting did establish a timetable for consultation on the proposed Local Plan for HBC. The current draft Local Plan does not include the proposed housing development on the Recreation Ground, and it is to be hoped that the Council now recognise that the site is a level 3b flood zone, which means that development should only take place in exceptional circumstances.
It is to be hoped that the Council will now be willing to work with the West St Leonard Forum as well as Friends of Combe Valley and the Bulverhythe Protectors in ensuring the appropriate development of this site as an integral part of the Combe Valley Countryside Park.

Other frustrations

So how about HBC’s attitude to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests? Individuals or organisations can lawfully obtain information from local or central government. HBC have the ignominy of being formally warned by the Information Commissioner for failing to answer legitimate FOI requests.  (Alternatively there’s this.) Another example of lack of communication is in the local media, who you would have thought were worth keeping ‘on side’. Instead some have published their concern at questions being ignored or access for interviews being denied. If the ‘Fourth Estate’ cannot ask pointed questions either, is this really a functioning democracy?

So when you hear HBC’s Labour-led council stating matters are dealt with in an open and transparent manner, with opportunities for interested parties to participate in meaningful engagement, you will understand why many local community action groups beg to differ. If you take just one example, the local community, the local media, and all political parties except the local Labour Party have expressed their ongoing support for the campaign to oppose housing on the Old Bathing Pool site (wanting a leisure-based solution to provide revenue and jobs instead). Imagine the irritation when HBC decides that an obscure advert hidden in a local paper and a very vocal opposition at an open meeting many years ago about a different project count as full and transparent communication!

The open space, and fresh air, of the Old Bathing Pool site.

Neighbourhood Plan

West St Leonards Forum, a local community group seeking to take on responsibility for the area, have undertaken a questionnaire for 2,500 residents.  Under challenging COVID-19 restrictions they canvassed local businesses as initial steps in their move to create a Neighbourhood Plan that aligns to HBC’s Local Plan. For months they have been trying to get some engagement from HBC to build the Neighbourhood Plan together, but requests have always been side-lined. The establishment of a viable organisation and its neighbourhood plan are enshrined in UK government law, and already successfully working elsewhere, but that does not seem to bother HBC for some reason.

It’s up to you to decide whether the lack of interest by HBC’s ruling party in the wishes and aspirations of the West St Leonards’ community is incompetence or arrogance.

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Posted 15:56 Wednesday, Jan 27, 2021 In: Home Ground

5 Comments

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  1. Mrs heather Grief

    Bolshie and Bryan Fisher are right in that we need to change the Labour party’s domination of HBC, and that means getting Hastingers everywhere to realise that the Bathing Pool site is important to the town as a whole and its future prosperity. The way to do this is to decide on where to get RGC’s rare as Hen’s teeth candidates to stand (not where there’s another good candidate already who disagrees with Labour policy re. the Bathing Pool site etc). Gensing is a ward that springs to mind – it has had various stripes of councillor in the past, and I’m sure quite a few of its inhabitants go down to the west end of the seafront (I do). Other wards worth targeting are any with some seafront; they should be winnable on a SOBS platform.
    A step in the right direction would be to show Hastingers that SOBS etc are serious by doing what Old Towners have done at Reeve’s Corner, and take ‘ownership’ of the site by starting to improve it with simple and cheap measures, such as some seating, litter bins (and litter picking at regular intervals), levelling out a large area to make it better for sporting use (the nearby military college and cadets could be involved), and some planting of tamarisk and similar seaside-hardy plants to give some shelter from the wind / sun.
    SOBS could try getting HBC’s agreement to money being raised via some residents’ parking, where the underground water tank is.

    Comment by Mrs heather Grief — Thursday, Feb 11, 2021 @ 15:22

  2. Bryan Fisher

    How nice to hear that DAR, Bolshie & RGC feel equally as concerned as I am that community interests, especially those in the West St Leonards area, are being ignored or overridden by a HBC obsession with housing on the wrong sites. There has been mention of the West St Leonards’ councillors and the need for independents; but our two councillors are Matthew Beaver & Karl Beaney – both opposed to the developments in Bulverhythe and on the Old Bathing Pool site. As such, unless HBC’s Labour councillors break rank, they ARE the independent voice of support we want – and need. We just need more like them!

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Thursday, Feb 4, 2021 @ 22:41

  3. Bolshie

    while I am not against RGC’s idea of an independent councillor the problem here is they would be a total minority up against the Labour cabal. Look at the proposal to develop on Bulverhythe. The Conservatives are opposed to it. Of course that is great but as I say they are facing a Labour controlled council with likewise control of the Planning Committee. I cannot see any Labour councillor on this committee breaking rank.
    Yes submissions to the Local Plan hearings is important but the timing might be too late. Development of a sensitive site known as Robsack meadow back in 2015 is the only one I have seen reversed by the Planning Inspector following a campaign to save it. All thanks to one lady, Paddy Stephenson, (with some supporters) who battled with HBC for seven years. However, I can see HBC pressing ahead with some speed to get these sites on the planning committee table.
    Regarding the reference made to “transparency” never has this word been so used and abused where the public have raised concern and opinion. Once you get a well organised group like SOBS, down comes the council portcullis.
    When it comes to the local elections in May, will the majority of residents take these significant issues into account at the ballot box. Judging on the recycling of the same old councillors term after term of office, I kind of doubt it.

    Comment by Bolshie — Wednesday, Feb 3, 2021 @ 12:26

  4. RGC

    West St Leonards desperately needs to elect an independent councillor with guile and tenacity, if anyone with those qualities and the appetite for a protracted fight with a shape-shifting jelly monster can be found and persuaded to stand.
    The Council, of whatever political hue over the decades, have never been concerned with the interests of this end of the borough; when St Leonards Motors moved from Bexhill Road in 1985 and the ailing holiday camp on the old Bathing Pool site was nearing its last hi-di-hi, it was a rare opportunity to regenerate the immediate area. Instead, the Council allowed MFI to dictate that its monstrous shed should be built there, instead of on an industrial shopping estate where it belonged, in the process blighting the entire environs up until the present.
    The only hope of having West St Leonards’ voice heard above the roar of the Old Town seems to be to elect a dynamic councillor who is neither beholden to a political party, ambitious for preferment, or interested in the profitable potential of his/her influence. Hen’s teeth, I readily acknowledge, as such people are already committed to things that take up their time and energy.

    Comment by RGC — Friday, Jan 29, 2021 @ 12:19

  5. DAR

    The first “engagement” re: the new Local Plan asked people to state their priorities from five options. Hundreds of people replied. Top priority was employment. Housing and infrastructure came fourth out of five – yet this is clearly HBC’s priority. Which priority will succeed, do you think?

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Jan 28, 2021 @ 14:50

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