Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Seven storeys high - the redesign proposed for the Observer building (image: Flint Development Group).

Seven storeys high – the redesign proposed for the Observer building (image: Flint Development Group).

Observer building reaches for the sky

Design proposals for bringing the former Observer building back into useful occupation have been made public. Bernard McGinley sees the build-up to something big.

When Decimus Burton, co-founder of St Leonards-on-Sea, died in 1881, he left money in his will for his arch at Hyde Park Corner – the Wellington Arch – to be altered. The out-of-scale statue of Wellington (inflicted by a later committee on top) was to be removed so that the arch would no longer be the detested eyesore and laughing-stock that it had become.

This duly happened when in a programme of public works both the arch and the statue were moved — the first a little and the other to Aldershot.

There was a sense of déjà vu when redesign proposals for the Observer building in Cambridge Road were recently presented. There’s massing and massing, and this is massive: seven additional storeys.

Hassell Architects has designed it for the Flint Development Group. Though it is still a work in progress, likely features include a public access viewing platform, a rooftop garden, a gym, a cinema, a shop/restaurant, a food market, a gallery and student accommodation.

The planning application is expected to be made soon this summer, with a council decision before the end of the year.

Responses have included a welcome in principle to the idea of regeneration in the Claremont/Cambridge Road/Cornwallis Gardens/Prospect Place area, but dismay at the top-heavy nature of the design and the obstruction of castle views. (Comparisons with Brighton’s i360 Tower, which is exciting local opinion to the west, have also been made.)

Last winter the planning inspector Richard Hollox scrutinised in detail the Local Plan put forward by Hastings Borough Council. Among the findings he made was this:

“Major Modification 3:

The Plan should make it abundantly clear that matters of design are of greater importance than figures of indicative capacity of the various sites. A Policy along the following lines would, I believe, assist the Council in its determination of planning applications particularly where the quality of the site and surroundings is especially high. This consideration is of sufficient importance to qualify the suggested change as a Main Modification. I suggest that it be drafted as follows:

The number of dwellings set out in the Proposed Allocations Policies is purely indicative, showing what might be achieved on each site. Of principal and greater consequence for every scheme, however, will be matters which include the design, height, mass and appearance of the proposed building(s), layout (including the provision of a safe and convenient access), trees and relationship with the surroundings including nearby buildings and views of the Borough’s natural and historic assets (including of Hastings Castle). These considerations, rather than indicative numbers, will provide the guidelines to secure a development worthy of the site and its surroundings.”

That the site is in a conservation area is an additional matter of consideration.

Workshop on heritage regeneration

The future of the Observer building and the nearby White Rock Gardens and other parts of the pier’s hinterland are likely to be discussed in a travelling workshop that comes to the borough on Wednesday 15 July. The White Rock Theatre is hosting a daytime conference on heritage regeneration projects, including legal issues and funding options. More generally, ways of ensuring a sustainable future for local historic buildings and sites will be discussed.

The workshop has been organised by Brick (Building Resources, Investment and Community Knowledge), a programme of Prince Charles’ Prince’s Regeneration Trust set up in 2014. It seeks to bring together individuals, community groups, professionals, businesses, volunteers and others involved in heritage regeneration projects to equip them with the skills and expertise needed to save their local heritage and build a better future for their communities. Many heritage-regeneration projects struggle because of a lack of support on issues such as governance, legal support, digital knowledge, PR, skills audit and community engagement. The Brick roadshow attempts to help overcome these difficulties.

The question of ‘heritage’ is vexed by the inclination of some to define it as old and somehow virtuous in itself. Possibly this will be aired at the workshop. The Heritage at Risk register maintained by Historic England (formerly English Heritage) is known to be incomplete. For instance, the United Reformed Church in Cambridge Road is there, but not the Chapel of the Holy Child Jesus Convent in Magdalen Road, which was designed either by AWN Pugin himself or by William Wilkinson Wardell, “by far the most eminent architect who has lived in Australia.”

The workshop at White Rock will include a series of presentations by experts, including:

  • Simon Opie of the Hastings Pier Charity, who will talk on issues around asset ownership and community shares
  • Jess Steele, from Jericho Road Solutions, on dealing with community assets in difficult ownership
  • Anne Kazimirski of New Philanthropy Capital, on measuring the impact of regeneration projects
  • Toby Bennett from Spacehive, on instances of successful crowdfunding projects in England
  • a legal expert from Beswicks Solicitors, on the legal issues affecting community groups.

The day’s programme will run from 9.30am to 4.30pm. The charge is £22 per person, including lunch. Applications can be made to:

The opening of the new pier next year will mark a change to the borough’s patterns of visitors, residents and living. Enjoy the Victorian vistas of St Leonards and Hastings while they last, including sightlines to the castle. As for Queen Victoria herself, she loathed that top-heavy arch.


Observer building redesign Find out more, and join in the public consultation, here. A ‘public engagement event’ has been arranged  from 6.30-8.30pm on Tuesday 21 July at Holy Trinity Church, Robertson Street, Hastings TN34 1HT at which you will be able to buttonhole council representatives, the architect team and the developer.


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Posted 20:19 Tuesday, Jul 14, 2015 In: Home Ground


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  1. Martin Newbold

    Regeneration would be not argued of this iconic building in a conservation area. How is it then that a new building can be placed on top which does not conform to the original building character at all.

    The notion of student accommodation would also be of benefit, if it had been done correctly with a sympathetic requirement for disabled students. It is law now that every new building has to comply with the potential to support disabled access. I cannot see how these multi-height beds and small substandard rooms would fit this remit. Are we trying to build getto’s or workable buildings now? Has our planning department lost the plot? There is no point in complaining though as the two tier complaints process seems to have gone out the window as the case officer and manager are the same.

    Comment by Martin Newbold — Friday, Feb 19, 2016 @ 10:21

  2. patricia

    Nobody would argue against some form of regeneration for this iconic old building but certainly not in the form proposed….anyone who thinks the architects impression merits consideration needs to think again – this horrendous proposal warrants coverage in the national press – it is clear our local paper is not concerned enough to publish the full facts and pictures. In this week’s Hastings Observer the developers have inserted a small ‘flyer’ promoting their plans but WITHOUT any pictures of their plans for this building. This gives a totally false impression of what is going on here. It is unbelieavable that such a radical and hideous proposal gets coverage without any illustration of what is intended.

    The ususal ‘click on here for further information’ is displayed but how many people will be bothered to click on anything? This ‘flyer’ is deceptive and designed not to alarm. The information it is supposed to provide is totally inadequate.

    There will be many who will remain unaware of the true scale of this project…unaware that there will be seven new storeys stuck on top of the building, constructed out of what looks like polycarbonate sea containers creating a total of eleven storeys to this building…you could not make this up….and as happens so frequently in this town, it will simply be rubber stamped. This is not good enough for Hastings.

    Comment by patricia — Wednesday, Jul 29, 2015 @ 11:32

  3. patricia

    This has to be one of the worst proposals ever visited on this town – everyone agrees that this iconic building needs to be restored but who could ever agree that sticking seven floors of plastic sea containers on the top of this building is a good idea? And the council appears to be ignoring the Inspector’s Policy directives regarding new developments in this part of town. That alone merits further investigation and concern: were the years of consultation on Hastings Local Development Management Plan all for nothing? Is this council about to renege on the Inspectors Main Modifications despite agreeing with them all????? Surely not.

    Comment by patricia — Thursday, Jul 23, 2015 @ 12:49

  4. amanda jobson

    The Observer building has not been used for 30 years, it is a wonderful building not only for the recent gallery space it is showing at present, ‘Wet and Dry’; but also the development which is much needed.
    There are no community spaces for exhibitions in the center of Hastings Town to visit. The proposed use as a community venture, indoor market,gallery and accommodation for students. This must all be good for the future of the town surely.

    Comment by amanda jobson — Monday, Jul 20, 2015 @ 16:21

  5. patricia

    It now transpires that the information re the Queensbury house issues was inadvertently taken to be current info when in fact this is old 2011 news! So this comment is irrelevant BUT comments reference the old Observer building remain current and of great concern…

    Comment by patricia — Friday, Jul 17, 2015 @ 09:48

  6. patricia

    Excellent article Bernard, but Wow! Surely this cannot be true – its not April 1st so guess something is brewing – what a shocker – flies in the face of everything the Inspector said at the Local Plan Hearings – this must not be allowed. The most hideous and outrageous proposals in recent times in this town.

    And another cause for alarm – some months ago we learned that Sea Change had abandoned their proposal to demolish Queensbury House and we understood another developer intended converting the entire building into residential apartments – and now – according to the Hastings Observer, Sea Change have after all decided to demolish the building and provide 500 space office facilities. There is somemthing really weird about the goings on here and the public need to be kept fully informed BEFORE these decisions are rubber stamped.

    Comment by patricia — Friday, Jul 17, 2015 @ 09:36

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