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The Area Action Plan covers the town centre and White Rock/Bohemia (map: Crown copyright and database rights [2018]. OS [100021328]).

The Area Action Plan covers the town centre and White Rock/Bohemia (map: Crown copyright and database rights [2018]. OS [100021328]).

Plan to shape Hastings’ future out for comment

The future shape of the town centre and White Rock/Bohemia is in the air following publication by the council of a draft area action plan, which is now out to consultation. To help residents get a grip of what is being proposed, Hastings Urban Design Group will hold two walkabouts of the areas in question. Nick Terdre reports.

The Hastings Town Centre and Bohemia Area Action Plan (AAP), which was drawn up primarily by Swedish design consultant White Arkitekter, is a 126-page document which lays out the vision and objectives of the plan, how it was prepared, issues arising, policies for achieving the objectives, a closer look at the development potential of a number of ‘opportunity areas’ and thoughts about implementation.

These are the council’s ‘preferred approaches’, as the document’s sub-title makes clear. Comments are invited both on general aspects such as the vision and objectives and the approaches and policies proposed for particular sites in the two areas. There are a total of 27 questions flagged up.

The vision and proposals for the White Rock and Bohemia areas were released last year, but the proposals for the town centre were only made available in July, when the consultation, which continues until 24 September, opened.

In the case of White Rock, the establishment of sporting and cultural centres is envisaged in the area of the gardens and convent, coupled with extensive housebuilding beside Bohemia Road.

For the town centre the ambitions are more muted, consisting mainly of the opportunities that some existing sites could present if they came up for (re)development.

Policy framework

The AAP is intended to provide a policy framework for shaping the development of these core areas through to 2033. How much of it will eventually see the light of day is unclear. Large sums of both public and private investment will be required, and while it can be assumed that the council will be fully behind the plan in its final form, developers will no doubt have their own views on what they want to build.

And when the plan states that “A key element of delivery is developer contributions” towards town centre improvements, residents will be entitled to feel sceptical given the council’s poor record in raising S106 contributions and its refusal to introduce the Community Infrastructure Levy, the two main means of securing developer contributions.

The current consultation, which runs until 24 September, will not be the only one; once the document has been amended to take in appropriate suggestions, the amended draft will go out for consultation again in early 2019, when formal representations will be invited, and the resulting version will be examined by a planning inspector. After any further amendments the final version of the plan is due to be adopted in December 2019.

Opportunity sites in White Rock: White Rock Gardens (WRP1) and White Rock Sports Park (WRP2), as proposed in the AAP (Crown Copyright and database rights [2018]. OS [100021328]).

Opportunity sites in White Rock: White Rock Gardens (WRP1) and White Rock Sports Park (WRP2), as proposed in the AAP (Crown Copyright and database rights [2018]. OS [100021328]).

Although the principle of public consultation is a worthy one, it’s asking a lot for individuals to get to grips with a huge project like this, as Hastings Urban Design Group (HUDG) recognises. “We find the AAP challenging to understand, so lay people are likely to need help as well,” chair Tim Jemison told HOT.

“It is a long document with many good, thought-provoking ideas, but we have concerns over some of the proposals.”

To share its concerns, and give others a chance to make their own assessments, the group plans to hold walkabouts in the town centre and White Rock/Bohemia on separate evenings in September.

“AAP is an exciting opportunity that needs a holistic and disciplined approach based on established urban design principles,” Jemison told HOT. “The problem with White Arkitekter is that there is only a plan A, there is no alternative vision. It’s HUDG’s job to help develop this so that people can make a comparison.”

Peer review

The group also plans to carry out a peer review of the AAP, which could form the basis of an exhibition and the formation of a plan B with public participation. The ultimate outcome might be a plan C, combining elements of both A and B.

One of the “gaps” identified by the group is the proposal for extensive housebuilding on Bohemia Road and in the north of White Rock. Noting that urban green space is under threat all over the UK, Jemison commented: “The proposals for White Rock are highly problematic. It has a crucial role as a buffer, retaining the distinction between the urban grain of St Leonards and that of Hastings.

HUDG also believes that the AAP “could go further in laying out a truly sustainable vision for the future of this town. Walkability should be put at the heart of the design process with a network of routes bedded in from the start.”

While the AAP pays due duly acknowledges the principle of sustainable transport, the devil is in the detail, said Jemison. The sea front is fine for walking and cycling but it’s not easy to come away from it and thread your way through town to, say, Alexandra Park. Queen’s Road is a major road saturated with traffic, with limited capacity for improvement.

Station Plaza - not an effective civic space, according to HUDG.

Station Plaza – not an effective civic space, according to HUDG.

Station Plaza falls short

As a gateway into town, the Station Plaza could be an exemplary civic space, reflecting our civic pride and aspiration, said Jemison. At the moment it is dominated by traffic rather than walkers and first-time visitors are likely to feel disoriented on arrival. The railway station, in HUDG’s words, is a “visual disaster as a major arrival point for visitors.”

Station Plaza is home to several of the town’s flagship activities – the railway station, the bus station, the college and the health centre; they should form an integrated ensemble but at the moment they don’t, Jemison said. That is not likely to change anytime soon as the AAP contains no proposals for it.

Jemison is optimistic that HUDG can play a positive role in helping townsfolk grasp and respond to the AAP and in communicating concerns and suggestions to the council, and that the council will be receptive.

“The bottom line is that we want to help the council achieve their aims and objectives,” he said. “The aspirations for the AAP are laudable but there are gaps which we can help to address. We think the council wants to listen.”

 

Consultation The consultation runs until 4pm on Monday 24 September. You can respond online via this link (registration required) or fill in paper forms which can be downloaded from the same link or picked up from the Tourist Information Office or Community Contact Office.

HUDG walkabouts Wednesday 12 September round the town centre, Thursday 13 September in Bohemia and White Rock. Meet at the White Rock Hotel at 6pm. See also HUDG blog on the AAP.

See also Radical make-over of White Rock proposed

Posted 16:44 Thursday, Aug 16, 2018 In: Home Ground

Also in: Home Ground

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