Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
bohemia road 350

Map of old lower Bohemia, from Pike’s Hastings & St Leonards Directory, 1902 (courtesy of Hastings Library).

The supposed necessity of building over lower Bohemia

Who wants a rich ghetto instead of the green spaces of Horntye Park, Summerfields Woods, the Oval, White Rock Gardens and the Convent? The report proposing it was commissioned by Hastings Borough Council.  Bernard McGinley wades through the jargon and comes up for air.

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) have published a report commissioned from Wessex Economics to advise them how to develop lower Bohemia. With its dull title, Future Housing Requirements in Hastings:  Final Report, the study, dated April 2018, is related to the Area Action Plan (AAP) covering Hastings Town Centre and the Bohemia area, recently discussed in HOT here.  The AAP deals with much of the commercial assets of the borough, and scenarios of the future.

In its 81 pages the Wessex report says a lot (such as including ‘around 670’ new dwellings) but also not that much.  The word ‘overdevelopment’ is never used. London is mentioned 84 times, but the following words are among those absent:

local people, amenity, heritage, traffic, population density, Burton, bus, congestion, woods (e.g. Summerfields), quality of life, recreation, dog, garden, air, trees, amenities, Brisco, conservation.

On the other hand, ‘Local Plan’ is mentioned 75 times and ‘new build’ 43 times.

The report’s summary sums it up ominously:

The Masterplan developed for White Rock and Bohemia envisages development of a very distinctive community, strongly differentiated from the character of the existing, older residential areas in Hastings; and providing a very different type of new build housing, and street scene to that generally delivered in Hastings . . .  [Executive Summary, Paragraph 12]

How neighbourly is that? The tone is exclusion rather than the opposite.

On employment growth it offers projections, but says nothing about the work over many years of Sea Space/SeaChange/Hastings & Bexhill  Renaissance Ltd/East Sussex Energy Infrastructure and Development Ltd, who have spent a lot of public money with the same objective, and have little to show for it.

The statistics on offer throughout are from national sources. There is no mention of any local detail from East Sussex in Figures, an East Sussex County Council (ESCC) resource, such as Central St Leonards ward – which extends to Falaise Road – being the most densely populated one in East Sussex. In 2011 more than 105 persons per hectare lived there, while the figure for Hastings overall was 30.4 persons per hectare.

Case not made

If there is a case for developing the diverse spaces of lower Bohemia, it is not mentioned in this report, and certainly not made. It would be more rational to develop Hampstead Heath or Clapham Common. Filling in Blackheath with homes for Londoners would still leave Greenwich Park at the front end. 

(The coastal tradition is clear:  the entrance to White Rock Gardens at Bohemia Road has long had a detail on the notice board:

White Rock Gardens was purchased by the Hastings Corporation in 1902 from the Brisco family to prevent development and was opened as a sports and recreation ground in 1904.)

It’s a stock joke hereabouts to make fun of those Down From London DFLs but here their role is explicit:

The proposed housing product is most likely to appeal to households that currently live in London… [Executive Summary, Paragraph 13]

However, if the development takes off by tapping into demand emanating from London, take up could be more rapid, given the unique nature of the product and location.  [Para 6.13]

How a made-over White Rock and Bohemia might look.

Falaise Road malaise, as proposed in the Wessex Economics report (image: ‘White Rock Park and Bohemia: A Strategy for the Future of the White Rock Area, Hastings’).

The report is right about the the unique nature of the location, but fails to explain why its destruction should be agreed to. The illustration on page 44 says more:

Para 7.18 speaks wrongly about a ‘direct’ train from Hastings to St Pancras. The importance of the London link to the scheme is re-emphasised in Para 9.15.

‘A distinctive new quarter’

In its clear lack of engagement with St Leonards and Hastings, this report is a DFLs’ Charter, and something of an insult.  There is no explanation why HBC commissioned it.

To sell new homes to the ‘Detachment Group’ [i.e. detached from London] it is likely to be necessary to deliver a vision of a new form of living. This is what White Arkitekter is clearly seeking to achieve in the Masterplan they have prepared for HBC. The aim is to create a distinctive new quarter in Hastings-St Leonards that is modern in terms of architecture; has access to extensive areas of open space, sports and leisure facilities; and has easy access to the sea front, to the centre of St Leonards and to Hastings town centre.  [Para 7.36]

The role of buy-to-let is acknowledged:

Some of the homes may be bought by individuals or businesses who will let properties on a standard 6 month or year-long tenancies. As a result blocks of apartments or terraces built for sale, are likely in fact to be mixed tenure blocks. Given Hastings’ credentials as a visitor destination some properties may be bought for the purpose of providing holiday accommodation, or let on a short-term basis via Airbnb or equivalent sharing platforms.  [Para 7.46]

The Oval (photo: Bernard McGinley)..

The Oval (photo: Bernard McGinley).

By any standards this is for and about DFLs.  The vision of ‘a distinctive new quarter’ for the Detachment Group is more akin to a ghetto, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:

A quarter in a city . . . occupied by an isolated group; an isolated or segregated group, community, or area.

Other sites

Not far away from the Oval and these other threatened sites, the Archery Ground (Archery Road) is a testament to council damage.

Designed by James and Decimus Burton as an offshoot to St Leonards Gardens, it survived until 1968 when the council decided to develop it with a college. Then in 2012 a council report declared ‘. . . the existing college buildings have no architectural quality . . . hugely unsympathetic appearance and poor architectural quality’ (case ref HS/FA/09/00482).  

HBC can’t have been right both times. Even the subsequent disputes about the site indicated a lack of good faith. The developers coarsened and resubmitted their proposals for approval, successfully. Later again the developers sought to reduce affordable housing from 56% to 25%, and to change 40 affordable homes to market ones.  (Planning ref:  HS/FA/18/00291.) 

123-125 West Hill Road (high above Bo-Peep) is another case, and there are many others.

In 2006 HBC published another report they had commissioned, on the importance of open space, the Hastings Open Spaces Plan.  The current land grab-in-effect seems a long way from the spirit of this. (‘There is a great opportunity to reassert the importance not only of providing high quality green spaces but ensuring that they remain of high quality through effective management.’)

Green space – a priceless asset

The land from St Pauls Road down to the Museum & Art Gallery used to contain Bohemia House and its grounds. (Despite appeals, Bohemia House was demolished in 1972. The elegant main staircase was entrusted to HBC for safe keeping, and never seen again.) Now it is largely a string of public utility buildings such as the ambulance station. More recent building opposite the law courts and the proposed demolition and redevelopment of the Travelodge (formerly the Cinque Ports Hotel) further erode the greenery.

If the Oval is developed, and Horntye and the Convent largely lost, and White Rock Gardens further skateparked over, the standing of Hastings and St Leonards as a resort worth visiting (‘credentials as a visitor destination’) is also in danger.

A profusion of new housing would benefit the developers and some residents of the new DFLs’ ghetto, but it would not benefit the people who live here already. The Wessex report offers nothing to the inhabitants of St Leonards and Hastings, except a proposal to deprive them of what makes their borough exceptional: space and fresh air.

The proposed ‘distinctive new quarter’ is noticeably worse than the existing distinguished old one. Not many other towns have (or could have) this combination of space and sea, and an old-fashioned vibe that cannot be recreated. It can of course be quite casually destroyed. 

Policy EN1 of the Hastings Local Plan (adopted in 2014) states, ‘There is a presumption in favour of the conservation of heritage assets and their settings’.  Policy EN7 declares ‘The Council will protect and enhance the town’s landscape’.  There are many other fine statements, such as Policy HN1 (in the Development Management Plan) on sustaining and enhancing heritage assets including green spaces and views.  It would be good to see such policies implemented, and not ignored as so often happens.


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Posted 20:33 Wednesday, Aug 22, 2018 In: Home Ground


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  1. Bolshie

    You raise a good point there about council finances David Stevenson. I wonder how much this report has cost the tax payer and who were responsible for this in the first place.
    Talking about how this council moans of being cash strapped and poor with having to close down a public toilet in the central part of the town. What has been missed is their foray into buying property. Muriel House at over £4m the old Focus building on Seddlescombe Road North at nearly £7m and of recent the TK Maxx building on Bexhill Road at £8.5m as investments. Or what Cllr Chowney claims is “Entrepreneurial Socialism.” How is that for some political spin.
    At a time when businesses are reducing their stores or going to the wall all together.

    Comment by Bolshie — Friday, Aug 31, 2018 @ 10:12

  2. Ms. Doubtfire

    Whilst we are discussing among other issues the saving of our green spaces in this town, how many are aware that the Beauport Park caravan site has made an application to carry out works to trees which have the protection of Tree Preservation Orders? This application can be found online at HS/TP/18/00678. One has to ask who in the lay community would be able to decipher this application to understand that 71 trees are for the chop (pardon the pun) and many others to receive drastic works of pollarding etc.
    This application is sparse in information and will most likely be decided by planning officers and will not go near our planning committee for discussion or decision. Once again we appear to have little say in these very worrying planning applications.

    These behind closed decisions are nothing new here – and even if at least 5 objections are logged on this applicaton, the officers are not obliged to put this outrageous application before our planning committee.
    And one has to ask what happened to the grandiose announcement in the press recently about the appointment of a Tree Tsar whose role is to ensure trees are not felled without good reason?

    Comment by Ms. Doubtfire — Thursday, Aug 30, 2018 @ 11:26

  3. David Stevenson

    This discussion of DFLs and DF other places (of which I am one) is missing the point. Once again we have the Council, who are constantly complaining about not having enough money to do anything (and always blaming Central Government for that) managing to commission an unnecessary report. What is the alleged problem they are trying to solve? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    Comment by David Stevenson — Wednesday, Aug 29, 2018 @ 14:17

  4. DAR

    Yes, Sally & anonymous…I can’t deny that DFLs have brought SOME positive energy to the town. However, enough is enough. What has happened over the last 20 years or so is that, although they have been priced out of the market in London, they have had more money to spend than local (born & brought up here) youngsters and families, and this has meant that house prices have risen too much for these locals to afford. And the more DFLs who have arrived (probably after being told by earlier arrivals how cheap, pleasant and wacky it is) the greater the demand which, in turn, has increased house prices AND created unacceptable (and sometimes crackpot) schemes to service this demand.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Aug 27, 2018 @ 14:30

  5. Bernard McGinley

    The article wasn’t about DFLs.  It was about ghettos and their undesirability.  In my experience, people that move here rapidly lose whatever DFL – or wherever – status they had, and contribute a great deal to life in St Leonards & Hastings.  

    Losing the spaces of Lower Bohemia would be destructive.  An offer to ‘save’ the Oval – perhaps with an allegedly world-class ‘pocket park’ – wouldn’t amount to much either.  The Council should defend the Borough’s spaces, not be seen to want to concrete them over for incomers.  (Shillyshallying about the Rock-a-Nore Marina is another instance.)  

    Jane Jacobs, who stopped the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway from going through Greenwich Village, also pointed out that the bible had already discussed the issue:

    Here are men that alter their neighbour’s landmark . . . reap they the field that is none of theirs . . .  A cry goes up from the city streets . . .

    (Book of Job, Chapter 24, Knox version)

    The green spaces between St Leonards & Hastings are an extraordinary and unique asset.  Improvements (such as a land bridge from the Museum) would be welcome, but we shouldn’t repeat the planning mistakes that HBC specialise in.
    Extensive quotation from the source document showed that this proposed ghetto is not ‘a fantasy’.  If there’s a short-term ‘gain’ to be had the Council are inclined to approve it unless opposed.

    The deadline for comments on the ‘Hastings Town Centre and Bohemia Area Action Plan’ is Monday 24 September at 4 p.m.

    The suggestion to build on Hampstead Heath wasn’t particularly serious — but why build over Lower Bohemia to oblige Londoners who want to disfigure it?

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Monday, Aug 27, 2018 @ 12:54

  6. Bolshie

    I see the Convent has been mentioned here and the suggestion of it becoming a greenfield site. Problem there is the Spanish family that own it want to capitalise on it and concrete that over. There has already one long drawn out planning application that thank goodness did not materialise. Under the auspices of of an “Enabling Development” which it was clearly not. The council are quite happy to see the site packed with houses and apartments.
    Owned since the early 70’s by this family they have really let that lovely site deteriorate. There you have a Grade II* listed chapel by Edward Pugin (son of Augustus Pugin). Sadly neglected and now on the national “At Risk Register.”

    So while a great idea Colin Foy, I kind of doubt this lovely site will escape the wrath of the developer unless a very nice benefactor surfaces

    Comment by Bolshie — Monday, Aug 27, 2018 @ 12:33

  7. Ms.Doubtfire

    Well said Sally Walton. One small point though – I understand the leader of this council has lived here for well over 20 years. And I think he is one DFL who does not understand the importance of respecting the uniqueness of this town…in fact he appears to back every project which seeks to destroy everything which makes this town so special – ’nuff said.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Monday, Aug 27, 2018 @ 10:31

  8. Anonymous

    I am completely in favour of this depressing area being re-generated. The green spaces that you talk of around Bohemia are currently akin to ghettos, where I for one do not feel comfortable walking. We have a lot of beautiful open green spaces, such as the Country Park, Alexandra Park, Burton St Leonards Gardens and not to mention the beautiful surrounding East Sussex Countryside. Why do we need to try and keep decay and dilapidation of this area. I think the Convent should be restored though. I would welcome wealthy people coming into the area. I am one of your so called DFLs and I have done nothing but work hard both in London and here helping the flagging economy. I see Hastings as my home and while I am a new comer to the town, it appears I already have more pride in it than quite a lot of the locals. Many of whom can’t even be bothered to put litter in the bin let alone do good for the place. Why not have an up market part of town. Bring it on, even if I would not be able to afford it! Let’s look forward not back.

    Comment by Anonymous — Monday, Aug 27, 2018 @ 09:19

  9. Sally Walton

    Most of us are DFLs. Even when we were house hunting here in 1991 every one of the properties we veiwed were being sold by DFLs. I suspect 99% of HOT readers are too, or at least they’ll be DFsomewhere or other. The head of our council and Labour candidate has lived here for less than a decade. Our house is a stonesthrow from the Convent grounds and every dilapidated home in this part of St Leonards that’s been revived and restored has been done so by someone from out of town. The same tag could be attached to people who have energetically opened shops and restaurants in St Leonards and brought a buzz into town.
    The White Rock Scheme may or may not happen but I find the idea of it creating
    ghetto for wealthy DFLs a fantasy. What your DFL likes, whatever their budget, is a nice Victorian doer-upper – preferably with a seaveiw.

    Comment by Sally Walton — Monday, Aug 27, 2018 @ 08:30

  10. colin Foy

    The convent has been empty for over 20 years, and it would be far easier and healthier to make it into a green area, for the local inhabitants, and also benefit Hastings town. Afterall who needs more traffic on that road, cough, cough!

    The plans for Bohemia and Hastings are for vast, over building, adding to the high pollution levels. We need more green spaces not less. These cranky ideas are the same as building a marina in an all ready overcrowded Old Town Hastings; especially when the Lido is a blank canvas. A marina here would give Hastings an enjoyable long promenade full of entertainment, instead of it all being in the Old Town. Colin and Lynda Foy

    Comment by colin Foy — Saturday, Aug 25, 2018 @ 14:47

  11. Ms.Doubtfire

    It is so very sad to see so many proposals which seek to destroy the wonderful heritage which is so unique to this town. And do not forget the preposterous Marina proposals remain firmly on the table.
    For all those who attended the Local Plan hearings it was very clear when the independent government inspector Mr. Richard Hollox made his final recommendations he clearly was not happy with the proposals to build on the Harrow Lane playing fields. In fact along with other proposals for development put forward by this council, he recommended that these playing fields should be withdrawn as a development site.
    After much discussion with HBC about how this housing site was so vital for this town, he relented and agreed it could remain as a development site.
    Whatever your views on his decision (and there were many who were overjoyed with his original decision to remove this site from the development sites list) it remains very clear that our councillors have little say in planning matters.
    Our head of planning appears able to move the goal posts when it suits – how can it possibly be legitimate for her to insist that the planning application for this site can have only one of two outcomes when it was very clear that it was perfectly proper to defer the application as requested by Members. This needs some answers.

    Our planning department is staffed by senior employees who have recognised qualifications to make judgment on planning matters – our planning committe members have no ‘official’ qualifications and they are in no position to ‘stand their ground’ when it comes to complex planning issues. The basic ‘training’ they are supposed to receive when elected to this committee is farcical and will never stand them in good stead when they endeavour to oppose planning applications or raise queries on individual applications.
    We can only hope that this major plan to re invent the White Rock area is cast into the waste bin without delay. Even if this this unwelcome plan is ditched, the myriad of consultants will have walked away with some very nice ‘little earners’ all paid for from the public purse.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Saturday, Aug 25, 2018 @ 09:29

  12. Kay

    Just make sure you don’t forget yourself and post here *instead of* commenting on the actual consultation. Democracy is very hard work, and only begins to work when everyone responds where it counts.

    Here’s the link again

    Comment by Kay — Thursday, Aug 23, 2018 @ 16:16

  13. DAR

    The same sort of thing is happening with the Harrow Lane Playing Fields. On 15/8/2018, HBC’s Planning Committee voted to defer the application for 140 homes on the playing fields and did not reject it outright largely because of a rather threatening intervention by one of the planning officers. She had said that councillors only had a binary option – to approve or reject the application – but when it looked as if “reject” would get a majority vote she decided that to defer was OK after all!

    I’m afraid all these vandalising applications are the result of central government’s housing targets which, in turn, result from out-of-control net migration in the millions over at least 25 years. Migrant communities occupy many of the “affordable” accommodation in London and that’s why many people who lived in the capital in their singleton, fun-filled teens and 20s decided to move out when they started families and wanted somewhere cheaper and safer to live. London-by-the-sea (Brighton) was 1st choice, but when that became too expensive Hastings was next on the list. Some came straight to Hastings. This has been particularly noticeable since the turn of the century. I’m sure some will disagree with this analysis – but I bet there are also some reading this who recognise (or are) such people.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Aug 23, 2018 @ 16:08

  14. Tim Barton

    Lodge your protests here

    It was a Labour councillor that suggested we do so. There has been some over-enthusiasm on the part of the planners, who in the view of many of the elected councillors have overstepped their brief (which as I understand related to White Rock alone). They have a tendency to wave ‘legality’ issues at councillors, I for one think it’s a tool to quash dissent more often than a genuine legal concern.

    They also have plans for Queens Road area, to ‘help’ retailers & community. They are, imo, a nonsense. My protest to the Queens Rd bit boiled down to the space provided was:

    ‘Document Name: Hastings Town Centre and Bohemia Area Action Plan
    Section: Question 21

    Summary of Representation: Shops are closing all over town, and you want more retail ‘opportunities’? This is wholly unrealistic. It also threatens those left trading in Queens Rd between M&S & Morrisons. We have little enough foot traffic between the shopping centre & supermarket, these plans will make that worse. Perhaps, instead, taking ‘Morrisons carpark’ and making it minimum four hours free, making South Terrace two hours free Queens Road to Braybrooke, no meters, ditto Russell Street would be more constructive. I have elderly customers who pop to town rarely, doing their shopping in Bexhill, driving & parking close to stores needed.’.

    Comment by Tim Barton — Thursday, Aug 23, 2018 @ 11:12

  15. Mr Hippolyte Grigg

    Thank you Mr McGinley for bringing this outline plan submitted to HBC by Wessex Economics which followed previous ideas outlined for the area from other sources.

    Wessex Economics missiion as stated in their website is I quote:

    ‘We work with clients who are focused on creating great places to live and work, and salvaging places where wellbeing is in short supply. Creating vision, restoring hope; that is what we are about’.

    It’s important,surely,to measure their plan against that statement and to understand how their mission will, in the end, promote the main issue on the table which is jobs, permanent and full-time, in the Hastings area. Sea Change, as we all know, have failed to meet the promises made at the planning stages of the Bexhill Link road. That was, I believe, one of the principle issues attached to tha project.

    Furthermore what was the cost to the tax payer of this Wessex plan and what, may I ask, was their brief from HBC?

    Comment by Mr Hippolyte Grigg — Thursday, Aug 23, 2018 @ 10:54

  16. Penny

    Here we go again.
    It’s things like this which have made it impossible for me to support the Labour lead council, or vote for their leader as a parliamentary candidate.
    We need to value the things we already have in my beloved home town by cleaning them up, mending the broken bits, and listening to the locals. Save spending on “consultants’ fees”, and pie-in-the-sky, arty-farty projects.
    Let’s hope the DFLs and OFBs (Over from Brightons)came here because they like it, not just because property here was cheaper.
    We, and our family silver, are not for sale by short-sighted politicians and their mates.
    See planning application to reduce percentage of affordable housing on Archery Road College sight. It’s like living in an “The Archers” story-line.

    Comment by Penny — Thursday, Aug 23, 2018 @ 09:11

  17. ken davis

    There is much to give thought to here for sure not least that on both sides of cases such as this there is much opinion and not a lot of fact! There is a wonderful, now quite old, article given to all planning students titled ‘The Science of Muddling Through’ by Charles Lindblom which essentially charts the management of style typical of local government (national too!) of incremental change, and it is this style that chokes innovative approaches to the type of (sustainable) development we need. For example society endlessly discusses ‘the housing crisis’ when in fact we have a job location crisis, and locally we suffer non-participative ‘consultation’ on small sections of the town without knowing how they fit into a larger vision for the whole place. The latter might include, for example, do we all want Hastings to go on expanding seemingly without end?…the city of Hastings. Covering most of the green space between Hastings and St.Leonards with built space does on the face of it seem a step too far if the local distinctiveness of both are to be maintained, but do we need to touch it at all if only some of the small infill sites in Hastings (of which there are hundreds) are developed? Such fundamental questions are not even raised in the so called Local Plan because it can only ‘see’ incremental change.Result: a continuing muddle.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Aug 23, 2018 @ 09:05

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