“Oi! SeaSpace / SeaChange / HBRL / whatever your name is: this land is our land”
Last Saturday saw a forgotten patch of land in Ore Valley become the centre of attention for the first time since the Broomgrove power station burned down 17 years ago. HOT’s Erica Smith was a volunteer steward. In between directing cars to the College car park, her thoughts turned to SeaSpace, SeaChange and the Great Battle for Neighbourhood Renewal. Scroll to the bottom of this article to find out how you can show your support for this brilliant community-led regeneration project.
The flyer promised a “Festival of Food, Music and Riot” but the atmosphere on the old power station site was as sunny as the day. There was a stage with a programme of poetry, speeches and music, a temporary kitchen serving delicious free soup and burgers, and three containers of scenes of dystopian mayhem on a tiny scale – the work of Jimmy Cauty (of KLF fame). Unlike a riot, the event was managed in a relaxed but efficient way. I was one of several stewards and adults and children were happy to follow the simple rules: wear sensible footwear; don’t park in Firtree Road; sign in; and keep dogs on leads. Altogether 495 people signed in and the vibe was that of a village fete, albeit on a rather derelict village green.
This is an appropriate resting place for Cauty’s ‘Aftermath Dislocation Principle’ now that it has toured the country. Last year, Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust were granted licence by Hastings Borough Council to be on site in order to undertake an environmental audit, work with Turner Prize winning community architects Assemble and start working with the local community, consulting and building a ‘Bottom Up Development team’ – using the strategy developed at Marsh Farm in Luton. The plan is to train local people so they have the organisational and practical skills to build affordable housing in their home town.
This approach would be a first for Hastings – up until now (with the exception of the Pier), the regeneration of the town has been very much ‘done to us’ rather than ‘done by us’. As a result of this, the community has been left feeling not empowered, not enriched, just ‘done’.
The land is currently owned by SeaSpace – the organisation set up to deliver economic regeneration of Hastings back in 2003. This is currently a problem for Heart of Hastings who have recently been unable to make contact with SeaSpace in order to confirm that they are happy for the land to be handed over to Heart of Hastings for a permanent community-led development to begin. This is despite support for Heart of Hastings’ plans from Hastings Borough Council, Sussex Coast College Hastings, Hastings Voluntary Action and established community organisations including Project Artworks and Big Local North East Hastings.
Up until recently, this plot of land had been seen as a ‘liability’ rather than an asset because of its awkward topography and the danger of toxic substances left in the land as a result of the power station fire. Perhaps SeaSpace is reluctant to commit to the hand-over because land prices are now rising and they want to capitalise on the site after all?
It is true that it is not easy to contact SeaSpace. Here’s a quick and hopefully not too confusing back story. SeaSpace was set up in 2003 by the now defunct regional development agency SEEDA (South East England Development Agency). Significant amounts of land were given to SeaSpace by Hastings and Bexhill councils, SEEDA and the Homes and Communities Agency in order to provide economic and social regeneration. SeaSpace is actually the ‘trading name’ of something called HBRL – Hastings and Bexhill Renaissance Limited. Neither HBRL nor SeaSpace have a website, which seems a little mysterious for publicly funded bodies that should be publicly accountable.
To add to the mix, there is a further organisation called SeaChange Sussex – which describes itself as ‘the not-for-profit economic development company for the county’. Amongst other things, SeaChange Sussex has been responsible for the Link Road, the Queensway North and Queensway Gateway developments and the Priory Quarter in Hastings town centre.
The Chair of both SeaChange and SeaSpace is Julian Crampton – the former Vice Chancellor of University of Brighton. That’s the same University that has just announced that it wishes to withdraw from the Priory Quarter buildings that SeaSpace initially built as office space in order to bring employment to the town. Some people might say that pressure was put on the University of Brighton to move into Hastings and find a purpose for the empty commercial units. Commitment to Hastings has always been half-hearted and the appointment of the new Vice Chancellor has made it easier for the University to walk away from Hastings.
The plot of land adjoining the power station site to the north (‘the Stills site’) has just been sold by SeaSpace for private development for a significant amount of money. There are concerns that this sale was carried out in breach of SeaSpace’s constitution by selling it without consulting with representatives of the three local councils. See Hastings Independent Press article for details.
If this land has been sold at a premium for private sector development, what is going to happen to the money? Surely this would be of best benefit to the local community (which is in the top 1% poorest in England) if it was invested in a community-led development for affordable housing on the old power station site?
What can I do?
If you want to show your support for the Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust’s plans, you can sign their petition, which is now available online.
If you feel that the SeaChange Sussex website doesn’t tell you much about what’s been going on, then it might be worth looking at SeaChange Watch – a website developed by some Hastings residents who have concerns about how the mysterious trinity of HBRL/SeaSpace/SeaChange is operating in the area.
If you want to contact SeaSpace, SeaChange, HBRL or Julian Crampton, you can contact them care of:
Tracey Murray, SeaChange Sussex, Innovation Centre, Highfield Drive, St Leonards, East Sussex TN38 9UH
T: 01424 858 287
You can also contact Councillor Peter Chowney – Leader of Hastings Borough Council and SeaChange board member: email@example.com
and Councillor Dawn Poole – Regeneration and Culture Portfolio Holder
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