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Laser Lane off Kings Road in St Leonards.

Community interest groups ignored as HBC seeks go-ahead to gate three passage-ways

Hastings Borough Council’s proposal to gate three public passage-ways which are the scene of anti-social and criminal behaviour are being questioned on behalf of community interest groups whose views were never consulted. Nick Terdre reports.

The matter comes up before the council’s Cabinet tomorrow, Monday 1 March, when it will consider a motion to close off the three rights of way: Valentine’s Passage and Laser Lane, both in central St Leonards, and an unnamed passage-way – the so-called Brass Monkey cut-through – between Havelock Road and Priory Street in Hastings town centre.

If the motion is approved, the three paths will remain closed for up to two years before a review is held.

In a letter to Mike Hepworth, assistant director, Environment and Place, Malcolm McDonnell of Living Streets, Hastings and St Leonards, said it was astonishing the council’s consultation failed to include “Living Streets, The Ramblers or the Open Spaces Society, the three primary national organisations representing the interests and well being of pedestrians,” and particularly Living Streets which is mainly concerned with the urban environment.

During the pandemic “many more people have discovered the pleasures of walking,” McDonnell wrote. “Gating these three Public Rights of Way goes against the current trend of extending public spaces and places for people to walk in safety away from traffic, and should only ever be a last resort.”

“…We understand the need to maintain the safety of local residents but closing the paths will simply move bad behaviour elsewhere.”

Valentine’s Passage, which runs between Shepherd Street and North Street in St Leonards.

Backward step

Julia Hilton of Living Streets and the Greenway Trust called the proposal “…such a backward step and not the way to deal with these issues. In fact gating alleys often leads to other problems and the danger is that this leads to further erosion of rights of way.

“No local walking groups were consulted about these closures and it seems to be the way with this ‘Community Safety’ work that it is all kept very quiet until almost too late to do anything.”

Hilton suggests writing letters to Cllr Paul Barnett, community safety lead, the relevant ward councillors – Ruby Cox and Trevor Webb for Central St Leonards and Leah Levane and Judy Rogers for Castle – and the council’s community safety officer John Whittington.

Responding to the consultation East Sussex County Council’s Rights of Way officer Matthew Harper expressed “concerns about the use of the powers to gate public paths in the interest of addressing issues which have the potential to affect a large proportion of urban paths.”

Untenable precedent

“The Borough Council needs to be satisfied that the factors affecting these paths are such that the proposals do not set an untenable precedent for dealing with similar problems elsewhere on the footpath network. The threshold for closing paths to the public clearly needs to be high to avoid a situation where the network risks being gradually and permanently eroded,” he wrote.

The county council’s preference would be “to see a less restrictive approach attempted. We would suggest, initially at least, that closure of the paths at night with access maintained during defined daytime hours should be attempted.”

In his report Hepworth said the three public rights of way have been “the focus for considerable crime and anti-social behaviour.”

“Residents and local businesses have asked the council and police several times to take steps to deal with the crime and antisocial behaviour associated with these footpaths. The behaviour reported includes: drug dealing, noise and shouting (from drug dealers and potential clients), street drinking, arson, public defecation, prostitution, fly-tipping, graffiti, dog fouling, litter accumulations and some instances of public place violent crime.”

Installation of a CCTV surveillance scheme (which has the potential for upgrading to allow facial recognition) is currently being considered for Central St Leonards. It would be paid for by the Home Office’s Safer Streets Fund. Both the rights of way in St Leonards fall within a Safer Streets project.

Where the two rights of way are concerned, the Safer Streets initiative would seem to have failed, though it appears that the new surveillance scheme is not being given a chance to prove its worth.

If the gating motion is passed, residents may face the prospect of the anti-social and criminal behaviour being displaced to new locations, followed by further complaints and gatings, rather than a lasting solution being sought for the problem.


This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 2 March 2021.

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Posted 12:54 Sunday, Feb 28, 2021 In: Local News

1 Comment

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  1. Bernard McGinley

    The Cabinet discussion made no mention of Living Streets or the Ramblers or the Open Spaces Society. Nor was there mention of the Hideaway, the new development in Laser Lane (though the report mentions briefly those flats at par 32). The whole block is for sale at John Bray.

    No one considered that closure might promote antisocial behaviour rather than discourage it.

    The discussion also ignored that the proposals are not night closures but permanent. Right of way ‘is restricted at all times every day by the erection of a gate at both ends of the footpath’.

    At 23 mins, the HBC officer introducing the report said ‘Although we’re requesting that three alleys be gated, they’re not linked, and so each needs to be decided on its own merits. So for example if you said Yes to one of them, this doesn’t mean you have to say Yes to all three.’.

    How dim does he think Councillors are?

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Friday, Mar 5, 2021 @ 10:36

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