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Community activist Jess Steele facilitating the open forum held at the Marina Fountain pub.

Community activist Jess Steele facilitating the open forum held at the Marina Fountain pub.

Grassroots initiative to identify what West St Leonards community really wants

Prompted by what are widely seen as inappropriate council plans for the old bathing pool site in West Marina, the West St Leonards community is now seeking to organise itself to have a greater say in what happens in its area. These efforts are being headed by the West St Leonards Forum, on whose behalf Bryan Fisher has issued this press release. Photos by Chris Lewcock.

The area of our Borough called ‘West St Leonards’ now has a community acting together. Local community interest groups, such as S.O.B.S. (Save Our Bathing Site) and the West Marina Group, are being brought under the umbrella of the new West St Leonards Forum, the purpose of which is act on behalf of West St Leonards residents, businesses and community groups as the interface with Hastings Borough Council.

This follows the successful distribution of over 2,000 questionnaires to local residents, aimed at encouraging residents and local amenity groups to work together for a better future for West St Leonards. Over 200 completed questionnaires were returned, which is a very high return rate, and indicates the level of interest. The contents of the questionnaires are still being analysed. In the next few weeks the West St Leonards Forum will provide on-line and leaflet-form feedback to local residents and set out a course for future work.

Meanwhile, on a cold Thursday evening in February I went along to an ‘Open Forum’ organised by the West St Leonards Forum. This was the second of three scheduled events, aimed at encouraging all those living, working, or participating in sports and social activities to work together for a better future for West St Leonards. The three Open Forums were held at different venues and different times of the day in order to maximise the opportunities for those who wanted to attend one.

Each of the Open Forums was as well attended (with over 70 attendees in total), and each had a different facilitator. Mine was community activist Jess Steele, who urged those attending to identify the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the West St Leonards area. We then split into groups, but all the points raised by each group were discussed as a forum.

Discussing in grous at the Open Forum in the Discovery Centre.

Group discussions at the Open Forum held in the Discovery Centre.

Lively and passionate

The discussions were lively and often vocal, but always passionate in wanting the best for our neighbourhood. I left that Open Forum feeling very upbeat about our ability to help shape our neighbourhood. Virginia Vilela, also a member of the West St Leonards Forum, said, “The initial response appears very positive and the Open Forums brought forward many interesting ideas. The overall feeling was definitely a strong desire for a group to work together in the neighbourhood. It is an exciting start!”

The funding for the questionnaires and Open Forums was provided by the Common Treasury and Locality, to whom we are grateful. The aim is to encourage residents, businesses and local amenity groups to work together, and speak with a common voice when working with Hastings Borough Council, in order to gain a better future for West St Leonards.

The successful start made to date will now be followed by a similar exercise with local businesses, schools and local amenity groups (such as windsurfers, sports teams, Sea Cadets and artists). If the initial positive response from local residents is repeated then it is expected that the West St Leonards Forum will act as the local area’s ‘voice’ when working with the council to improve the area.

The interfacing between neighbourhood groups and local councils is guided by UK government legislation laid out during David Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister. An important part of this is the right to generate a Neighbourhood Plan in collaboration with the local council. Neighbourhood Plans constitute an agreed development plan for the area and are ratified by a referendum of the local area in question. So the ultimate aim is to ensure that as much control over an area’s future as possible rests with its local community.

Meeting political parties

As part of the proposed engagement with Hastings Borough Council the West St Leonards Forum is seeking to meet with local political parties. The first of those meetings has already occurred, where I joined other West St Leonards Forum members in meeting Conservative Party representatives.

The meeting was hosted by Sally Ann Hart, MP for Hastings & Rye, and included Conservative councillors on Hastings Borough Council. One topic that came up frequently in the questionnaires, Open Forums and at this meeting was that of the proposed housing development on the Old Bathing Pool site. We all felt the meeting was both positive and encouraging, with our MP equally contributing and listening.

The West St Leonards Forum is now seeking invites from the other parties too, and is expecting to meet with the Labour Party in early March.

 

The West St Leonards Forum can be contacted through their website.

See here for a good explanation of what a Neighbourhood Plan entails and its benefits.

See also Help shape St Leonards’ future – don’t miss public meetings this week

Posted 17:44 Friday, Feb 21, 2020 In: Grassroots

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    No mention of the proposed development at Bulverhythe – surely this merits further publicity? A recent statement by the Environment Agency has issued strong warnings about building homes on flood plains…and Bulverhythe is a notorious flood plain.
    Why wasn’t this foolhardly proposal raised at this meeting?? This link outlines the seriousness of these warnings….is Hastings council without any shame at all? Does their arrogance breach all boundaries?
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51620992

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Feb 28, 2020 @ 12:54

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