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Summerfields Woods.

Summerfields Woods.

Action plan puts Bohemia’s green spaces at risk

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) ask 27 questions on their proposals for Lower Bohemia and the Town Centre, for public response by Monday 24 September. Is this what the Borough needs or wants? asks Bernard McGinley.

The Oval and related green spaces of lower Bohemia are under clear threat in proposals formally known as the Hastings Town Centre and Bohemia Area Action Plan (AAP).

The plan draws on the Hastings Planning Strategy (2014) and the Development Management Plan (2015), the White Rock Park & Bohemia Strategy (2017) and other reports such Bilfinger GVA on the Town Centre and White Rock (2016) and Wessex Economics on allegedly required housing, including buy-to-let (2018). In the AAP, eight ‘Opportunity Areas’ (with specific sites) are identified and analysed, from Morrisons to the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus and Horntye Park.

The threats were previously discussed in HOT here.

The threat of a new posh ghetto was also reported.

‘Unique heritage’

Frequently the AAP refers to our ‘unique heritage,’ then proposes to trash it, again.  

our unique heritage, natural environment and seaside location  . . . a unique sense of place. (Paragraph 1.4, page 8)

It will be important to protect and enhance the heritage value of the area  . . . area’s unique heritage (Para 3.17, p20)

. . . renowned for its natural assets, unique heritage, culture, market . . .(Para 3.59, p26)

The AAP seeks to ensure that new development respects the area’s unique heritage and is of a high design quality. (Para 4.10, p30)

The Council recognises the unique heritage of Bohemia . . .   (Policy OA7, p94).

Shakespeare’s line about protesting too much comes to mind. The integrity of St Leonards and Hastings is at great risk, and seeking to ensure ‘a high design quality’ does not reassure.

Polite aspiration is made to the

promotion of the highest standards of modern architecture (Para 5.26, p46).  

While modern architecture can be beautiful and welcome, who would trust HBC to deliver it? How many buildings of genuine merit have been put up here since (say) 1945? The lost buildings of merit are far greater (on the Ridge, for instance), and the effect has been persistent damage to the largely Victorian integrity of the town.

A vibrant vision

Regarding the possibility of ‘enabling development’ for the Convent, HBC is vague in confirming that anything proposed will be expected to be in line with Historic England’s longstanding advice on the subject, and whether any new development there would be expected to provide income for the maintenance of the old assets.

Instead the AAP is scattered full of feel-good, boosterish aspiration:

The objective will be to create value through the promotion of high quality development, open spaces and public realm. (Para 8.3, p103 )

The policies provide a framework for mixed use development and public realm improvements and build on policies in the Development Management Plan with a stronger focus on retail development. (Question 19, p62)

Words such as ‘vibrant’, ‘vision’, ‘creative’ and ‘quality’ abound — but not as much as ‘retail’ and ‘shopping’. Among the terms not used are ‘cricket’, ‘public toilets’, ‘SeaSpace’, ‘[Museum] bridge’, ‘online shopping’, ‘Pugin’, ‘London Road’, ‘University’ and ‘civic pride’.

Some of the proposals are fairly uncontroversial, such as the redevelopment of Priory Street. Others, such as the future of White Rock Theatre, are more contentious. Should it be ambitiously rebuilt, perhaps to include conference facilities? And what funding regime would be most suitable? These matters have extensive points of consideration.

For the Royal Mail delivery office site at Hastings station, a hotel is proposed. Further east, the old Hollingsworth Garage site on the south side of Braybrooke Road (Site SAP2 in the Development Management Plan) is not in the AAP area to be considered. (Fifty six dwellings have been allocated for the site there — a block of flats with Castle views. The height remains undecided and contentious.)

Similarly strangely, York Gardens that cuts Queen’s Arcade in the town centre, and cries out for some sympathetic regen goes unmentioned.

Another omission is on the designated seafront for the AAP, that extends from Warrior Square to beyond Pelham Crescent: the underground spaces and tunnels, prime candidates for assessment for refurbishment and reuse, are not mentioned.

Among the transport connectivity uptalk is the unexpected detail that the Hastings station site has ‘the potential to accommodate HS1 in the future’ (Para 4.14, OA1, p32).

The ups and downs of retail.

While Priory Meadow mulls expansion, River Island has decided to withdraw.

Retail is detail

The AAP deals with the town centre and also with White Rock and the extensive hinterland of the Pier. Throughout there is a recurring emphasis on the primacy of retail activity:

The DMP [Development Management Plan] sets out development management policies including for the protection of retail uses within the defined Hastings Town Centre Shopping Area (Para 2.15, p14)

There are connexions to the Hastings BID (Business Improvement District), which is mentioned at paras 5.7,  5,36, 6.28 and 8.5, and is one of a number of BID schemes nationwide, as a Parliamentary note explains.

The BID team includes Cllr Peter Chowney, leader of Hastings Borough Council, and Cllr Godfrey Daniel for East Sussex County Council (ESCC) (and a former chair of HBC planning committee). Both are directors of the legal vehicle for the BID, a company set up in 2017 called Love Hastings Ltd. The icky name is fully deserving of the retort that many love Hastings including for its spaces ditto St Leonards  and do not want to see the borough more resemble downtown Crawley (say).

The BID steering group includes ‘Lord’ Brett McLean, who has connexions to the Pier’s new management. (This is another detail that makes the reported communication breakdown in June between HBC and the Pier’s new owner all the more incomprehensible.)

The AAP retail details are based on information from 2016, since when BHS has closed down and River Island has left Priory Meadow (and emphasised its online retail strategy). The town centre (including Robertson Street and the America Ground) has numerous empty properties. This is part of a national trend.

Even so there is a mysterious reference to meeting

the requirement for additional retail floorspace in the town centre (Par 6.17, p59)

Whose requirement this is (and since when) is not stated. It is however ironic that the AAP’s discussion of ‘Bohemia’ stops at exactly that point where residential Bohemia begins and where the shopping parades have been turned into accommodation in the last 10 or so years. Some beautiful listed shops stand unused.

The Oval.

The Oval.


An area of high quality apartments is proposed on the site of the Oval  (Para 7.40, p90)

Summerfields and Horntye are down to contribute 250 units each (Table 2, p37), and a large hotel by the Clambers site on White Rock Road is proposed (Para 7.34, p89).

How such major development is compatible with wooden declarations such as

The unique green and open character at White Rock and Bohemia will be incorporated into new development with a robust network of parks and green spaces. (Para 4.12, p31)

is not clear or rather, not possible. Such statements are mere lip service. This circle cannot be squared.

Visitors to Hastings (and residents too) often comment on the beauty of the Old Town’s setting, between the East and West Hills. The author of the standard local history, J Manwaring Baines, wrote about the town’s celebrated 18th-century mayor, John Collier, who owned those sites, and showed some true vision:

the hills surrounding the town were kept unspoiled by buildings and were ultimately purchased from his successors by the corporation . . . he inaugurated a tradition of generosity where the corporation was concerned which has been continued . . .

(Historic Hastings, 1986 edition, p64)

HBC owns most of the spaces now under threat — but prefers to regard them as assets to be sweated instead. The existence of conservation areas such as Eversfield Place, Magdalen Road, White Rock and the Town Centre (and their settings) scarcely exist here even to be acknowledged.

The Oval - a popular space for games.

The Oval – a popular space for games.


White Rock Gardens is said to be be ‘underutilised’, with ‘neglected and largely unused areas’ (Para 3.10, p17). Not mentioned is that some tennis courts are gone from the Gardens, and the pavilion for hiring putting equipment is a trudge away and back (and back again). So whose neglect is this? There is no mention of the abandoned bowling greens, or the removal of fixed goalposts from the Oval some years ago. On Sunday 9 September however, many teams and people enjoyed the space and sport, using temporary goalposts.

Falaise Fitness Centre, well signed in contrast to White Rock Gardens.

Falaise Fitness Centre, well signed in contrast to White Rock Gardens.

There are no prominent or external signs indicating that this is White Rock Gardens, a public space for public use, with giveaway words such as ‘Gardens’ or ‘Park’ though there are several for Falaise Fitness Centre.

On p29, one of the reported ‘threats’ to the area strangely is:

Loss of retail, sports and cultural facilities

but not the loss of the leisure to take a long walk and enjoy sea views (dog and friends optional). Even many seaside towns don’t have that.

Throughout the AAP, the word ‘gateway’ occurs a lot, suggesting a transition from one place or atmosphere to another. But if everywhere is increasingly ‘mixed-use’ and suburbia, there is little gateway to experience.  

Varying the tone slightly, Para 5.24 (p45) mentions ‘defining and enhancing arrival points’. The last point made is that new development will be expected to improve the

quality of the townscape: through public art, lighting, and the enhancement of key views and landmarks.

The Oval: not a visual landmark. Who knew?

The Oval: not a visual landmark. Who knew?

This of course is the opposite of what is proposed to happen in lower Bohemia. The map on p56 does not even acknowledge that the Oval is in and of itself a visual landmark. The bovine comment in Policy WRP2 (p91) that

New buildings will be located on the higher part of the site and The Oval to minimise impacts on heritage assets

is another contradiction in terms.

27 questions or one?

The AAP asks 27 questions on the proposals. Typically the question is ‘Do you agree with what is proposed here, and the policies cited? If not, what would you do differently?’.

These questions are technocratic ones and ultimately deserve technocratic responses, up to and including a statement that these policies either as cast or as implemented are not good enough.

But the questions importantly amount to one issue (possibly two).  

  • Is there a case for building over these spaces?
  • Do the people of this Borough want to lose the open spaces between St Leonards and Hastings on both sides of lower Bohemia Road?

If the answers tend towards no, advise HBC to that effect.

As for the various proposals about the Opportunity Areas and sites, specific related policies are stated from the Hastings Planning Strategy and the Development Management Plan. A particular giveaway is that in very many cases (33 in all), Policy DM1, Design Principles, is cited as relevant. There is little evidence that HBC knows anything about design principles. The view of Verulam Place from the Pier is one example (and Denmark Place another).

Verulam Place now...

Verulam Place now…

...and in 1905.

…and in 1905, dominated by the Grand Hotel.






The Council’s Policy DM1 a) is about ‘Protecting and enhancing local character’DM1 b) concerns ‘Showing an appreciation of the surrounding neighbourhood’s historic context . . . ’, and so on. (In addition, Policy AAP6 of this AAP document, p46, is expressly on ‘Delivering Good Design’ and is unconvincing.)

Although White Rock Gardens is described as a ‘historic asset’  (Para 7.31, p88), the western parts of it are no less so. The proposal to treat the land between the Convent and Falaise Road as a skate park and car park with a different branding (‘White Rock Park’ or ‘White Rock Sports Park’ in the AAP) also jeopardises the future of the Convent.

The Italianate East Wing of the Convent, under risk.

The Italianate East Wing of the Convent, under risk.

Many such worries abound about Horntye Park, Summerfields, the Oval, White Rock Gardens and the Convent.  (The Convent’s Italianate East Wing remains at risk, for instance, and its playing fields could have a future in an area of increasing population.)

That proposals to improve Queens Road and Priory Meadow got wrapped up with the future of green spaces often north of the railway line makes little sense, unless the provision of more shoppers was the intention.

Additionally HBC have done little to explain their  processes of policy-making and decision-making, including direction by central government, and the often expensive involvement of Bilfinger GVA, Wessex Economics, SeaChange, Love Hastings Ltd, South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) and others.

It’s said that doctors bury their mistakes. Planners and developers build theirs.

These proposed major works in lower Bohemia would trash the ‘unique heritage’ of the Borough that HBC claims to have a concern for.

Instead the Summary Leaflet states ominously:

Once adopted , the AAP will form part of a suite of Local Plan documents and . . . will be used for Development Management purposes in the determination of planning applications.

These major spaces should not be built over to do irreversible damage to St Leonards and Hastings.

The deadline for comments is Monday 24 September at 4pm.

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Thank you for your continued support!

Posted 11:01 Tuesday, Sep 11, 2018 In: Home Ground


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Richard Kembry

    The link which I have given below is correct but does not currently show the objective of the petition.

    This is because the petition requires 5 signatories to be considered for publication. Once published the full petition objective is published along with it.

    For your information the petition objective is as follows:

    To Reject Hastings Borough Council’s proposals in The Bohemia Area Action Plan

    To Reject The Development of the White Rock Gardens, White Rock Park and The Oval which are under threat of destruction by Hastings Borough Council’s development proposals in ‘The Bohemia Area Action Plan’.

    All three areas are joined together and have individual character features, they are are named White Rock Park, White Rock gardens and at the top, the jewel in the crown of Bohemia The Oval. Currently these are heritage landmarks in the form of publicly owned green space in the conservation area and Hastings Council plan to destroy them and build a massive housing complex in their place.

    Comment by Richard Kembry — Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018 @ 23:37

  2. Richard Kembry

    Please sign my online petition on the UK Parliament Website regarding opposing these plans, the Bohemia Area Action Plan.

    Comment by Richard Kembry — Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018 @ 17:57

  3. Mr Hippolyte Grigg

    The integrity of Hastings must be protected and any developments must have a eye on providing empolyment to reduce the chronic jobless total in the area and not just seasonal.

    Comment by Mr Hippolyte Grigg — Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018 @ 16:44

  4. Juanita Homan

    Greatly appreciate all your research and valiant efforts to restrain HBC Planning Dept. from inflicting yet more mediocre buildings and bad planning on our beautiful historic Hastings and St. Leonards. Let’s keep the place in aspic until HBC can find some first class architects who can respect architectural precedent, a local excellent example being ‘The Jerwood Gallery’ which merges in so beautifully with the black Fisherman’s Huts in Rock a Nore.

    Yes, let’s avoid anymore Municipal Vandalism!

    Comment by Juanita Homan — Thursday, Sep 13, 2018 @ 13:21

  5. DAR

    Bravo, Bernard, for all this research. Re: White Rock Gardens, I recognise the “under-utilised” trope used so often by HBC (and other councils). The ploy is this: councils neglect investment and their responsibilities for particular areas, let them fall into disrepair to the point where they can say they are ripe for development because they are – unsurprisingly – “under-utilised” (see also rail privatisation as a different example of this ploy).

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Sep 13, 2018 @ 10:39

  6. Ms.Doubtfire

    When will this council appreciate the wonderful green spaces and historical buildings which make our town so special?
    Why are they seeking to destroy all that which is so wonderful and important to this town?
    Ancient woodlands, historic buildings, precious artefacts – all at risk.
    One has to ask where is the historic Imperial staircase which was entrusted to the care of Hastings council when the lovely Bohemia House was demolished in the 70’s. Nobody seems to know the fate of this important staircase. Someone must know.
    It would well behove the council planners and all the others so keen to spoil our town to have a look at the Bohemia and Summerfields website which is do aptly entitled Municipal Vandalism. This can be found on the excellent website – worth a look.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Tuesday, Sep 11, 2018 @ 17:19

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