Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

The Hastings Country Park visitor centre which the council plans to replace.

In favour of the new visitor centre

HOT reader and Country Park enthusiast Andy Lee takes issue with what he feels are some misleading impressions given in a recent article on developments in the park.

I am entirely sympathetic to the views expressed about ‘The Bunker’ in your article on the Country Park entitled New blots, old landscape. It is an eyesore and should be removed. My purpose in writing this however is to correct the impression that your readers may have gained from the parts of the article that covered the proposals for the new visitor centre and also the comments regarding gorse removal.

Your correspondent has seemingly not researched the existing visitor centre. A brief visit and conversation with the volunteers that staff the facility would have revealed the inadequacy of it; not least the lack of plumbing which means that they have to shoo out the visitors, lock up the building and take a half kilometre round trip to the top car park whenever they want to go to the toilet.

Most importantly, however, the article does not mention the efforts that were made to inform and consult users of the park and local residents about the proposed new facility. These included a stand outside the existing visitor centre during some weekends last summer and a pre-planning approval public consultation meeting held at the town hall in the autumn.

Using the facilities: a magpie takes a dip in the dogs' drinking water at the visitor centre (photo: Andy Lee).

The consultation meeting was attended by a large number of members of the public, including Fairlight residents, members of the Friends of Hastings Country Park and representatives of Country Park volunteers. I attended the meeting as a frequent user of the park and occasional conservation volunteer.

At this meeting there was an open discussion about the limitations of the existing building and the emerging plans for the new facility. This included:

  • the relative merits of alternative sites;
  • the aim of ensuring high environmental construction standards, e.g. straw bale build;
  • the aim of making the facility as unobtrusive as possible; and
  • the aim of using this as an opportunity to promote the awareness, understanding, and use of the park.

Everyone attending the meeting was encouraged to ask questions and to express their views.

The impression that I gained from the meeting was that most attendees were very positive and quite excited about the plans. The only dissent that I recall was the owner of the local cafe who understandably was concerned about the potential competition for the hot drinks market at that end of the park.

The other misleading comment in the article is the reference to the mechanical removal of gorse.  Had your correspondent properly researched the subject he might have better understood that the council is receiving external funding provided that it manages the Country Park to high environmental standards.

One of the elements of this, with technical advice and encouragement from Natural England, is reducing invasive species such as gorse, bracken and bramble in order to increase the amount of other habitats such as acid grassland and maritime heath. The aim of this is to protect and increase the richness and diversity of the flora and fauna in the park; quite a different story than that which your readers were led to believe.

Finally, I share concerns that any development of Warren Cottage should be carefully controlled, but in my view the sale of the cottage, which was a redundant asset, was sensible given current municipal poverty. And the suggestion that this sale and the proposed new visitor centre represent steady suburbanisation of the Country Park is not justified.

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Posted 09:56 Monday, Mar 16, 2015 In: Home Ground

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