Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

work starts 600Construction of Country Park visitor centre under way

Construction of the new visitor centre in Hastings Country Park is finally under way, with the opening expected in the autumn. Nick Terdre reports.

Construction of the new visitor centre in the Country Park started in late May, Hastings Borough Council reports. It is located in Lower Coastguard Lane in the Fire Hills area at the eastern end of the park, not far from the existing visitor centre.

The centre is being built to an innovative design based on straw bales – straw has good insulation properties, making for an energy efficient building. Construction will continue through the summer, the council says.

The project has fallen well behind its original schedule, which aimed to see it completed in 2015, not least due to difficulties in finding firms with the expertise to build it. As reported recently by council leader Peter Chowney, the work has now been contracted to three specialist straw bale builders under the leadership of SIA Design and Build.

“The centre will be home to information about the park, its geology, habitats, species and heritage,” the council said. “There will be a café for light refreshments and new accessible toilets.” It will also offer “stunning views” over the channel.

Originally costed at some £450,000, the visitor centre last year had a new budget set of £771,000, of which £402,000 towards construction costs was to be provided by the EU’s Interreg North West Europe programme. Altogether, including items such as project management, staffing and communications, Interreg NW is contributing a total of £475,000, according to the council.

The centre is part of Interreg NW’s Up Straw project under which a number of construction and insulation projects are under way in various countries to demonstrate the benefits of straw as the “premium biobased building material.”

“Hastings Borough Council is delighted to be part of the innovative Up-Straw project which aims to showcase sustainable and energy efficient building projects with reduced carbon footprints,” says lead councillor for the environment Colin Fitzgerald.

“The project will deliver a new visitor facility for this very special site, which is one of the country’s foremost coastal nature reserves, with a high quality space for schools, local communities and visitors.”

Posted 11:26 Friday, Jun 7, 2019 In: Home Ground


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  1. Eye on the ball

    We dont even need portacabins – information in the existing tourist office in Hastings Town Centre would do the trick. After all, if you have found the visitor centre, you are already in the country park. And while I’m here, considering how special the council think the country park is – so that it warrants this visitor/interpretation centre, perhaps they could ditch their idea of destroying those lovely wildlife habitats with solar farms.

    Comment by Eye on the ball — Sunday, Jun 16, 2019 @ 19:35

  2. Bolshie

    Did not intend to comment again but as so many made some great observations, I must add a little more.
    Mrs Doubtfire and Mr Hurell’s remarks how HBC seem to do what they want with their own applications, that rightly pointed out, are never refused. It reminds me back in 2008 (?) when the council owned Robsack meadow came up to build apartments on this lovely natural piece of greenfield land. Then chairman, the never forgotten, Cllr Daniel warned “his” planning committee how they Must pass the application or it would go to appeal. So HBC would go to the Planning Inspectorate and file and appeal over its own council refusing an application !!! You could not make it up could you.
    As this building will be for transient people wanting some direction or leaflets, what would be wrong with a couple of Portakabins nicely decorated to blend in with the flora. Or am I being really trashy?

    Comment by Bolshie — Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019 @ 16:45

  3. Ms.Doubtfire

    One commentator here has described this straw fiasco as a ‘bit silly’ – it is more than a bit silly old chap…it is downright foolhardy and a waste of resources which should have been put to better use. It is, in a nutshell, a shameful act by this feckless council. But this council has no shame.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019 @ 13:06

  4. ken davis

    Straw construction is definitely not innovative; been done for thousands of years. Not all that energy efficient either in comparison with modern insulants. Due to the thicker walls, need to lift the bales well clear of wet ground and have large overhangs it is bound to be more expensive than other forms of construction but the real cost is in the labour of placing and reinforcing the bales. All a bit silly really.

    Comment by ken davis — Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019 @ 12:20

  5. Bernard McGinley

    The Visitor Centre cases amount to a dubious shambles, procedurally and financially:

    Many objections have pointed out aspects that are wrong.

    Now construction work has begun while HS/FA/19/00303 (on sewerage) remains unresolved. This is puzzling.

    The ‘Hottie’ has commented frequently, such as here:

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019 @ 10:31

  6. Ms.Doubtfire

    Some really pertinent comments on this article….good to see that not everyone is allowing the wool to be pulled over their eyes here! As Chris Hurrell points out there is a plethora of issues surrounding this project not least of which is the way in which this council appears able to by pass all planning legislation. Especially when it is their own project – great isnt it – HBC never ever have their own planning applications refused do they? There have been large scale alterations to this planning application and for any other applicant there would have been strict policies which they would have needed to follow – with this straw folly the council appears to be able to spend whatever they wish and by pass the normal routes for planning application approval. And lets be honest here – how many people actually visit the existing visitor centre? How many people will visit the new centre? A whole heap of money spent on a folly and this when we do not even have a place to spend a penny in the town centre!
    Hastings Council should be ashamed and in particular their Leader who simply ignores residents concerns and just ploughs on spending millions of pounds of borrowed money on foolhardy projects whilst all the time crying ‘deprivation and poverty in this town’ – Well he isnt exactly helping to alleviate any deprivation here is he…what use will a straw house be to those who so desperately need decent housing in Hastings?
    I suggest readers check out the meaning of ‘man of straw’ – it surely is compatible with what has gone on here. And I have yet to hear one single word of praise for this straw folly – any praises have of course come from the Leaders colleagues. One who stated he would be looking forward to having drinks on the terrace!!!! Good luck to him.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019 @ 08:36

  7. Bolshie

    This Huff & Puff house might be “innovative” but at what I perceive as a ridiculous cost. Also bearing in mind this is only a visitor centre.
    While the cost so far is put at £771,000 what is the bet that will rise. Virtually all government projects do escalate.
    And a time this council bleats on about how hard up it is. How it could not afford to keep open the only downtown public toilets.
    perhaps I am just cynical about this. I am sure there is someone out there who will tell me so.

    Comment by Bolshie — Monday, Jun 10, 2019 @ 12:04

  8. Chris Hurrell

    The planning history of the Visitor Centre is a good example of HBC as the planning authority bending the planning regulations to facilitate its own developments. HBC as planning authority should be following proper process and not playing the system for its own advantage.

    The permission for the visitor centre expired on the 6th March 2018. Permissions are granted for 3 years and expire if works have not begun. No works sufficient to be considered to be development had started by the 6th March 2018.

    Works had not started by late February because pre-commencement conditions had not been discharged and works could not commence. Southern Water refused to discharge a pre-commencement condition and the permission was in danger of lapsing.

    To avoid this embarrassment HBC moved the goal posts by removing pre-commencement conditions in breach of proper process and then dug a couple of shallow trenches claiming this constituted development. The trenches were for archaeological investigations and did not constitute development works – another breach of proper process.

    HBC have also misused minor amendments to make substantial changes to the
    design of the visitor centre without having to go through the full consultation process required for such large scale changes. This practice is also used by developers to avoid recalculation of affordable housing contributions and to minimise planning fees.

    When you are the applicant, developer and planning authority it seems you can do what you like in Mugsborough.

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Monday, Jun 10, 2019 @ 09:05

  9. Keith Piggott (Icarus)

    A house of straw? Formerly ‘costed’ at £450,000? Now £321,000 over budget,? £771,000 being extracted from public purse?

    That’s a lot of straw. I know, I’ve lifted more bales onto sleds and stacks than all the pounds here diverted from needy social projects.

    The big bad wolves didn’t even need to blow this house down, the roof came off Hastings’ piggy-bank… again! Can this phoney ‘green’ project ever be justified?

    Shame on Hastings

    Comment by Keith Piggott (Icarus) — Sunday, Jun 9, 2019 @ 22:48

  10. Captain Reality

    771k for a straw building…hmmm must be very ‘special’ straw eh?
    Sorry, but personally experiencing this end of the construction business (not the usual cheap developer type), the figures above are ridiculous.
    Where’s the quantity surveyor for this one?… perhaps looking at the latest commercial ‘investment’ building for the ‘good of Hastings’
    When the time comes, vote for change people, this town REALLY needs it!

    Comment by Captain Reality — Sunday, Jun 9, 2019 @ 21:55

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