Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

The former Observer building is set for a new lease of life (image: WRNV).

Council go-ahead for Observer building renovation

WRVN’s plans to transform the former Observer building in the Trinity Triangle have been given the go-ahead by council planners. The project is part of the Heritage Action Zone initiative, for which Historic England has announced funding of £2m. Nick Terdre reports.

White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures’ application to renovate the former Observer building in Cambridge Road has been granted approval by Hastings Borough Council planning department under delegated powers. After lying redundant and largely neglected for 35 years, the iconic building in the Trinity Triangle is finally set for a new lease of life at the heart of the local community.

The £3.5m plan calls for the former building, originally the home of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer, to be transformed with the creation of 15 residential units, work pods and offices, an event space, gym and microbrewery, and eventually the addition of new storeys and a rooftop garden and bar. This will take place in stages – in the first, funds raised so far will allow the development of the lower four floors, social enterprise developer WRVN says.

Bids for the work will be invited in November and a contractor appointed by Christmas. Work will start in the New Year and is expected to continue until 2022, though facilities will come into operation as they are ready – the brewery and taproom are scheduled to open in spring next year. Further fundraising will be required to finance the second stage, when the capped-rent residential units will be built, new storeys added and the new rooftop installed.

History of neglect

Since the newspaper moved out of the town centre in 1985, the building has had 14 different owners and nearly as many planning permissions, WRNV says. Most of the previous owners were interested only in speculative sales, and none carried out any repair work, so the building has fallen into a state of dilapidation. It was finally acquired by WRVN in February last year.

“The Observer Building has suffered 35 years of dereliction, speculation and extraction,” said WRVN project director Jess Steele. “This is the first time it has had a deliverable planning permission and the resources in place to deliver it. There is still a long way to go but it’s going to happen!”

Funds for the first stage have been raised from Historic England, Connecting Hastings and Rother Together (Chart)/European Regional Development Fund (£405,000) and South-East Local Enterprise Partnership (loan of £1.75m).

View of the new interior as visualised by computer (image: WRVN).

£2m for Heritage Action Zone

The transformation of the former Observer building is a key project within the High Streets Heritage Action Zone initiative launched by Historic England to revive high streets and reinvigorate the community spirit in neglected town centres. In Hastings the project is fronted by the Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust.

Having been reluctant in past months to go public with its funding, Historic England has now announced that it has allocated £2m for the Trinity Triangle Heritage Action Zone. This is almost one quarter of  the £8.4m it is channelling to seven South East towns to “develop and deliver schemes that will transform and restore disused and dilapidated buildings into new homes, shops, work places and community spaces, restoring local historic character and improving [the] public realm.”

The Trinity Triangle area faces the twin problems of dereliction and gentrification, exemplified by a shortage of housing, crime and anti-social behaviour, and the dilapidation of historic buildings, according to Historic England.

“The High Streets Heritage Action Zone will see a drive to bring empty and dilapidated historic buildings back to life to provide housing, workspaces, a gallery and shops that are affordable,” the agency says.

“This community-led scheme aims to engage local people and provide opportunities to find out more about the history of the area and learn new skills.”

The initiative will see 68 town centres across England benefiting from £95m of government funding dispensed by Historic England.


Posted 11:31 Thursday, Sep 24, 2020 In: Home Ground

1 Comment

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  1. Keith Piggott

    Thanks to STOMP. Anyone remember our 2006 campaign? KP

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Sunday, Sep 27, 2020 @ 23:38

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