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Room for improvement in the town centre

No passenger lift for Council’s upstairs town centre restaurant

A town centre site in Harold Place is the subject of a planning application to itself by Hastings Borough Council (HBC). The proposed restaurant is to be on the first floor, but wheelchairs and prams won’t easily get there. Bernard McGinley is unimpressed.

In 2019 HBC refused a discreet wheelchair ramp for the White Rock Hotel, while turning a blind eye to the Pier’s many breaches of planning law directly across the road. The RIBA Stirling Prizewinner (2017) continues to be abused. With the proposed restaurant in Harold Place the Council have again excelled themselves in denying wheelchair access. Application HS/FA/21/00905 is for 

Development of site of former public convenience to provide a two-storey pavilion for use as cafe bar and restaurant

The pitch is for a ‘food led business’ with a cafe bar on the ground floor but the restaurant upstairs.  

Under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), people gained rights to fair treatment in employment, education and all customer services. The DDA required building owners and service providers to make reasonable ‘adequate’ provision to ensure independent and equal access to all persons in all non-domestic environments. There was some scope for interpretation however.

Later the Act was strengthened, notably by the Equality Act 2010 that incorporated the DDA, and required all buildings with public access to ensure disabled access to all services. Inclusivity was in, and disabled access lifts and platform lifts proliferated. The Act’s intention is clear, to give less able people rights, including access to goods, facilities, and services.

So what is this strange proposed building in Harold Place? As a new building, the requirements for the disabled are well known, except apparently to HBC planners, who appear to know nothing about discrimination.

The platform lift is ineligible for a new-built property, and it is hard to see that it will remain as part of the application.  The headline of this article has been amended to clarify that there is no passenger lift proposed here (while a platform lift is a breach of the Regs and insubstantial in the application).

The Design & Access Statement (DAS) states:

As extensive seating is provided for customers both internally and externally at ground floor, the tenant does not require a lift to the first floor. However the building has been designed to allow for future flexibility with capability for a platform lift being installed in the future proving [sic] step free access to the first floor. 

(DAS, Part 3, p42)

The tenant might not require one but some diners (or potential diners) will. Even the Buildings Regulations have long stated that ‘reasonable adjustment specification’ means that: 

due regard must be given to any specific needs of likely building users that must be reasonably met.

The applicant is HBC, though the publicity often suggests it’s Loungers UK Ltd, the designated operator, who claim to offer a ‘home-from-home’ and say

everyone is made to feel welcome on an unconditional basis.

For the lack of a lift alone this café-bar-restaurant application should be rejected.  


Approval began at Full Council in February 2020. By October 2021 it was explained to the same body that 

costs have increased due to supply chain issues and COVID-19. This means that the initial estimated budget needs to be increased for the project to be completed. 

The needs went from £1.2m to £1.7m and are unlikely to stay there. It is unclear why the Council intends to borrow money for this purpose. The case is not made, and the numbers do not add up. HBC project management history is not encouraging: Azur, the Millets building, the Bale House, recent Battle Road demolitions, etc., all had major cost overruns.

Reasons to be fearful

The proposal is for a lumpen, unattractive building. The ground floor is white rapidly to become off-white from the adjacent traffic. Upstairs is blackish. The combination looks silly, an effect added to by the functional roof plant block above, with the best sea views.   

This building is not a ‘destination’: it lacks wholeness but not dullness. The balconies are small and the north one will have problems of shadow. Both will be beside traffic. 

Police concerns are substantial given the Cumulative Impact Zone (CIZ) and town-centre Special Saturation Policy Area 1, where there are issues with public order. Meanwhile there are plenty of pubs, cafés and restaurants in the area, struggling to recover from the pandemic. There’s also no shortage of empty premises that could be well converted.

The HBC building’s environmental and energy-efficiency credentials have been challenged, given the Council’s Climate Emergency Strategy 2020 criteria.  

The East Sussex County Council SUDS [sustainable drainage systems] office indicates that apparently the proposed building is to last for only 50 years, not the usual 100, and has made an objection until flooding concerns are resolved. The ‘redundant’ Harold Place public toilets lasted only 30 years. Why the low but expensive standards?

Even the HBC Conservation Officer has objected, as ‘the proposal discords with Policy HN1 and HN2 of the Hastings Development Management Plan’. 

The project is strangely similar to what happened in St Leonards about 15 years ago.  The Council decided: let’s show some ‘Vision’/revitalise the seafront/make a ‘destination’ restaurant. So public money went in but Sea Space and HBC caused damage (not regeneration), because valid concerns were not addressed. (For Azur’s Superior Lease, the Council is landlord and Hastings & Bexhill Renaissance Ltd (aka SeaSpace) is tenant.) Azur (HS/FA/04/00535) was not a success, though it had more going for it than Harold Place: ground-floor sea views for instance, and less exhaust fumes.   

Not good enough

Despite assertions, the Harold Place proposal is not for a landmark feature and does not have an attractive facade. Additionally it should not be absorbing public money on questionable assumptions. Other uses are possible for the site, such as public toilets, or a tourist office, or both.  Instead the Council proposes to erode Hastings’ exceptionality further.  

Labelling a project ‘regeneration’ or ‘high quality’ does not make it so. Clearly this building is not good enough for Hastings. There are many reasons to refuse it. Comments on the application (citing ref HS/FA/21/00905) can be made to the Council on:

or by post to:

HBC Planning Department
Muriel Matters House
Breeds Place
Hastings TN34 3UY

It is not known when the case will be decided by the Planning Committee.


This article was amended by Bernard McGinley on 25 January 2022.

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Posted 21:01 Sunday, Jan 23, 2022 In: Home Ground


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  1. Nigel Inwood

    It is difficult to see why HBC is wasting so much time and hard-earned taxpayers’ money on this project.

    The Tory Party is keen to ‘Build Back Better’. Meanwhile, among development corporations, senior executive salaries have increased exponentially, while large donations have been made to the Conservative Party. The pattern seems clear.

    What remains unclear is why a Labour-controlled council would involve itself.

    Comment by Nigel Inwood — Tuesday, Feb 8, 2022 @ 12:01

  2. Judy Appleyard

    Very disturbed to see planning permission refused for ramp at White Rock Hotel in 2019….why? Can remember conversations about that years ago. The Theatre next door has managed perfectly well . Lack of access to the beautiful terrace bar smacks of discrimination, and affects us personally as a family. HBC continues ever to move in mysterious ways, particularly in their planning department. Concerning.

    Comment by Judy Appleyard — Thursday, Jan 27, 2022 @ 09:32

  3. Mr Blair

    HBC’s plans are bonkers –
    The Loungers UK chain have over 180 venues, rapidly expanding despite the pandemic with quoted ambitions for 500, opening one new site every two wks –
    Chief executive Nick Collins told the Evening Standard: ‘We believe the Loungers and Cosy Clubs have a strong role to play in regenerating high streets. Particularly through the retail space, through the likes of Arcadia [folding], we’re seeing really good property opportunities on prime pitch on the high street which haven’t previously been available to us.”

    Loungers UK shares rise whilst they hoover up cheap high street premises to develop. It is laughable that HBC propose to spend £1.7 million (& rising) on building them bespoke premises when Hastings has an array of sites ripe for development.

    A predictable mid market model, opening early till late serving coffees & a mainly fried food menu inc 8 burger choices. Their alcoholic menu includes their ‘Tea Time Tipple’ cocktail hour with two for £9.95 – No wonder the local police have concerns.

    The building design looks cheap & ugly from the outside. At the end of its estimated short 50yr life how much will it cost to dismantle, how much will go to landfill? Are the local Greens objecting loudly enough?

    The interior plans appear unpractical. No indication of how many tables will fit in making this profitable for food covers. A 2-floor proposal given this site’s small footprint – no food lift is shown leaving waiters running up & down stairs alongside customers. The ratio of a big bar, big alcohol cellar store & bottle banks squeeze the food kitchen & service areas. No staff loo & cloakroom.

    Disability access an obvious cheap afterthought – with the single-door disability toilet squeezed directly ‘flush’ alongside the kitchen hot food serving hatch – how did Env Health ok that?! Next to the ill sited toilet is the budget ‘platform lift’. Loungers UK websites promote themselves as – “DOG FRIENDLY & CHILD FRIENDLY “ (& in that order). Why not disability friendly too?

    Loungers UK are just another developer taking HBC for a ride at the town’s expense & detriment.

    Comment by Mr Blair — Wednesday, Jan 26, 2022 @ 12:52

  4. Bernard McGinley

    HBC’s Communications Office got in touch to ask for a correction about the article, because they state that there is provision in the application for a lift.

    The documents referred to are the PROPOSED GROUND FLOOR PLAN and PROPOSED FIRST FLOOR PLAN, submitted last month, which show a little square shaft (captioned ‘Platform Lift’) beside the stairs. Unfortunately, a ‘Platform Lift’ is not a lift as we know it, and does not meet the legal requirements.

    The statutory Building Regulations discuss the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and the Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010. In the matter of lifts, it is clear (Part M: Access to and use of buildings, volume 2, paragraph 3.21):
    ‘For all buildings a passenger lift is the most suitable form of access for people moving from one storey to another’.

    Paragraph 3.22 explains that a platform lift (a.k.a. lifting platform), instead of a passenger lift, is acceptable in particular circumstances, but these constraints apply where a passenger lift cannot be accommodated. The Harold Place restaurant (if approved) is to be a new building: the space exists. (Subsequent paragraphs discuss design considerations, treatment of the easily fatigued, assistance dogs, &c.) New-build properties must comply.

    The proposed platform lift is not suitable for approval therefore. The Council could withdraw the application or send an amended version showing respect for the disabled, as required. The article’s headline has been amended, but a passenger lift is not part of the application, and the platform lift is unapprovable. The many other reasons not to approve this application remain.

    Meanwhile the elaborate Design & Access Statement also remains published and unamended (Part 3, p42) on not requiring a lift. (How many professionals read that and OK’d it, wrongly?)

    The confusion remains. The HBC Estates Manager signed the application many months before the late detail on the platform lift was submitted, but the application remains unacceptable in law.

    A further article will explore these and other aspects of this strange case soon.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Tuesday, Jan 25, 2022 @ 10:39

  5. Sian Warren

    Thank you HOT for this important article. No doubt the majority of readers might have remained unaware of the highly unsuitable planning proposal. It’s beyond me as to why the Council would propose a building that lacks an essential lift, and is just another restaurant that Hastings certainly doesn’t need. There’s a gap in the town centre for an arts and performance venue that celebrates our wealth of local musicians, performers, and artists, as an alternative to bars and restaurants; a venue that will attract both locals and tourists, and offer affordable family based entertainment too.
    I appreciate that the cost of a lift makes any proposal expensive, but, with the right vision, funds could be raised.
    If only the Council would think creatively about what will truly benefit Hastings, and consult/involve the community before spending money on ridiculous plans.

    Comment by Sian Warren — Monday, Jan 24, 2022 @ 14:44

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