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IMG_0883[1] main 600Email Defra about the Country Park bylaws — or risk losing access to the coastal margin

The proposed new bylaws for Hastings Country Park are still causing concern, ‘Restriction of Access’ and all. Asked to pause their approval of these new bylaws at Full Council recently, for clarification of the issues, Hastings Borough Council (HBC) went full steam ahead. Now it is up to central Government to approve them, or not. Are these bylaws to be made official before the coastal path (and its margin) is made official? It matters, says Bernard McGinley, who explains that you can still object until 13 March.

Hastings Borough Council proposes to make new bylaws for Hastings Country Park to replace the 1974 ones. ‘Restriction of Access’ is a feature of the new proposed bylaws. Leisure use of the north-central Country Park is threatened.

The Council say there was ‘full public consultation’ on this in 2014, but details are scant. Defra (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) and Natural England were written to as ‘consultation’. No-one else was, and that is ‘full public consultation’. 

Though that consultation was in 2014-15, it is somehow now a matter of great urgency to get the new bylaws finished. This unnecessary Country Park controversy was reported recently in HOT.

Cllr Andy Batsford (Housing, Leisure and Community Engagement Portfolio Holder) commented on HOT’s Facebook page about this article: 

Why are you guys still running this story ? It is factually completely untrue. 

but was unable to explain further, despite several invitations to do so.

Now another and major problem has emerged.

IMG_0875[1] 350Coastal Margin

In late February, Natural England published proposals for that part of the national coastal pathway between Eastbourne and Camber. The basis was set out in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (Section 298), following the Countryside Right of Way (‘CRoW’) Act 2000.

The land from the pathway to the sea is known as the coastal margin, a single, continuous corridor of access around the coast. The coastal margin affords easy and extensive access to the coastal environment for open-air recreation, which is widely acknowledged to have significant benefits for human health and well-being.

Questions arise about this treatment of a publicly owned leisure asset. Why would the Council’s proposed new bylaws seek to restrict access to 40% of the Hastings Country Park Local Nature Reserve, including areas that are part of the proposed coastal margin? This is completely at odds with the central objective of the England coast path to improve public access to the coast. 

Local Access Forum

The East Sussex Local Access Forum (Laf) was formed in June 2003 as part of East Sussex County Council’s duties under the CRoW Act: 11 members have different interests, such as cycling or land-management. Lafs are statutory advisory bodies on improving public access to land in their areas for all types of open-air recreation.

Once the coastal path is approved then the coastal margins become active and ‘right to roam’ under CRoW applies. Byelaws can be imposed to restrict access under CRoW, but are subject to consultation rules through the Laf.

If HBC can get their proposed bylaws signed off by Defra in the month or so after 13 March, they can avoid consultation with the Laf. This would explain the unseemly haste by the Council to get the bylaws submitted and then confirmed by the Secretary of State.

Procedural breaches

In pursuing this end there have been apparent breaches of the HBC Constitution, including its opening:

This constitution sets out how the Council operates, how decisions are made and the procedures which are followed to ensure that these are efficient, transparent and accountable to local people.

In that managing the Country Park is a quasi-planning function, the Planning Protocol (adopted December 2013) also applies : 

[Quasi-] Planning decisions should be made openly, impartially, with sound judgement and for justifiable reasons. The process should leave no grounds for suggesting that a decision has been partial, biased or not well-founded in any way.  

Nolan and other principles

HBC’s hasty manœuvrings are also a breach of the Seven Principles of Public Life – the Nolan Principles – that apply to everyone in public office at all levels. Six of these are:

accountability
honesty
integrity
objectivity
selflessness, and
openness.

But not furtiveness. Two particular HBC virtues were asserted at the Cabinet meeting of 3 February (near the end of the 14-minute meeting), as one Councillor intoned:

I think it’s important that we as a Council show ourselves to be open, transparent, which is what we try to do at all times, and I share concerns at putting pressure on officers . . . 

This was the meeting that approved a smudgy grey unusable map (dated July 2014) attached to the agenda. Remarkably what then went to Full Council was a solid grey one (dated October 2014) which was approved with dogged haste.

The map (source: HBC).

The map showing the proposed restricted areas (in grey) which was approved by the Council in February, though HBC Cabinet had approved (and submitted to Council) a different one (source: HBC).

At this 12 February meeting it was falsely stated that Members’ only options were to accept or reject the proposed bylaws. This was a clear breach of the Rules of Debate: Paragraph 16.10 e. of the Council Constitution, Part 4, under which they could have deferred a decision in order to clarify the situation, as requested by the Friends of the Country Park (and also expressed in a motion by Cllr Dany Louise).

Some reasons to object

These proposals are often not good enough. The threat to the coastal margin is in itself reason for the Secretary of State (George Eustice MP) to refuse these new proposed bylaws as an evasion of public policy, and unreasonable. Additionally there are failures of principle by HBC, and other, procedural, reasons: 

  • map substitution (despite formal approval)
  • misdirection of the Full Council over its options
  • failure to consider seasonal rather than permanent closure of fields
  • failure to provide any evidence of visitor abuse of the Country Park  
  • secrecy about ‘full public consultation’ of legitimate and interested parties 
  • the many delays and changes in the Country Park since 2014
  • the threat to some rights of way, with no clarifying statement about this
  • the criminalising of harmless activities that the 1974 bylaws did not mention.  

The Country Park is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (and much else).  It is too important for these proposed bylaws to be approved in their present form.  

The proposed bylaws can still be objected to. Comments should reach Defra by Friday 13 March, either by email (Protected.Areas@defra.gov.ukor by writing to:

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
National Designated Sites Team
Local Nature Reserve Bylaw Case Officer
Horizon House (2nd floor)
Deanery Road
Bristol BS1 5AH

As for the coastal path (Reference EBC 5: Tackleway, Hastings to Cliff End, Pett Level), the deadline for making representations (not objections) to Natural England is Thursday 23 April. A filled-in form is required, which can be requested either by email (southeastcoastalaccess@naturalengland.org.uk) or in writing to

Coastal Access Delivery Team – South East
Natural England
Guildbourne House
Chatsworth Road
Worthing
West Sussex  BN11 1LD

The Country Park is an underrated asset of Hastings, publicly owned by the Council but regarded as held in trust by them. Many want it to be looked after better than it has been in recent years.

IMG_0863[1] 600

Posted 17:28 Wednesday, Mar 4, 2020 In: Home Ground

7 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Bolshie

    The further comments concerning these by-laws demonstrates the appalling standard of governance and, as Bernard states – “so much for openness and transparency.” Those two words have always been an issue with both councillors and officers within this council. Mention was made of the “Nolan Principles,” relating to the ethical standards and conduct of those in public office. Well I suggest here is another example of where those principles have been thrown into the trash can.
    It would appear Cllr Batsford is being evasive here as he has been with the bathing pool site development and the deal sealed with a developer. This situation with the Country Park and getting answers has resonations of the infamous Rocklands landslip where refusal to disclose and secrecy became the norm for HBC.
    As pointed out most FOI applications run way over their allotted time and often result in either obfuscate answers or just a bit of what your original application requested.
    It would appear this long entrenched stronghold of a Labour controlled council is seriously detrimental to the well being of the borough. And for those who ask questions or raise issue with them we find ourselves being labelled as rebellious. With this lot it appears to be a situation where you – Do As You Are Told.

    Comment by Bolshie — Saturday, Mar 14, 2020 @ 08:29

  2. Bernard McGinley

    The consultation has now expired. Cllr Batsford continues not to explain what was ‘factually completely untrue’ about the KEEP OFF YOUR LAND report. Even the ‘still’ of his comment was peculiar, as the proposed bylaws decision was a fresh story. That report of 11 February did not even mention the question of the Coastal Margin: how HBC’s proposals for ‘Restriction of Access’ clashed with Natural England’s ‘open access’ regulation of the Coast Path and Margin. The reasons for HBC’s strange haste were a mystery then — why they wouldn’t or couldn’t wait a month or two to explain their unexplained decisions. So much for openness and transparency.

    It is not known how or when the Defra Secretary of State’s decision will be stated.

    Representations on Natural England’s Coast Path proposals (Hastings to Pett Level, ref EBC 5) can be made until Thursday 23 April to: southeastcoastalaccess@naturalengland.org.uk.
    or by writing to their Worthing office.

    (Route EBC 4, Bexhill to Hastings Old Town, is essentially coastal, predictable and uncontroversial.)

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Friday, Mar 13, 2020 @ 17:42

  3. Nigel Inwood

    Done, thank you Bernard. After specifying faults, I added:

    “This follows a pattern of dealing in and disposing of public land without democratic process or consultation. We cannot therefore trust these proposals in their present form.

    (We ourselves had to take the borough council to court in 2013 to reverse a secretive non-consensual disposal of public land in historic Old Hastings. The land has nine privately-owned houses on it, yet the council had not consulted with those homeowners or with the local residents association. So we do know what we are talking about).”

    Comment by Nigel Inwood — Friday, Mar 13, 2020 @ 13:12

  4. Penny

    My main objection is the way the local council bamboozles us by lack of clarity, open government and real public consultation, (not the commissioning of their favoured consultancy firms).
    The only way around this as far as I can make out is through the ballot box.

    Comment by Penny — Friday, Mar 13, 2020 @ 08:45

  5. Christopher Hurrell

    Excellent article. Has Councillor Batsford provided any details to back up his assertion that the article “is factually completely untrue “?

    Councillors do not seem to want to engage with the issues raised. A recent statement from Cllr Chowney in his last address as leader fails to engage with the issues: : http://www.tressell.org.uk/Councillors%20report%20from%20Peter%20Chowney%20latest%20web%20version.pdf

    Attempts to obtain supplementary information from HBC using Freedom of Information have to date been unsucceesful. The request is now overdue (common practice with HBC) and we are unlikely to be provided with any information prior to the end of the consultation period on the 13th March.

    Comment by Christopher Hurrell — Wednesday, Mar 11, 2020 @ 11:55

  6. Bolshie

    What a superb and informative article Bernard on enlighten us to what appears ( to me) to be shenanigans here.
    The public consultation claim alone raises concern as there is no apparent evidence of such. HBC’s record for public consultation is pretty abysmal at best. Look at the Bathing Pool site. Told there would be consultation on the development issues there. But a deal has apparently been clinched with a developer with whom we are told will conduct a public consultation. Another such consultation on Archery Road was a farce.
    If they did this consultation and conferred with DEFRA and Natural England why has it taken HBC seven years to put this before the councillors?
    I think it might be very worth well asking if the Environmental Law Foundation would take a look at this and see if they can tell the residents of the borough where they stand up against this council

    Comment by Bolshie — Thursday, Mar 5, 2020 @ 16:15

  7. Keith Piggott

    Ah, Bernard, another devastating appraisal of this council’s methods.

    Would that you could put this directly to government, even via our MP if ever she puts her head above the parapet.

    But you still don’t get it, do you? HBC is a socialist enclave, they know best!

    Do I rightly recall former leader Chowney once intoning about his harbour marina housing plan, “we represent as we see fit, we don’t need inputs”… or words to that effect?

    Grit your teeth, stay on, we don’t want to lose you. We’ve stayed, despite the council aiding and abetting developer’s annexation of our 1892 covenanted boundary fence and hedges that they re-agreed and confirmed in 2013.

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Wednesday, Mar 4, 2020 @ 22:44

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