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Foreshore inaction fails to impress, again

The Foreshore Trust (FT) said it would defend the Stade footpath near the boating lake at the Stade Amusement Park. When (following appeals) the footpath was taken over, it did nothing significant. Reportedly the footpath is to be reopened eventually, but when, and for what hours? The Hastings Borough Council (HBC) Charity Committee did not explain. Bernard McGinley wonders what the FT is for.

In early 2019 HOT ran a story with the headline

The clarity the Foreshore Trust owes the public is missing

It still is.   

Recent meeting

The FT and the HBC Charity Committee have identical membership: three Councillors, all members of HBC Cabinet. At present the Trustees are Cllrs Webb (Chair), Rogers and Batsford.

The Charity Committee of 14 June was strange. Urgent items were an agenda item twice.  

The FT’s [accountant-]Protector (James Cook) was present, but said nothing. Instead the Council’s accountant spoke about the FT’s accounts. 

HBC’s Marketing & Major Projects Manager (Kevin Boorman) said that in response to concerns he would be giving the Coastal Users Group (CUG) news about the Stade footpath and the new fairground rides: that these are both allowed. He explained that the footpath was not a Public Right of Way, and that the owners could build up to 25 metres because they had Permitted Development Rights (PDR) following appeals to the Planning Inspectorate a few years ago.

As news this was incomplete. He failed to explain how PDR was such a trump card, as there are bases for constraint and protection, the site being in the Old Town Conservation Area. He also said that he had been given assurances that the footpath would definitely reopen, eventually. He said nothing though about the timescale, and whether this would be for the Park’s opening hours, or all-the-time as before. 

Nothing was said about any impacts on cases HS/FA/18/01009 and HS/CD/21/00240, or enforcement enquiry ENF/21/00091. The description of case 01009 mentioned the

enlargement of amusement park to incorporate land where current footpath is located

but failed to explain whose land this was or is, or the terms of any proposed incorporation.

FT and ‘for ever’

The charitable objectives of the Trust include:

to hold and maintain the Charity’s land for . . . the common use, benefit and enjoyment of all Her Majesty’s subjects and of the public for the time being for ever.

There is no sign that the FT has used any of its considerable resources to try to preserve or protect that land or to challenge the recent changes.

On 14 April 2021 an enquiry was made to a Council enforcement officer about breaches of cases HS/FA/18/01009 and HS/CD/21/00240 at the Stade Amusement Park. There was no reply. On 30 April the Council’s Comms Office was asked to explain PDR in the light of Designated Area constraints. There was no reply.  On 27 May, the FT Chair was asked to comment on the developments at the Stade. There was no reply.  On 9 June all the Trustees were asked. There was no reply. So much for openness, transparency and accountability. (An exception is then-Cllr Margi O’Callaghan, who as FT Chair was willing to discuss the Stade but then lost her seat in the recent elections.) 

An FOI request of 27 May was met with the assertion that no information was held on the enforcement enquiry ENF/21/00091 on the Amusement Park pathway and perimeter fence. This was flatly untrue. (After nearly three and a half months, the enquiry has yet to conclude anything.)

The Trust (Charity No 1105649) 

The controversies surrounding the Stade footpath led to fears being expressed about its future. Since 2017 HOT has run at least seven stories on the Stade problems, with headlines such as Enclosure by stealth irks Old Town residents, and Right to pathway being walked all over’. Recently the rollercoaster’s breach of planning regs has been provocative. PDR has since supposedly allowed a new high airplane ride:

The Foreshore Trust is an elusive organisation, but running the FT entails responsibilities. The Chair and Cllr Batsford do not state their FT involvement in the Members’ Register of Interests (though Cllr Rogers does). It is easy to record. 

Best interests

Nationally the Charity Commission supervises the charity sector, including the Foreshore Trust, and publishes copious guidance on how trustees should act. n The essential trustee, the role of trustees is made plain, on p3 for instance:

In some cases you will be unable to comply with your legal duties if you don’t follow the good practice.  For example:

Your legal duty It’s vital that you
Act in your charity’s best interests Deal with conflicts of interest
Manage your charity’s resources responsibly Implement appropriate financial controls
Act with reasonable care and skill Take appropriate advice when you need to, for example when buying or selling land, or investing (in some cases this is a legal requirement)

 

The Foreshore Trustees’ record does not show this good practice. Quite the opposite. The conflict with HBC interests is clear, as is friction elsewhere. See also the guidance on the public benefit requirement.

Foreshore complacency

Repeatedly there has been a lack of explanation of how or why the foreshore is being yielded up to commercial interests without seeking compensation to benefit the Borough. In the present situation they seem not to have sought independent legal advice, which amounts to laziness and bad management. HBC’s Seaside Strategy (2015) mentions grandly

where the pier or Foreshore Trust can attach obligations to leases in their role as landlords. 

Instead the Pier (in 2017 the Best Building in Britain) is covered in buildings without permission or even retrospective planning applications, and without enforcement action  — all Council, not FT issues. As for the Amusement Park, it apparently paid nothing for its extra land gained from the repurposed footpath. 

The FT is good at disbursements, giving to local causes, from its ample parking revenues. It is also noted for the Fat Kiosk in Eversfield Place (Ref HS/FA/14/00834) that destroyed seafront sightlines and has had just one brief tenant:  a waste of £88k. (‘First, there was the affair of the untenanted Kiosk’: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, ch 38.) Also, a few years ago, there were the new beach bins that very soon washed away:  more because of bad management than bad weather. Sometimes the FT’s response as a statutory consultee was not to bother commenting. Similarly there was a quiet disposal of a front corner of the Bathing Pool site.

Coastal Users Group (CUG)

The CUG’s criticisms were often expressed, in this this letter for instance. The CUG/FT (and Charity Committee) relationship has been dysfunctional: concerns expressed and ignored, assurances given and not fulfilled. (Eventually a liaison officer was needed.)  

Significant improvements as a quid pro quo apparently didn’t happen. The new lease meant to armour-plate the Trust’s position certainly didn’t happen. The new lease of 2019 will expire in just over a decade (January 2032). Able Trustees would work towards achieving a different foreshore by then.   

Right of way

Previously a Stade footpath Right of Way was deemed unnecessary because use of the pathway existed ‘as of right’. (Case HS/FA/18/01009 even drew a petition about this, and many objections, which predicted the worst, now realised.) Even in 2010 East Sussex County Council (ESCC) decided that a formal right of way was not needed because there was already access ‘by right’.  

If the FT are casting around for urgent items for their next meeting (the AGM on 20 September), they should consider registration of the Stade footpath as a Public Right Of Way. The County Council deadline is the end of 2025.

Will the FT try finally to get the footpath recognised and recorded? According to the Inspector deciding Appeals 3203560 and 3209886, the status of the walkway was not one of the legal arguments presented by the Council in disputing the matter of a certificate of lawful use or development (LDC, case HS/EX/18/00067), despite confirmation in late 2013 by the Council to the CUG that it would be protected.

Platitudinous backscratching and disclaimability

The Trustees have not acted in the Trust’s best interests (or if they have explained how they have).  The Hastings foreshore now has a clearly inferior pathway, and no information on the time or basis of its reopening. The FT is faced with the loss of a longstanding de facto ​right of way and has done nothing to register and secure that right of way while that can still be done. It has done nothing about new massing and noise affecting adversely the Old Town and its setting, and apparently not taken legal advice about the loss of pathway land at the Amusement Park, substantially increasing the latter’s land holding and commercial prospects.

Under the leadership of the late Cllr John Hodges (FT Chair, 2012 -2016), a different outcome could have been expected. The concerns stated at CUG and the many objections to HS/FA/18/01009 (and HS/FA/17/01056 before it) fearing the consequences of approval, might have been heeded instead of fulfilled. The Trustees acted in the interests of HBC and not as Trustees for the public interest. The conflict of interest shames both and shows the need for reform.

Lack of resources is not an excuse for the Foreshore Trust. The Trust makes pappy declarations such as:

The Trust continues to concentrate efforts on ensuring a secure and viable future for the Trust, especially in terms of maintaining and improving its assets, managing its available resources for the long term benefit of the community . . .

while the Council states of the Trust:

When making decisions relating to or affecting the Charity, it must act in its best interests.

In practice however these things do not happen. The FT’s persistent noddies – complacency and evasion of accountability – are shoddinesses that need to be ended.  

What happened to that unobstructed access ‘by right’? And to the FT Chair’s (eventual) statement in late 2018?

The footpath should remain open and accessible for public use at all times.

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Posted 16:00 Thursday, Jul 8, 2021 In: Home Ground

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Bryan Fisher

    It seems strange that HBC councillors sit on the Foreshore Trust’s board as there often must be a conflict of interest between their two distinct roles. Do they remove themselves from such debates and votes? To further openness and transparency I would like to see the Foreshore Trust have more independent board members.

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Tuesday, Jul 13, 2021 @ 20:03

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