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The development plan for the Observer Building, right, will impinge on neighbouring Rock House.

The development plan for the Observer Building, right, will impinge on neighbouring Rock House.

Concerns aired about Observer Building plan

Concerns about the proposed development of the Observer Building in central Hastings were aired at a public meeting on Monday, with former local councillor Godfrey Daniel providing advice on how objections should be framed. The period for submitting comments has been extended to 9 September. Nick Terdre listened in.

The meeting was called by Lorna Lloyd – it was held at the Printworks which she runs – and councillor Lee Clark, who unfortunately was not present. Lorna opened proceedings by pointing out that the new scheme, which proposes adding two and a half storeys, is only 0.8 metres lower than the original plan with five additional storeys.

The original plan, which centred on providing much-needed student accommodation, was withdrawn in the light of the University of Brighton’s “review of its operations in Hastings,” as the planning statement puts it. Instead the developer, Jeff Kirby of All Living Things, formerly the Flint Group, now proposes 49 “stylish loft apartments” plus a private roof garden, on the extra two and a half storeys mentioned above, and a shop, restaurant, gym and spaces for community and artistic activities on the lower floors.

Some developments get critics frothing at the mouth, but although all those who spoke – there were about 25-30 present – had concerns, the meeting was held in a good spirit with plenty of constructive discussion.

What goes around comes around, and the Observer Building – let’s call it OB for convenience – has been circling around the fringes of development for years now, as a succession of owners has sought unsuccessfully to put together a viable project to get the pigeons evicted and the building brought back into use.

So quite a lot of attention was focused on Jeff Kirby, who after taking over the running of the building last year mustered lots of brownie points by making it available for community use – suddenly it was a hive of activity, with films, meetings, markets and a whole variety of events.

But as Jess Steele of Jericho Road reminded the meeting, Jeff’s reputation in the community has nose-dived – after running up £20,000 in unpaid rents and utility bills for his office in Rock House next door he finally got himself evicted two weeks ago. And others who have provided services to the OB have also reported lack of payment and other forms of unacceptable behaviour on his part.

The OB development – or “resurrection,” as one of the design documents calls it – would seriously disadvantage plans for Rock House, Jess said. This is another previously dilapidated building which the new owners, Jericho Road, the White Rock Trust and community interest company Meanwhile Space, brought into community use this year, with work spaces for creative enterprises and local entrepreneurs and a couple of floors of affordable housing. The long-term plan is to build a further one or two floors of affordable housing, but this won’t be possible if the OB scheme goes ahead, as its extra floors will have windows looking out over the roof of Rock House, thereby making it impossible to extend the latter’s height.

And hopes of developing the alley behind Rock House into a social space – a smart exit into the alley was installed as part of the refurbishment – would also be dashed as the OB plan is to use it for car parking.

Some discussion ensued about who the actual OB owner is. Although Jeff Kirby has presented himself as such (for example, in the planning statement he says that “The Flint Group has recently acquired the building…”), an entry in the Land Registry tracked down by Jess Steele shows it to be Basement Endeavours.

Little is known about Basement Endeavours, except that the man behind it, but who has no formal connection with it, is one Richard Upton, who was responsible for introducing Jeff Kirby to Hastings. It may be that, if planning permission were granted, Basement Endeavours would then want to sell it on at a profit.

Anyway, as Godfrey Daniel, former local councillor and erstwhile chair of the planning committee, pointed out, the ownership is irrelevant – anyone can file a planning application for any property. He also made it clear that whether Jeff Kirby is insolvent, as some at the meeting supposed, or not, this was again not a matter for planners to concern themselves with. The fee of £19,250 for handling the application has been paid, which is all that matters.

Godfrey Daniel also offered advice on what comments and objections should focus on if they are not to be filtered out by the planning department. Design is important, especially as the building is located in the town centre conservation area – is the design of a sufficient standard to enhance the area?

Car parking is also relevant (and appears to have been a stumbling block in previous development schemes). The handful of parking spaces in the rear alley is all that the plan offers, and substantial inconvenience to other users of the alley, such as Rock House and the Printworks. Over-development – trying to cram too many things into the development – could also be a relevant point of objection.

Several people made the point that whatever drawbacks they might see in the current scheme, they are very keen for the OB to be redeveloped and made into a living building again. It doesn’t have to be a private company that leads the way, Jess Steele said – there is also the possibility of compulsory purchase. This would require a compelling case in the public interest and a plausible plan for an alternative. For the council to consider seeking a compulsory purchase order, there would have to be a recipient organisation ready to take on the property straight away, as Hastings Pier Charity did in the case of the pier, she says.

Meanwhile the period for lodging comments has been extended to Friday 9 September, as confirmed by case officer Sam Batchelor. This appears to make it even less likely that the application will come before the planning committee on Wednesday 21 September. The next opportunity will be Wednesday 19 October. Comments can be submitted here and the application, HS/FA/16/00367, can be seen here.

Posted 10:34 Friday, Aug 26, 2016 In: Home Ground


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  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    What is the latest on this then?

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Wednesday, May 17, 2017 @ 11:39

  2. Jeff Kirby

    Hi there –
    Nice to hear that there is so much interest in the project, fantastic!! Would be great to be invited to the next event so that you get a balanced and fully formed picture – no need to speculate, as I always have been and am more than happy to be completely open about who we are, who is behind the project, how it is funded, how we are funded and any other questions people might have. We have had some great successes and some very big challenges starting from a standing stop in Hastings and trying to “move the needle” on some pretty big issues – tough but a great learning curve and I hope great for the town to get people out and engaged and looking at the big picture. Anyway – delighted to clear up any questions anyone might have – all the best, Jeff

    Comment by Jeff Kirby — Tuesday, Oct 18, 2016 @ 23:31

  3. Barbara Rogers

    It is quite common for building owners to get outline planning permission for a site in order to get a higher price when they sell, and it looks as if the current owners will sell it on as fast as they can because of the debts. So refusal of this application would simply mean that another developer (hopefully a solvent and relatively ethical one)could buy it at a cheaper price. They could then submit their own planning application which would hopefully be better, and commercially viable (eg no excessive height).

    Comment by Barbara Rogers — Thursday, Sep 1, 2016 @ 13:18

  4. Penny

    Anything is possible for chancers and shysters if all they have to contend with is the incompetence and ineptitude of Hastings Borough Council’s Planning and Legal Departments.
    Experience tells us that.

    Comment by Penny — Thursday, Sep 1, 2016 @ 08:19

  5. Spiny Norman

    According to the website the purported owner of the OB, Basement Endeavours Limited (Company number: 07996124, Business: 68100 – Buying and selling of own real estate), has an Equifax credit score of “F – Very low: Businesses in this category show above average risk characteristics, with a lower than average likelihood of being able to meet their commitments in the foreseeable future”. This is on a scale from A to F, where A applies to businesses “considered highly likely to be able to meet their commitments in the foreseeable future”. Below F there is one additional credit score: “Technically insolvent”.

    The registered company nature of business may be revealing in that it has nothing to do with building development or construction.

    Comment by Spiny Norman — Saturday, Aug 27, 2016 @ 17:36

  6. Spiny Norman

    The company “All Living Things” (Company number: 07286740, Business: 59112 – Video production activities) is an unrelated company to the company Mr. Kirby is the sole director of. Mr. Kirby’s company is registered as “Every Living Thing Ltd” (Company number: 10137314, Business: To be provided on next annual return) and merely trades under the name “All Living Things”.

    On the webpage it is stated that the company aims to achieve “exceptionally HIGH VALUE PLANNING CONSENTS through positive environmental and social impact”.

    I also wonder if the intention is to obtain planning permission for the actual building owner so that the site can be sold on with zero development having taken place.

    Comment by Spiny Norman — Saturday, Aug 27, 2016 @ 16:47

  7. Heritage

    It sounds like something out of a film doesn’t it. A Canadian rides into to town on his stallion ( A Buddhist in this case ) unknown to anyone and declares he is going to save an iconic building. He pulls off a few stunts with soiree’s and lots of P.R. Things with the building don’t go quite to plan. He lays low and people are asking what is going on. And by the way who is he. This man who has also said he is going to buy the Convent in Magdalen Road.
    Now we hear he has been evicted from his office owing 20K. The last filed accounts for Flint Development Group show liabilities of £80k but cash as £67K.
    And now this new company All Living Things. Both filed at an accommodation address in London. And as stated Basement Endeavours has owned it from when it nearly last went up for auction. Mr K is just a Front Man.

    Comment by Heritage — Saturday, Aug 27, 2016 @ 16:04

  8. barney

    Godfrey Daniel’s opinion that it matters not whether Jeff Kirby is solvent is probably legally correct but surely it is in the interests of our town that we no longer entertain those without the necessary ‘readies’ to despoil our town…the disaster at Undercliff where the developer caused a landslip and then scarpered should be a prudent reminder that it is incumbent upon our planners to ensure that applicants are not living in a fantasy world and do have access to adequate funds in order to complete their grand designs.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that Mr. Kirby was also prepared to ‘rescue’ the convent in Magdalen road, purchase the site and create a wonderful resurrection of this neglected building with the slowly decaying Pugin chapel…even going so far as to suggest he was in discussion with the overseas owners of this special site….whither now for this important building?
    Everyone wishes to see the OB restored and opened up for a new lease of life but this will only happen when serious developers make sensible applications.
    Those who did their research were well aware of the confusion surrounding the ownership of the OB site…but the supporters were blinded by such wonderful promises. Hastings Council and the planning department need to be wary of such stuff.

    Comment by barney — Saturday, Aug 27, 2016 @ 08:38

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