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The Queensway Gateway Road is one of the Sea Change projects which the writers criticise (photo: CHD).

Duo ask hard questions about Sea Change

Nick Perry, the Liberal Democrat candidate for MP, and Dave Walters, chairman of Hastings United Football Club from 2004 until earlier this year, have formed a “new coalition wanting the truth about Sea Change Sussex,” as they put it. They also raise some questions about Hastings Borough Council’s planning decisions.

Nick Perry writes: When I trained as a social worker 15 years ago I thought, perhaps naively, that I would be able to make a difference. To misquote Ghandi, I was going to be the change that I wanted to see in the world.

And then after a few years of working on the front line in mental health care, it began to dawn on me that, however well I was doing my job, and despite a passion for social justice that was undimmed, it was not up to me to make the decisions that made the most difference in my client’s lives. It was up to the politicians.

So I decided at that point that I was going to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in the grubby business of politics.

I had read around and decided that I was a Liberal Democrat by inclination.

My partner and I moved to Hastings in 2007 and in a bit of an unplanned way, that same year I became the Lib Dem candidate for the general election of 2010.

What became clear to me in short order was that, amongst other issues, local Liberal Democrats were hugely concerned about Hastings Borough Council’s planning department. That in the opinion of many, elected politicians and planning officers between them have managed to produce a series of unacceptable decisions.

Concerns included, by the way, a perceived endemic lack of scrutiny on the quality of planning applications from Sea Space (which became Sea Change Sussex).  There was visceral anger that the towns were being let down; that our architectural heritage was being neglected, and that the quality of urban design in the present, and for the future, was seriously lacking.

Of course the parliamentary arithmetic of the 2010 General Election and the implications for the Liberal Democrats as junior partners in a coalition government (where we have sought to constrain the crueller tendencies of the Conservatives, whilst attempting to pass progressive policy of our own) has resulted in serious electoral fallout in local government representation, and since 2012 we have not had councillors on Hastings Borough Council.

Control of the Council has switched between Labour and Conservatives since the late 1990s.  Both these parties voted unanimously for the Queensway Gateway application, as well as the Station Plaza application which nearly killed off the Greenway.  This list goes on…

And so by way of a meandering introduction, I come to the the central motivation behind the article…  A new blog entitled SeaChangeWatch has started to raise awareness about how little we know about Sea Change Sussex.  The Combe Haven Defenders have also made the charge that, “There appears not to be a single elected politician of any party who is prepared to question the money spent, and the green spaces destroyed, to pursue the policy of ‘job creation by industrial estate’.”

Whilst this is absolutely true as things stand right now, it does not mean that there are not politicians who are trying to get elected that share these views completely.

It is my duty to remind HOT readers that I was the only parliamentary candidate at the 2010 General Election who campaigned against the Hastings-Bexhill Link Road, and I and other Lib Dems have been active in campaigns to support Save the Archery Ground, as well as Save Ecclesbourne Glen and other planning-related minefields.

I personally attended the planning committee meeting in which the Labour and Conservative parties voted unanimously to approve the Queensway Gateway application, and my scepticism was quoted in local media outlets afterwards.

Dave Walters and I, brought together by a passion to see regeneration efforts focus (amongst other things) on quality sports facilities for the constituency, made a site visit to Queensway and the Hollington Valley with Combe Haven Defenders on Thursday last week. We saw the devastation that has taken place there.

So let me say loud and clear from HOT’s pages, I am determined to fight for more transparency, and greater accountability to the taxpayer, from Sea Change Sussex.

But we need to create a coalition of the willing in order to do so.  We need people from across political parties, and across the range of civic bodies in our constituency, to come together and demand more accountability from Sea Change Sussex. We need legal and accountancy expertise, we need to create a civic momentum for participation and change. Will you, can you, help?

While you think about that, here’s Dave with his story.

Dave Walters writes: I’m not sure when I first became aware of Sea Space (now known as Sea Change Sussex), but I was certainly conscious of the prominent role they played in the Azur at Marina Pavilion project. Opening in late summer 2008, it took only two and a half years for the company in charge of Azur to go into liquidation. In that short space of time debts to the Inland Revenue exceeded £138,000 and Customs & Excise £141,000; the largest creditor, Sea Space, was owed £345,000, while there were numerous smaller creditors, many of which were local businesses. Whether or not the business really failed, the move proved a convenient way of removing all that debt, the largest part of which was public money via Sea Space. Well, Azur didn’t miss a single day’s trading, and continues to trade today.

Another Sea Space/Change project was Lacuna Place office block. This opened in September 2008 and was placed into receivership in November 2012. Then we have Enviro 21 industrial park on Queensway, opened in the summer of 2010 with the promise of some 500 jobs to be created and costing in excess of £9 million of public money. In November 2012 this was also placed into receivership having, in my opinion, failed spectacularly to attract companies, and therefore jobs to the site. There seems to be a trend here?

They didn’t seem to learn… We then had the North Queensway project with more jobs promised (at considerable cost to the public purse). The site was cleared some time ago but then everything came to an abrupt halt with no building work to date being undertaken.

Surely now the penny (or millions of pounds of public money) would finally drop, but no. The latest venture is the Queensway Gateway Road to ‘unlock’ land along Queensway for yet another ‘business park’. You couldn’t make it up…

As Nick has stated, Sea Change Sussex appear to be unaccountable for this huge public expense which to date, in my opinion, has provided very little in the way of benefits. Hastings Borough Council seems to show little or no appetite to rein them in, and elected politicians appear to endorse everything they do. Nick Perry for the Liberal Democrats appears to be the only candidate from one of the main parties to be asking the sort of questions that many of the rest of us are also asking. The Lib Dems seem to me to be a force for good in national politics having kept the worst excesses of the Tories at bay over the last five years. It’s about time we had something similar going on locally.

Nick Perry’s electoral platform.

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Posted 15:47 Wednesday, Apr 29, 2015 In: Home Ground

5 Comments

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  1. Richard Heritage

    No Labour councillor is going to say a word about Sea Change or any of their so called “developments.” After all their principal director is Cllr Chowney. Together with a strange line up of other directors. As for the Conservative side well you would think they might speak and and question what is going on here but I guess they are as we say “like dead fish and go with the flow.”

    Ever since this quango (aka Sea Space) was born and got millions dumped into their hands It is as though they got a map of the borough, threw darts at it and said lets build here. Then rolled a dice on what they would build. This mentality of “Build it and They will Come” has just not worked. And note not one of their planning applications has ever been refused and always passed with ease.
    Now I hear too they have decided to abort the idea of offices at Queensbury House. Now it is going to be residential. Great website Seachangewatch .

    Comment by Richard Heritage — Monday, May 4, 2015 @ 16:44

  2. Nick Perry

    Hi Philip. Please do contact me. My details are all in the public domain. Otherwise you can reach me via http://Www.nickperrylibdem.wordpress.com and @nickperrylibdem.

    Comment by Nick Perry — Saturday, May 2, 2015 @ 08:16

  3. philip

    The Council has representation on the board of directors of Sea Change so will never question the vast amounts of money seemingly wasted. I’m glad someone is taking the time to bring this to everyone’s attention though but Nick and Dave need to have a means of people contacting them to answer their call for help!

    Comment by philip — Thursday, Apr 30, 2015 @ 14:35

  4. DAR

    Spot on. Labour & the Tories have both approved of all this stuff because of the promise of “jobs”. It’s like an addiction: as soon as any vested interest suggests that “jobs will be created” for project x,y or z, they can’t help themselves but get the “fix” – and never mind the negative (usually environmental) consequences. PS I’m not affiliated to any political party.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Apr 30, 2015 @ 10:52

  5. Richard

    Why has it taken several years for the “penny to drop”. Perhaps it’s because it’s election time.

    Comment by Richard — Thursday, Apr 30, 2015 @ 09:39

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