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Pier bastardisation OK’d by HBC Planning Committee

On 5 June Hastings Borough Council (HBC)’s Planning Committee decided on the retrospective application for Listed Building Consent (LBC) for plastic fake olde lampposts  on Hastings Pier. The approval was unanimous. That was case HS/LB/24/00047. Will companion case HS/FA/24/00046 for the full application now go to Committee? Time will tell. Bernard McGinley reports on an evening of inconsistency.

The agenda was for two retrospective cases. The first concerned windows on Cuckoo Hill near the Observer Building (case HS/FA/24/00125). Much was made of the retrospectivity, which though disliked is not illegal (though some think it should be a planning consideration in reaching a decision). Less was made of the quality of the design and strong support for the homeowner of 26 neighbours or passers-by.

No-one suggested the terrace or the Town Centre Conservation Area had been made worse. However, proper procedures had not been complied with and that was unacceptable. ‘Frankly — tough’, one councillor said (46:39 of video recording). The officers’ Recommendation was for Refusal, and that was the members’ decision. UPVC windows (abundant in Conservation Areas) don’t get this treatment. The case wording declared:

The proposal results in a discordant and incongruous feature that does not have sufficient regard to its context and harmfully affects the character and appearance of the Town Centre Conservation Area.

Pier Listed Building Consent

With regard to the Pier lampposts, the only issue was the LBC and whether approval would affect the heritage value of the asset: notably the Pier as a Grade 2 listed building, or how approval would affect the Conservation Area. Soon enough LBC was granted without concern for the breaches of LBC already there, such as in case HS/FA/18/00900 on the Pier sheds. This is hardly good procedure. Nobody mentioned that breach of LBC is a criminal offence.

Pier issues were reported in HOT in October and May, but little of that was addressed. No one at the Planning Committee thought that winning the RIBA Stirling Prize 2017 had affected a heritage asset (for the better) and created an additional need for consideration of protection. Though it had.

At one stage (1:02:54) the Planning Services Manager thought the Pier’s wooden boards weren’t listed — missing the point that with approval comes listing. The HBC Conservation Officer put her right on that. More than the Pier substructure is listed:  it’s all listed. In effect the separation of Pier LBC (case 00047) from Pier planning permission (case 00046) — both deal with the same topics — meant that issues such as quality and sustainability were excluded from the discussion.

Quality, lack of

Pier enforcement issues went unmentioned as an aspect of preservation or enhancement. (Examples include the sheds and kiosks without permission to be there, and the building works behind the Pavilion building that are not the subject of an application. The supposed relationship of the modern-looking cast-iron lampposts to the fake olde resin ones was ignored: why was only one set being decided on?)

The Council is supine, again. All that’s been enhanced is the reputation of HBC as the home of low standards. The Pier enforcement case that the Council alleged in the committee report remains unknown, unfindable on the record. Apparently there is no such case.

The committee report referred to the Pier’s ‘Victorian character’, but the Pier superstructure is entirely modern, and nationally recognised. The retrospective proposals of HS/LB/24/00047 do not preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the Conservation Area that the Council ‘shall have special regard to the desirability’ of doing, as the lamps are not cast iron and disregard design guidance. An HBC design manual from 2007 stated in its Foreword: 

High quality materials are generally well worth the initial investment when funds allow. A community that is building a reputation for good design is more likely to continue to receive support for such investment.

‘Key problems’ on the seafront included:

Use of cheap standard street furniture including  . . . lamp posts.

The issue is not whether the Pier should be lit but the quality of the lighting to be provided there, including in materials and design. The committee report for 00047 mentioned neither plastic nor resin.

Lamppost swaying was thought to be a good thing by one member, but safety was not mentioned, nor the cumulative damage to the deck from lamppost wobbling.

Inconsistency

Much was made of the procedural irregularity of the Cuckoo Hill case. The Pier as a central asset of Hastings was less worried about, like its years of abuse since 2018, and the implications of this new unanimous decision. Whether that was stupidity or whiffiness cannot be said. Even by HBC standards this was a lowering evening.

A few years ago the Council got noticeably heavy with a homeowner in Silverhill who built a temporary Eiffel Tower in front of his house as a Lockdown substitute for an anniversary trip to Paris. Established developers who routinely disregard laws and ‘regs’ never seem to get this trouble. The Council strain at a gnat and swallow a camel (as Matthew xxiii: 24 says). For the Pier, basic procedures and requirements were disregarded on a large scale — but the response to that was not ‘Tough’. The case officer even suggested that Pier owner Sheikh Abid Gulzar’s changes were not affecting the character of the building: a peculiar assertion in the circumstances. The statement (at 58:51) was:

Chair, the application is recommended for approval, as there are no recognised harms to the heritage value of the Grade 2 listed structure by virtue of any of the proposed changes.

Obviously there are. When it comes to Hastings and its decisionmakers, clearly there are discordant and incongruous features, and discordant and incongruous features. ‘Sufficient regard to context’ is a moveable feast. If HBC members or officers say they want an acclaimed Pier, successful and recognised, there are reasons to doubt them. Its qualities are being systematically destroyed.

Comments can still be made on Pier retrospective planning application HS/FA/24/00046 to dccomments@hastings.gov.uk, before Friday 5 July advisably. The next Planning Committee is on Wednesday 10 July.

Members of the committee are: Cllrs Billie Barnes (chair), Tony Collins (vice chair), James Bacon, Matthew Beaver, John Cannan, Becca Horn, Judy Rogers, Nigel Sinden, Yunis Smith and Paula Warne.

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Posted 16:38 Friday, Jun 7, 2024 In: Home Ground

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