Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

St Leonards church, which ceased to function as a place of worship last year.

Science-on-Sea: a flagship proposal for the Town Deal

Science-on-Sea is Hastings Urban Design Group’s proposal for the Town Deal, taking advantage of the town’s many connections with the sea. The cultural and scientific hub and visitor attraction would be centred on the redundant St Leonards church building on the sea front. Nick Terdre reports.

Science-on-Sea – one of 40 plus proposals submitted to the Town Deal board – involves drawing on Hastings’ many maritime links to create a vibrant visitor hub, including possibly a new home for the Science Museum’s mothballed maritime gallery. It would be housed in and around the redundant and, as Hastings Urban Design Group reminds us, maritime-themed St Leonards church on the sea front just west of the Royal Victoria Hotel.

“Hastings’ greatest strength and selling point is its maritime character, reflected in British national history, our fishing fleet and our heritage as one of the earliest seaside resorts,” the independent town-planning group says.

“Look to the future. Even before COVID more people were seeking ‘staycations’ in interesting and attractive places on the coast. A Marine Conservation Area has been declared which will expand our knowledge about and interest in what is in the sea – to be exploited or protected. Hastings faces the busiest shipping lanes in the world with sight-seeing cruise ships and many traffic management concerns.

“The Town should grasp these and other potential opportunities.”

The project is costed at £2.5m, one tenth of the £25m offered to Hastings as part of the government’s Town Deal, which is intended to give a much needed regeneration boost to towns to revive their local economies.

The initiative was launched before the coronavirus struck, but the lengthy lockdown it occasioned has made the need for a helping hand more urgent, and the Town Deal board recently submitted four proposed projects in an accelerated bidding for a £1m pot offered in advance of the main scheme.

Maritime personality

Hastings’ maritime personality should underpin and shape the investment plan which the board is due to submit by end January, with the Science-on-Sea proposal as its flagship project, HUDG suggests. The proposal already has the backing of various necessary parties.

“Chichester Diocese have already given their strong support for the idea by agreeing to donate the church building and land. The Science Museum have shown strong interest in possible use of their mothballed maritime gallery. The Burtons’ St Leonards Society and the Nautical Maritime Trust (the Shipwreck Museum) are on board.

“Our MP Sally-Ann Hart has expressed particular interest in a maritime focus for the Investment Plan and for this project in particular.”

“This could work,” the group says. “Does the Town Deal Board have the courage to seize the chance?”

The church is said to be the only one on the south coast with a direct, uninterrupted view of the sea (photo: Chris Lewcock).

The scheme has a lot going for it, not least from a heritage and cultural point of view. The church is located in Burton territory, right next to the Burton memorial in the church cemetery accessed via West Hill Road.

A Grade 2 listed building dating from the 1960s, the building was designed by a pair of prominent architects, brothers Giles and Adrian Gilbert-Scott.Amongst other buildings Giles Gilbert-Scott worked on Battersea Power Sation, Liverpool Cathedral and designed the distinctive red telephone box. The project calls for a permanent Burtons’ and Gilbert-Scotts’ exhibition space and archive to be established in it.

A maritime-themed craft workshop and gallery, along with a performance space, would also be housed within the church, along with a regional gallery of maritime exhibits and a community room. A plaza would be set up between the church and the sea front, with sculptures and performance space.

The steps up to the West Hill Road and the nearby Archery Ground development would be upgraded. There would also be an upgrading of the wildlife areas around the church and either side of the steps.

Housing too

And with a nod to Hastings’s housing shortage, the stalled Undercliff housing development on the land below the Burton memorial would be completed.

The project proposers say they would create a management team, possibly a Community Land Trust or Community Interest Company, to work with former parishioners of the church, other local residents, the Burtons’ St Leonards Society and local and national heritage bodies to secure and enhance the future of the church and its environs.

As a bonus, there would be no need for new parking facilities – the church stands opposite Marina car park, complete with two recently upgraded electric vehicle charging points.

A little further to the west, several local community groups have collaborated on a Town Deal project for West St Leonards centred around the old Bathing Pool site.


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Posted 19:07 Wednesday, Aug 26, 2020 In: Home Ground


  1. Chris Lewcock

    The undercliff site is an eyesore at the heart of Burtons’ St Leonards which could be and should be a major attraction for Hastings. The issue needs to be resolved and not just tutted about. The shell structure that has already been built is, I am advised, basically sound. The problem has always been to recoup the cost of stabilising the land behind from building out the shell. The sums haven’t added up. Similarly in order to save the Church (and the footpath) the cliff needs stabilising. Again any proposal for the Church is unlikely to fund cliff stabilising. This is the same stretch of cliff and it is likely to be far more cost-effective to do both bits of cliff together. The whole point of the Town Deal is to underpin ideas which are otherwise unlikely to take off – underpinning the cliff here would meet that objective. This is a chance to create (or re-create) something valuable for the town.

    Comment by Chris Lewcock — Monday, Aug 31, 2020 @ 08:52

  2. Bolshie

    Thank you for your support DAR in what I said about the Undercliff site. I just cannot see the cost of repairing the land slip for what the site is being a financially viable project. If it had been in anyway desirable some developer would have snatched it from the Crown over the past 13 years it has been abandoned.
    HBC spent nearly £4K on a Geo Technical report to see what it would cost to sort it out and also the overall situation with the collapse. They might have got it on a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) but I believe that report made it clear what the cost of restoring the site was cost prohibitive.
    This skeleton of a structure and the church are the only two buildings located behind the fault line from Undercliff to Caves Road. I was told by an authority on the Burton’s who created Burton St. Leonards how they realised this area was unstable and never attempted to build anything in front of that fault line.

    Comment by Bolshie — Saturday, Aug 29, 2020 @ 08:23

  3. Bea

    It’s a really good idea to have a science centre, but I didn’t see much about alternative energy. The sea is a great potential source (tidal and wave) and we have wind and solar energy here just waiting to be tapped. If this project could become a leading demonstration area for new energy projects that would be really interesting.
    This is a heretical thought and many will hate it: do a deal with the pier to put wind and solar demonstration units at the end, together with displays of heat pumps, super-insulation and other things. I dare you!!

    Comment by Bea — Friday, Aug 28, 2020 @ 09:42

  4. DAR

    Bolshie is right about the Undercliff debacle. Building there should be avoided.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Aug 27, 2020 @ 14:00

  5. kendal

    the council are always carping how they haven’t sufficient budget to provide a proper 21st century recycling refuse system. instead of a white elephant like this that will attract probably as many visitors as the existing two maritime museums do on rainy days – far away from all the resort attractions – they could invest this money in preventing Eversfield Place, the sea front, Church Road and many other streets from resembling landfill sites where people have to walk daily through detritus. Or back the plan for the Hastings, to Eastbourne shoreline ot become a kelp regeneration zone. if we’re so proud of this resort and want to make it attractive do something useful and lasting instead of gimmicks.

    Comment by kendal — Thursday, Aug 27, 2020 @ 08:30

  6. Bolshie

    This plan to save a wonderful piece of modern architecture is a great idea and I hope they can pull it off.
    However, I cannot see the idea of trying to finish off the Undercliff site along from the church. This was a doomed site back in the 70’s when a landslide stopped a development then. Shuttering was put up and the site laid empty until 2004 when a developer somehow got the old planning application revived. Then in 2006/7 with a skeleton concrete frame up there was another landslip in the same place buckling the shuttering. The developer walked. The company went into liquidation and for fourteen years it has belonged to the Crown under Bona Vacantia as it has no owner and could not be sold.
    When the revived application came up many of us locals wrote objections to the application. But of course HBC planning committee ignored us residents. Most based upon the land instability of the past and of the fault line that extends from this location along where the church is and through to Caves Road. The Sussex steps mentioned also collapsed around 2007 and have been closed since.
    Just put the funds into the church to save that. Far more important than that Undercliff white elephant

    Comment by Bolshie — Wednesday, Aug 26, 2020 @ 20:52

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