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The future of 1 and 3 Chapel Park Road is under threat.

The future of 1 and 3 Chapel Park Road is under threat

Future of St Leonards on the line

Overlooking Warrior Square Station are two Victorian villas, 1 and 3 Chapel Park Road.  The planning application to replace them with a block of 29 flats will be considered by the planning committee this coming Wednesday, 6 November, at a meeting in Hastings Town Hall starting at 6pm. Local resident Bernard McGinley considers the implications for St Leonards.

The council officers’ recommendation is to grant permission, while speakers against the proposals will be Cllr Andrew Cartwright (Gensing) and local resident Mrs Marigold Chamberlin. If the decision is made to allow the development, the character and charm of St Leonards will be badly affected — just where many visitors step out, at Warrior Square Station.

There’s an old blues song that goes:

If it wasn’t for bad luck

I wouldn’t have any luck at all.

St Leonards as a nineteenth-century townscape has survived mainly by neglect — including the effects of a couple of world wars. It wasn’t intended, it wasn’t planned, but it happened. More bad luck followed — because planners and developers have seemed incapable of seeing that in central St Leonards there is something exceptional.  Towns such as Worthing and Bexhill would sell their grannies for such urban quality.  To many however, the Borough has a widespread reputation as the home of low standards – both in building design and procedurally.

The development (if approved) will be beside – but not above – the tunnel between Warrior Square and Hastings stations. As the dentist Szell in Marathon Man (1976) kept asking: “Is it safe?”


There was subsidence at 1 Chapel Park Road that was treated in about 2004 — but both the Council’s business development manager and the site’s developer claim to know nothing about this.

No problem: there’s an abundance of planning policy and regulation that takes care of such concerns. Land instability is addressed under Policy DG21 of the Hastings Local Plan:

Planning permission will be granted for development on land potentially subject to instability only where the applicant provides convincing supporting evidence that any actual or potential instability can be overcome through appropriate remedial, preventative or precautionary measures.

Network Rail, whose tunnel it is, are not reassured. They said so in a letter dated 11 September 2013, citing the potential breach of DG21.

Entirely legitimately, the Local Plan is being superseded by the Hastings Development Management Plan. Policy DM5 (a) there states that evidence of dealing with land instability

must be supplied before development takes place. This evidence is to show that any actual or potential instability can be overcome through appropriate remedial, preventative or precautionary measures.

At the application stage, for those sites with a recorded history of instability information about the extent of remediation and/or mitigation measures will be required.

Any further detail that may be required will be conditioned.

Note that ‘further’: instability issues should be resolved or defined before conditions are applied.

Additionally, nowhere in the planning department’s deliberations is the site’s relationship with the King’s Road Conservation Area addressed.  However Policy EN1 (Built and Historic Environment) of the Hastings Planning Strategy states:

There is a presumption in favour of the conservation of heritage assets and their settings.

All clear? The relentless high-mindedness of such policy pronouncements is a wonder to behold. Among them are “the impact upon more distant views and from across the other sides of the valleys,” and appropriate “scale, form, height, mass and density of any building,” the appreciation of historic context, and “visual impact, including the height, scale, and form of [appropriate] development.” With such furious ignorals, the setting of the King’s Road Conservation Area and the setting of Warrior Square Station are under threat.

Substantive grounds

One possible outcome is that the planning committee will vote for ‘permission with conditions’. If that happens, it will fly in the face of the Council’s own criteria. But last July they disregarded their own Policies DG7 (on maintaining or enhancing the visual quality of the surrounding area) and DG8 (on the protection of views) to allow a new house that would block a celebrated view of the Old Town from Ashburnham Road.

The chairman of the planning committee at that meeting made a declaratory statement: “People have the right to develop their land:  that’s basically what it says in the planning literature.” Not to be misunderstood, he immediately added: “But people have the right to develop: that is the right that is enshrined in law, and if you’re going to overturn that, you need substantive grounds to do that.”

As the constraints on development embodied in various Housing Acts date back to 1909, and the centenary of the Royal Town Planning Institute is only a few months away, this seems a peculiar perspective. Indeed, to some the statements seemed like misdirection of the planning committee.

In the Chapel Park Road case, the planning department paper for Wednesday 6 November mentions the following Hastings Local Plan 2004 policies:  H6, DG1, DG2, DG3, DG7, DG13, DG20, DG21, DG25 and C1. Strangely it does not mention DG8, on the protection of views:

Planning permission will not be granted for development which would obstruct public views:

(a) of local landmarks which contribute to townscape or ‘sense of place’;  or 

(b) of important urban or natural features; or

(c) from public positions which provide an appreciation of the character, form or setting of the town.

All three – (a), (b), and (c) – apply to this high site overlooking St Leonards Warrior Square Station, appreciated since 1851. The view from London Road across Southwater Valley is an underrated gem of urban planning (and Gestalt): even St Leonards doesn’t see how lucky it is.

Next stop – Alpha Cafe

Looking up to Chapel Park Road from Warrior Square station - Alpha Cafe, next in the developers' sights, is to the right.

The planning department’s statement to the planning committee about the southern end of Chapel Park Road, that ‘the site lends itself to flatted accommodation,’ is tendentious at best. ‘Flatted accommodation’ is what has already been inflicted on Chapel Park Road. The threat is of more to follow. One development normalises another. If approval is given for this one, the station area will be under threat. The low-rise Alpha Café there is threatened by a medium-rise development that would destroy the sense of spaciousness of Warrior Square Station — the sense that this is somewhere litorally different. Inevitably it would also damage the setting of William Tress’s Italianate mid-nineteenth century station.

A report going to the Hastings Council cabinet on 4 November states that the Alpha Café Site Development Proposal “is seen as one of the most important early interventions to be achieved to ‘kick-start’ the regeneration process.”

But newbuild is not necessarily regeneration; this Alpha Café redevelopment could well be destructive of what makes St Leonards attractive to different groups of people.

The same report states that between 2001 and 2011 the population of central St Leonards increased by 24%. (In the borough overall it was 6%). This notoriously high density is an issue in proposing a block of 29 flats on the edge of the area.

As for 1 and 3 Chapel Park Road, in a sop to local unease about the damage or change being proposed, the planning application has a proposal for ‘public art’ as part of the development. This misses the point that the existing townscape has more artistry left alone than the developers’ bloated cuboid could ever accomplish, however titivated and lipsticked. (Public art is not in itself being objected to here.) The station area has a coherence and an integrity – a totality – that deserves to be respected.

This proposal – if approved – would do wanton harm to the Victorian charm of St Leonards, to the visitor economy and local quality of life. The councillors might vote either way. At present it’s too much to hope that St Leonards’ luck has changed at last.


Documents relating to this application can be seen on the Council website under the reference number HS/OA/13/00577.

Report on Alpha Café site development proposal.

Previous article: Threats to Southwater Valley.




Posted 10:13 Monday, Nov 4, 2013 In: Home Ground

Also in: Home Ground

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