Council Leader’s report (June 2016)

ROOT1066

image003The ROOT1066 contemporary arts festival, to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, will take place mostly in September and October, but the programme of events running up to this has already begun. Funded by Hastings Council and a grant from Arts Council England, this promises to be a significant national festival, helping to get Hastings on the map as a key cultural destination and enhancing our growing reputation in the national press as a centre of creative excellence, part of our overall strategy of economic regeneration through cultural and creative excellence.

ROOT1066 this year incorporates the Coastal Currents visual arts festival with its open studios, and Stade Saturdays, a programme of Saturday events on the Stade Open Space, which kicked off last weekend with the Hastings Jazz Festival. Programmes for this year’s Stade Saturdays are available in the Hastings Council Tourist Information Centre, or you can download it here.

And, of course, there will still be the full programme of Council-funded festivals, including the Mid-Summer Fish Festival on the Stade Open Space (June 25th-26th), the St Leonards Festival (9th-10th July) and the Seafood and Wine Festival (17th-18th September), as well as all the many other festivals organised across the town throughout the summer.

You can see full details of the ROOT1066 festival here.


1066 Anniversary Community Grants

image005Associated with the ROOT1066 festival, the council has also established a £30,000 pot of money to encourage community events in the parts of town where the main festival events aren’t happening, or where local people don’t often engage with cultural activities. This includes, in particular, parts of the town identified in the recent Index of Multiple Deprivation as having high levels of employment and income deprivation – primarily the social housing estates in Hollington, Broomgrove, Tressell and Ore. Local community groups will be able to bid for a share of this pot of money to put on local festivals over the summer, around the 950th anniversary theme, but aimed at getting local people involved and engaged, leading into other community engagement programmes which we hope to fund through the Community Led Local Development EU funded programme, in particular. You can find out more, and apply for these grants, here.


Bottle Alley and Seafront

The improvement works to Bottle Alley on the seafront are complete. Two of the previously unused units in the alley image007have been let – one to a kayak hire company, and one to a language school. New lighting will be installed later in the summer, which will be fully programmable LED lighting, so it will be possible to have white lights, static colours, or pretty much any pattern of colour changes or programmed ‘waves’ of colour along the alley. Unfortunately, the original plan of co-ordinating this with lighting around the pier won’t be possible as they’re using simpler, non-programmable lighting.

The intention is to use the space for events and activities. There’s the ‘bike bomb’ next Saturday (11th June), and the council has been approached by others wanting to put events on down there – for example, a weekend ‘art market’. It’s also a good potential location for music events, as happened at the launch of last year’s Coastal Currents arts festival. The picture shows the alley (and its popularity) when it was first opened in 1935.

Other improvements to the seafront in this area are taking place too, with the promenade from the pier to Robertson Street now being resurfaced, new palm trees arriving soon, and two new kiosks – one at the ‘weather station’ on the upper promenade (see last month’s report for details) and one near the Robertson Street junction. Seafront free wi-fi is coming too.

With the re-opening of the pier and The Source in White Rock Baths, this area has been transformed, from a derelict seafront with a burned-down pier, an abandoned swimming pool and a dilapidated alley to somewhere vibrant, interesting and a hub for tourists. That transformation is continuing.


Business Improvement District

Hastings Town Centre is hoping to set up a Business Improvement District, which will allow a supplementary rate to be levied to fund additional services in the BID area. Although the council is involved in this, the BID application, and the administration of the funds arising from the supplementary rate, are managed by a BID Management Board. The board are currently putting together a business plan for the BID, which will be followed by a ballot of all businesses on the plan and the size of the supplementary rate, which will open on 14th October for 28 days. All businesses in the BID area will be able to participate, although to get approval, the BID has to be supported by both a majority of the businesses, and a majority of the rateable value in the BID area – so larger businesses have, in effect, more weight.

The current proposal is for a 1.5% rate levy, on 600 businesses, which would realise around £184,000 and £220,000 a year (subject to details in the final business plan). Businesses with a rateable value of less than £5,000 would be exempt. If approved, the supplementary rate will be levied on all businesses, whether they supported the proposal or not.

The BID would cover an area from Cambridge Gardens across to Wellington Square, down to the seafront as far as the pier, and up Queen’s Road to incorporate Morrison’s supermarket. Details of the proposals, and a detailed map of the area, are available on the council’s website, in the June cabinet agenda.

And the cricketer sculpture, in the picture, is to be returned soon, after repairs!


Compulsory Purchase Orders for Empty Homes

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Continuing with our programme of compulsory purchase of empty homes, the council is going to serve CPO notices on a further 20 empty properties. The locations of these houses is not yet published, but will be available after the CPO orders are made. They are however scattered across town, and deal with the next batch of long term empty properties where owners have failed to respond to the council with any plan to bring them back into use, after months or even years of trying to get the owners to behave responsibly.

In practice, few if any of the CPOs are likely to be necessary. In almost all cases, the receipt of a CPO notice is sufficient to spur the owner into action, by selling the property or bringing it back into use. Where the council does carry through a CPO, the property is then sold at auction, and the owner compensated for the value of the home as estimated by the district valuer, rather than what was realised at auction. The council cannot however recover their costs from the valuation – the owner has to be compensated in full. If it were possible to recover costs in full from this type of CPO, the council could do a lot more of them, and bring more empty homes back into use.


EU Debate

image012I spoke at a debate at Sussex Coast College last Friday, on the EU referendum – I was speaking in support of remaining in the EU. There were six of us on the panel, including Damian Collins, the Tory MP for Folkestone and Hythe (pro-EU), Andrew Michael (the UKIP candidate for Hastings & Rye at the last election) and two college students (who both spoke extremely well). I was speaking in favour of remaining in the EU not least because of the enormous advantages the EU has for Hastings – from the benefits free movement of citizens throughout Europe brings to the local tourism industry and language schools, to the £6m of EU funding we’ve received for regeneration projects in Hastings and the £9m of further funding in the pipeline.

Interestingly, the debate (based on questions from the audience) focused almost entirely on economic issues, and EU ‘regulation’ – immigration was hardly mentioned, beyond the Brexit side asserting that while we’d be allowed to send EU nationals home from the UK, UK immigrants in Spain would be allowed to remain there, which seems utterly bizarre. Andrew Michael claimed that he was ‘absolutely certain’ that the EU would do a trade deal with the UK, whereby we’d be allowed to ignore all the EU rules but have unrestricted access to EU markets, and they would do this for free, supposedly because their need for the UK export market is so great. Which seemed to me to be ridiculous – of course he can’t be ‘absolutely certain’ about anything that would happen if we left the EU, it’s unknown territory. And they won’t, they’ve already said that.

Fisheries policy was discussed briefly too, with the Brexit side arguing that EU quotas were damaging the Hastings fishery. But it’s the way the UK government allocates the quota that’s the problem, with less than ten percent of the quota going to the under ten metre boats, which make up 93% of the total fleet. Britain is still the second biggest fishery in the EU, and even if we came out of the EU, quotas would still be necessary. The peak of the UK fishing industry was in 1932, since then it’s declined because of the decline of fish stocks. If we didn’t have quotas, there would be no fish left at all.

But overall, the Brexit arguments were based on blind faith, the belief in a principle without regard to facts or rationality. And that seems to sum up the whole debate.


Observer Column

I also write a fortnightly column for the Hastings Observer, on a variety of topics. You can see all these columns that I’ve written on the Hastings Council website.