Council Leader’s report (May 2016)
The elections for Hastings Council took place on May 5th, with half the 32 seats contested – elections in Hastings are by halves, with one of the two councillors in each of the 16 wards elected. This time, there were also elections for an additional seat in Old Hastings as well as the county council seat for the Silverhill and St Helens division, caused by the death of John Hodges.
There was no change on the council – Labour retained control with 24 seats out of 32, and re-taking the county division. The Labour share of the vote overall increased, with Labour gaining over 50% of the votes across the whole borough.
The highest share of the vote was achieved by Dominic Sabetian in Braybrooke ward, who achieved just under 70% of the vote. Biggest swing to Labour was achieved by Nigel Sinden in Silverhill, with 8.8%. And the biggest percentage increase in majority was Andrew Batsford in St Helens, who increased his majority of one to 194 – so a 19,400% improvement!
The main council appointments (to be formally elected at the Annual Council meeting on 18th May) will be as follows:
Leader: Peter Chowney
Deputy Leader: Kim Forward:
Mayor: Judy Rogers
Deputy Mayor: Nigel Sinden
Chair of Planning Committee: Richard Street
Chair of Licensing Committee: Dominic Sabetian
Chair of Scrutiny Committee: Trevor Webb
The members of the Cabinet will be unchanged, so are:
Colin Fitzgerald (also Chair of the Charity Committee)
The mayormaking ceremony will take place at 4pm in St Mary-in-the-Castle on 18th May, followed by the rest of the council annual meeting at 6pm, where I’ll be outlining the council’s plan for the next two years, until we have all-out elections (following boundary changes) in May 2018. Do come along to either of these – you don’t need a ticket, just turn up.
Tourist Information Centre Reopened
The Aquila House renovation works are now complete, with the new front installed on the refurbished Tourist Information Centre. The council now owns the freehold of the building, which saves £25,000 in the first year – more in later years, as rents on the ground floor shops increase, and the council no longer has to pay for its own rent increases. Entrance to the new committee rooms and council chamber on the upper ground floor is via the TIC, with full wheelchair access. Aquila now houses all council workers, apart from the contact centre in the Town Hall, and a couple of ‘satellite’ offices for park rangers and the street warden service – the rest of the Town Hall is now occupied by the Register Office, and other organisations who’ve rented space there.
The TIC will also be selling jewellery, CDs, books and other small craft items from local makers, which can be displayed in the TIC – if you’d like to sell your work in the TIC, contact Lara Bolch on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hastings Pier re-opened, quietly, one grey April morning. This ‘soft opening’ allows people to enjoy the pier before the ‘official’ opening on May 21st, with a day of celebrations and the Madness concert. The main restaurant, fish & chip shop, and various kiosks are open, but the Visitor Centre and cafe have not yet opened at the time of writing this, but will be fully open by May 21st.
The pier had over 50,000 visitors in the first week it opened, with visitor numbers building as the weather improves – last Sunday, there were 13,700 human visitors, but the pier was also visited by two swarms of bees! Over the summer, there will be open air cinema presentations, and a circus during August, along with other events and activities.
The success of these events is essential: the pier must become a viable business. Piers are not cheap to run, those beautiful wide open spaces will have to be used to generate the income needed to make the pier sustainable.
And so the six-year project to refurbish and re-open Hastings Pier has come to its conclusion. We have in Hastings a new cultural icon, a symbol of our town’s regeneration: a pier for the 21st century. We need to make sure it’s also a pier for the 22nd century, and beyond.
There’s quite a lot of media interest at the moment in the Neighbourhood Plan adopted by St Ives Town Council, which forbids the building of new homes as second homes. This plan has yet to be adopted by Cornwall Council (who are the statutory planning authority), and there’s some doubt about whether it’s legal, but it has led to several reporters contacting me about whether we’d adopt a similar policy in Hastings.
Leaving aside the legality, the answer is: probably not. In Hastings, very few new build properties are sold as second homes. But there is a problem with second homes, with many properties in the Old Town in particular now used as second homes. This means they remain empty for most of the year, often only used for a few weekends. It also drives up property prices by making homes for local people scarcer. This is bad because it deprives someone of a home, but it’s also bad for the local economy, because the property is empty most of the time. Holiday lets aren’t such a problem, providing relatively cheap holiday accommodation, boosting tourism and the local economy.
The recent 3% extra stamp duty on second homes could provide a small deterrent to second home purchases, but what’s really needed is for councils to be allowed to charge a premium council tax rate on second homes. Councils in Wales have powers to do this, but not in England, where councils can give a discount on second homes (which Hastings doesn’t do) but not charge a premium. These powers need to be extended to English councils too.
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.