Council Leader’s report (September 2016)

Spectacular September

image003This month, Hastings will host perhaps the busiest, liveliest and most spectacular series of events we’ve ever seen in the borough, as the ROOT 1066 international arts festival to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings gets properly underway. As well as this, there will be annual events such as the Seafood and Wine Festival, Stade Saturdays, Coastal Currents festival, and concerts on the pier. Both ROOT1066 and the Seafood and Wine Festival are curated and organised by Hastings Council, with additional funding from the Arts Council (for ROOT1066). Hastings Council also made £30,000 available for grants for schools and community groups in the more deprived areas of the borough, so they could create their own local events and activities to reflect the ROOT1066 themes.
The big event this month will be Chris Levine’s ‘iy_project’ music and laser event, based on work he’s done at Glastonbury and the Eden Project in Cornwall. The free tickets to watch this from the pier have all been taken now, but the event will be easily visible along the seafront. That takes place on 10th September in the evening. The Seafood and Wine Festival is on the following weekend (17th September) at the Stade Open Space, and runs for the whole weekend.
There are plenty of other events and exhibitions too, from the Coastal Currents open studios, the ‘Battle of Hastings’ international BMX competition at The Source, to photography exhibitions, and the ‘I am a Norman’ project, featured in town centre bus shelters. There are events outside Hastings too, at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, and Glyndebourne Opera’s collaboration with Battle Festival to create a new community opera. For the full ROOT1066 programme, see the website or you can get a printed copy of the full programme from the Tourist Information Centre. For more about the Seafood and Wine Festival, click here and for the programme of other events and concerts on Hastings Pier, click here.
Watch out for the 16-page supplement in the Hastings Observer next week too, with the full ROOT1066 programme.
And as if that’s not enough, it doesn’t all happen in September – there will be more next month, leading up to Hastings Week, with the biggest and grandest bonfire procession and firework display ever!


Alexandra Park Water Quality

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The project to improve water quality in Alexandra Park, carried out by our contractor ‘Biomatrix’, has now completed. The work has created natural filtration, floating islands (which are now looking splendid) and opening up culverted connections between the ponds to provide shallow streams where the water splashes over rocks (in the picture), to oxygenate the water. Management of the lakes includes harvesting blanket weed three times a year, so it can be composted and used elsewhere in our parks as a natural soil improver. The effect has been dramatic – far fewer coliform bacteria surviving, more micropredators, more fish, and more visiting birds too – altogether, a much more vibrant and healthy ecosystem. This work is highly innovative, and has received international attention; we’re hoping to enter the project for various awards.
The original reason for doing this work was the introduction of more stringent EU bathing water quality standards, and the news that Pelham Beach was going to fail these new standards, because of contamination from the Alexandra Park stream where it discharges onto the beach. Now, we’ve managed to achieve a ‘good’ standard of bathing water quality, which would not have been possible without this work. So thanks to Biomatrix for doing the work, and creating a clean, sustainable, and safe ecosystem in our park. The picture shows me, Warren Davies (lead member for Environment and Place) and Galen Fulford, the MD from Biomatrix.
Careful monitoring of water quality throughout the stream and pond system through the park will continue, working with the Environment Agency and Southern Water to make sure good water quality is maintained.


Hastings Pride

image007Last Sunday saw the launch party for the Hastings Pride festival, which will happen for the first time next year. The event was organised by Hastings Youth Council, with assistance from Hastings Council and support from Hastings and Rother Rainbow Alliance. There were several speakers at the event (including me), all welcoming the idea of having our own Pride Festival in Hastings, and making the point that the best way to combat prejudice is to celebrate diversity, which is of course what pride festivals are all about. There was also music, poetry and stalls – a taster of what to expect next year. Hastings Pride 2017 will take place during August, probably over the bank holiday weekend. Details will be available next year.


Coastal Defences

Hastings Council has been successful in its bid for £4m to improve coastal sea image009defences. This follows on from an £80,000 grant the council had previously received to design a new coastal defence scheme. The first phase of the works will involve the construction of a new rock groyne at Carlisle Parade (the part of the seafront that’s most vulnerable to storm damage), with the 3-6 tonne granite rocks delivered by sea. Recycled shingle will also be brought in to raise beach levels here. There will be new wooden stairs installed too, to get down onto the beach. This phase of the works will take place this autumn.
The second phase of the work will involve strengthening the Harbour Arm, by the fishing beach. This will again involve using (larger) granite rocks to bolster the sides of the arm, and fill in the gaps in the arm. The filled gaps will then be faced with concrete. So the familiar Hastings landmark of the ‘gappy’ Harbour Arm will be no more. But it will mean the fishing beach becomes safer for boat launching, and erosion of shingle is controlled.
In total, this work will involve putting in place an astonishing 45,000 tonnes of granite, which will hopefully hold the storms at bay for a little longer.


Syrian Refugees

image011Some while ago, Hastings Council offered to accept 100 Syrian refugees over four years, as part of the government programme to offer asylum to the most vulnerable refugees in camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. So far, Hastings has not been offered any families, partly because the programme has got off to a slow start, and partly because the support structures (for health and social care in particular) needed setting up.
We also needed landlords to come forward with offers of accommodation. One problem there has been finding landlords who are prepared to offer property at the Local Housing Allowance – which is the figure housing benefit is based on, but is usually below the actual market rent landlords charge. The government is only prepared to pay LHA to house refugees, not market rents. However, one major provider of private rented housing in Hastings has now said they’re prepared to offer larger 3-4 bedroom accommodation at LHA, which fits well, as we had offered to take Syrian families rather than single people (mainly because there’s a big shortage of single person accommodation in Hastings, family accommodation is easier to find).
So we’re now hopeful that Syrian refugee families will arrive in Hastings soon, and that Hastings people will be able to welcome them and support them, just as they have done for the dozens of asylum seekers we’ve welcomed to Hastings over the past ten years or so as part of the ‘dispersal’ programme.
We’re also hoping to set up a network of volunteers to help new refugee families settle in, offering to show them the basics of life in the UK, and helping them discover and enjoy Hastings. Watch for details of this in the local paper and social media.


St Leonards Anti-Social Behaviour Problems

A recent meeting in St Leonards about anti-social and criminal behaviour caused by youth ‘gangs’ attracted large numbers of local people and businesses, angry about perceived inaction by the police in dealing with it.
Some of the problems have undoubtedly been caused by cuts in police funding, so they have less money to carry out routine patrols and traditional ‘frontline’ policing. East Sussex County Council youth services have been cut too, which used to operate in areas such as St Leonards where there had been problems with young people – but again, county council budgets have been cut dramatically, and they have had to push more funding into children’s services and adult social care. So these sort of problems are, to some extent, an inevitable consequence of austerity.
That does not, of course, mean the situation is acceptable, or that the anti-social behaviour should be allowed to continue. The police are intending to tackle this by using a new tool called ‘civil injunctions’. These are to be served imminently on the ‘gang’ leaders. This might seem like a bureaucratic and not very robust response, but it could work. If the police were to rely on criminal law, they wouldn’t be able to do much unless they actually caught one of them in the act of committing a criminal offence. Otherwise, they’d be dependent on other people making reports, and when it went to court it would be hard to prove ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ (if indeed it ever went to court, which would depend on the severity of the offence) . Civil injunctions don’t need that burden of absolute proof. But the police can serve them on individuals, and require them to do, or not do, particular things – like not going into the town centre, not associating with other named individuals, remaining indoors after 8pm, and so on. Then, if they breach that, they’re automatically guilty of a criminal offence – and that’s much easier to prove.
The council will be monitoring this to see if it’s effective, and I shall continue to discuss the problem, and proposed solutions, with the Hastings police commander. But I’m hopeful that the civil injunctions route will be successful.