Hastings Council Leader’s Report: April 2019

New Business Incubator Units: Update

Last month, I reported on a Local Growth Fund grant application we’d submitted to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, towards the costs of building a new business incubator facility in Sidney Little Road, providing 28 business start-up units and creating over 70 new jobs. The grant application has been successful, for £500,000, so the project can go ahead – building work will begin in the summer. We’re still waiting to hear if we’ve been successful in a £250,000 bid to the Community Led Local Development Fund (CLLD, a local project fund, totalling around £6m, set up from an earlier successful EU bid by Hastings Council). If we are, that will allow us to fit out the upper floor as a business skills training and development centre. The money from CLLD is targeted on the most deprived communities in Hastings and Bexhill, so the training and development will be provided to people from these more deprived communities.

With the £500,000 grant, there will be no costs to the council – rents for the units will cover the cost of maintaining and administering the building, as well as repayments on capital loans. This new facility will complement the council’s existing business incubator facility on Castleham Industrial Estate, which is oversubscribed.

Seafront Improvements

You may remember that some time ago I reported on a Coastal Communities Fund grant we’d successfully bid for to fund (amongst other things) and new feature on the seafront, to replace the disused fountains above White Rock Baths. This had stalled because the costs had turned out to be higher than expected. We were contemplating whether we should use HBC money to top up the grant funding, but it turned out that some of the Coastal Communities Fund money had been returned by other councils because they’d failed to spend it, so we bid for and received an additional £75,000, which means that installation can now go ahead, hopefully getting it finished before the summer. It will comprise a new seating area, planting, and ultrasonic mist generators, which will be illuminated too. It will also allow us to put right water leaks into The Source skatepark below.

So this will finally get rid of a prominent bit of shabby seafront that’s been abandoned since the fountains packed up around twenty years ago.

Hastings Pier: Update

Earlier in the year, at a meeting with me, Amber Rudd, Friends of Hastings Pier, and council officers, Mr Gulzar (the owner of Hastings Pier) promised to open the pier by the end of March. However, he later announced that it wouldn’t open until May Bank Holiday weekend, because of storm damage. I put out a press release expressing what could best be described as ‘extreme disappointment’ (as did Amber Rudd).

Mr Gulzar then announced that the pier would open in time for Easter, which was later brought forward again to April 1st .

Council building control officers have met Mr Gulzar’s team to look at the storm damage, and have advised him to put in place warning signs about walking under the pier, as he had put information on his own website stating that bits were falling off underneath the pier. Building Control officers have seen a structural survey report carried out on the pier, and details of repairs taking place to deal with earlier storm damage, and have determined that the pier is safe to open to the public.

And the pier did indeed re-open on April 1st , in that the gates were opened for public access, although none of the cafes, kiosks or other facilities was open. I understand these will be re-opening soon, with the café opening by the coming weekend. This is good news, and it was great to see the pier open again.

I will be encouraging Mr Gulzar to talk to the council about his longer-term plans for the pier, to ensure that he works closely with the council on any proposed alterations in advance, to make sure that valid planning applications and listed building consent applications are submitted, and to reach out more to his critics and involve the local community in the future of the pier. Over £14m of public money was spent on the acquisition and restoration of Hastings Pier, by Heritage Lottery Fund, Hastings Council, and 3 voluntary public donations. It’s understandable that members of the public in Hastings still want to have a say in its future.

Pelham Crescent

This grade 2* listed structure has long been shabby and neglected, and was at one point on Historic England’s ‘buildings at risk’ register. It was originally built as an arcade, with the shops fronting in on the arcade (as in Queen’s Arcade). The shops were later re-aligned to face the seafront, but the ‘lantern light’ roof that originally allowed light in to the arcade remained.

Over the years, unauthorised changes were made to the shops, and the lantern light covered over. Then, about ten years ago, Hastings Council worked with Historic England to develop a grant programme aimed at restoring the frontages and the ‘lantern light’. The first shopfront to be restored was the council-owned St Mary-in-the Castle café, where the lantern light has also been fully restored. Since then, a combination of threats of enforcement action over unauthorised works has led to other owners either taking up the offer of a restoration grant from Historic England, or selling up. Enforcement action has also been carried out or threatened for the crescent housing properties too, using both listed buildings enforcement and ‘Grotbuster’ powers (s.215 of the 1998 Town and Country Planning Act).

Gradually, all but one of the shop properties accepted grant funding, with restoration now taking place or planned. The last remaining property where the owner had refused to co-operate (the former ‘Ocean Catch’ fish and chip shop) has now been sold, and we understand that the new owner intends to take up the offer of the Historic England grant to fully restore this property too.

The road above the shops is still a problem, because it’s in poor condition and leaks. This means that some of the premises that have begun restoration work have found that water penetration has damaged the newly restored spaces. The ownership of the roadway is unclear, and is a joint responsibility of the shop owners and the council. However, Historic England is prepared to look at a grant for restoring the roadway too, but not until 2020. The council has achieved a temporary fix though (using bits of roofing felt along the edge of the roadway) that seems to have worked above St Mary-in-the-Castle café, so we’re going to extend that along the road above the other shops too, until the road can be fully restored.

When the final property is restored, and the roadway fixed, this will bring to a conclusion a project that’s stretched over ten years, through a gradual but determined ‘carrot and stick’ approach from Hastings Council and Historic England working together. Historic England have described it as their most important restoration project in South East England. Within the next couple of years, we’ll hopefully see this beautiful and prominent structure finally fully restored.

Jerwood Relaunch

In July, the Jerwood Gallery will relaunch itself as the Hastings Contemporary Gallery. This concludes a process that’s been going for some time to create a gallery independent of the Jerwood Foundation, beginning with establishing the gallery as an independent charity last year, and getting National Portfolio Funding from Arts Council England. This grant requires the gallery to do outreach work with schools and other local organisations, and work towards free entry.

The Jerwood collection of paintings will be returned, but this will allow the gallery to be used in a more flexible way, with different exhibitions for different lengths of time in different spaces. It will also enable more focus on exhibiting work by local contemporary artists.

Becoming independent of the Jerwood Foundation also means losing their Jerwood funding, but the gallery board of trustees is confident that they’ll be able to replace that, and have already received several substantial donations, based on the strength of the exhibitions they’ve put on since the gallery was opened, and the international reputation they’ve already established.

Rough Sleeping Update

Rough sleeping remains stubbornly high, with 48 rough sleepers contacted on the streets in February – an increase of 85% on February 2016. Around 80% of these had no local connection, but had come to Hastings because of the reputation we have for supporting rough sleepers, both through the council helping rough sleepers into accommodation, and the help and support they get from voluntary sector agencies.

Unlike some councils, Hastings Council offers help and support to all rough sleepers, whether they have a local connection or not (an approach that has helped us win a couple of significant grants to help with the work, as detailed below). But dealing with rough sleeping isn’t as simple as just finding accommodation for them. Most rough sleepers have complex problems that make it difficult for them to sustain a tenancy – many have been on the street repeatedly, between short tenancies that they’ve not been able to sustain.

Last year, the council was successful in its bid for a £664,000 grant to help rough sleepers, to be shared between Hastings and Eastbourne. This was used to create a multi-disciplinary team of health, mental health, social care, substance misuse and housing professionals working collaboratively to develop support plans for each rough sleeper. The initial focus for this work was ‘entrenched rough sleepers’ who have been on the streets the longest, and need a lot of support to get back into permanent housing and to support a tenancy. Temporary accommodation, with support, is provided at an Assessment Centre in Hastings. From here, the multi-disciplinary team identify the most suitable long term accommodation solution for each individual. Those who require the highest level of continuing support are offered ‘Housing First’ units (provided from existing housing association stock) in Hastings and Eastbourne.

The level of support is gradually reduced over time as each individual gains the confidence to live independently. The project has also enhanced day centre activities in both towns. Over 30 rough sleepers have been helped into temporary and assessment accommodation through this project so far, with eight moved into permanent accommodation.

The project also includes work to prevent rough sleeping, by identifying those at risk and helping them to find secure accommodation or remain in their existing accommodation. This has helped a further 74 people.

Then early this year, we won a further £310,000 for a ‘rapid rehousing pathway’ project across all councils in East Sussex. The project will create a dedicated team of support officers working with rough sleepers with low to medium level support needs, as well as people at a high risk of rough sleeping, to help them get into accommodation and sustain a tenancy. The project takes referrals from the council’s housing options team, as well as the Sussex Rough Sleeping Prevention Project.

All of this money is short term, though. We have been promised another £800,000 for next year (again shared between Hastings and Eastbourne), but this short-term money to deal with the symptoms of a deeper, underlying problem will never prevent rough sleeping. The reasons why people end up sleeping on the street are complex, but are usually a mixture of untreated mental health problems, drug and alcohol dependency, insecure tenancies, and a lack of affordable accommodation. Until there are changes to national policy to restore the mental health and addiction support services that have been cut, to make private sector accommodation more secure and affordable, and building a lot more social housing, the numbers of rough sleepers are likely to remain high, even if they spend less time on the streets through the intervention of (very expensive) projects such as these.

Homeless Temporary Accommodation

The number of households being accepted as ‘priority homeless’ for temporary accommodation (‘priority homeless’ as defined by statute, but basically households with people under 18 or over 65, or with particular kinds of disability of health problems) has remained stable, albeit very high, over the last couple of years. However, the length of time households spend in temporary accommodation has increased, because of the lack of permanent rented accommodation they can afford. This is usually bed & breakfast accommodation, which is unsuitable and expensive – the council spends over a million pounds on providing temporary accommodation for homeless households.

So the council has now approved £2.5m in borrowing to buy housing to use as temporary accommodation. The costs of maintaining and managing this accommodation, combined with the loan repayments, is significantly cheaper than the extortionate costs of bed & breakfast accommodation, and is much better for the homeless households. And the council ends up with a valuable asset, rather than just giving the money to downmarket hotels.

The programme has only just started, but 11 homes are in the purchasing pipeline at present, providing 28 bed spaces. This will use around a million pounds of the £2.5m earmarked for this, but will save the council £165,000 a year. The £2.5m should be fully committed by September, so when all the homes have been bought, savings will amount to getting on for half a million pounds a year, and homeless households will be accommodated in a much more satisfactory way.

The government could easily tackle the homelessness crisis by building more social rented housing, as well as by creating secure tenancies in the private sector, coupled with paying housing benefit at a level that covers actual rents. If and when that happens, the council can either sell the housing, or transfer it to the council’s housing company to make available for rent.

NB: The house above isn’t one we’re buying, it’s for illustration only .. it’s actually the house I was born in!

That’ll do for now – if you’d like more information on any of this, leave a message on 01424 451066, or e-mail at cllr.peter.chowney@hastings.gov.uk

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