Hastings Council Leader’s report (July 2017)
To comment on any of the items below or obtain further information, please contact Cllr Peter Chowney.
Normal activities have been disrupted somewhat by two elections in May and June. This takes up a lot of the council’s resources, and also means that some work involving councillors can’t be taken forward, partly because of ‘purdah’ during the election period which restricts new initiatives that might appear to promote individual councillors and their political party, and partly because councillors are involved in the election campaigns.
This was inevitably true for the general election campaign as I was the candidate. The election resulted in an 11% swing to Labour, with the Conservative majority reduced from 4,796 to 346. It was a short but intensive campaign, with around 2,000 volunteers helping with the Labour campaign, most of whom had never been involved in an election or in active politics before. Many of them were young people who had not previously voted. I am very grateful to all those who supported and helped me, and put in so much time and effort. We will continue campaigning, in preparation for the next general election campaign, which could well be quite soon…
Following this close result, we had a visit from Jeremy Corbyn last weekend, where he spoke to a crowd of around 3,000 people in Warrior Square Gardens. I spoke there too. After this, Jeremy and I, along with Dawn Poole (Old Hastings councillor) went to meet Paul Joy, from the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, on the Stade, to discuss the future of the Hastings fishery, implications arising from Brexit, and the unfair allocation of fish quotas by the UK government. It’s essential that whatever happens over Brexit, and whatever deal over EU fish quotas is put together by the government, the way the quota is allocated in the UK needs to be fairer for the under ten metre fleet.
Grenfell Tower Fire
The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower has raised a lot of concerns both for those who live in social and high-rise housing, and for the authorities who manage housing or are required to assess its safety.
Hastings Council has no direct responsibilities here, as it doesn’t own or manage any housing. But we have decided to bring together information on all rented accommodation above three floors high, where cladding has been installed and whether it’s safe, both for social housing and private rented housing. We’ll be looking at that for workplace buildings too, in conjunction with the Fire Service.
Our most immediate concern was for the Four Courts, which are the only residential social housing tower blocks in Hastings, and which were refurbished with cladding a few years ago. We were able to find out that the cladding used wasn’t of the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) type installed at Grenfell Tower – rather it’s a non-flammable phenolic foam, covered with rendering.
We will now, in conjunction with the Fire Service, be looking at lower rise blocks, finding out where cladding is used, what kind it is, and whether it’s been fire tested. This will initially be social housing, but then private rented housing too. The council has no powers to demand this information, but we’ll make it clear to the public where any landlord refuses to supply the information. In some cases, council housing officers might have powers to inspect properties where fire safety risks are identified.
So the role of the council here will be to provide public reassurance where possible, and put whatever pressure we can on landlords, public and private, to release information, get tests done where appropriate, and take any other actions necessary arising from that.
We will also be looking at our emergency planning procedures, in particular the need for adequate rest and rehousing facilities, if a major incident were to occur in Hastings. The last time anything comparable happened here was when Marlborough House caught fire. Thankfully, no-one was hurt there, but 32 very vulnerable people did have to be cared for and rehoused, a process which took place remarkably smoothly.
The council has recently introduced two new initiatives to address street drinking, anti-social behaviour, litter and dog fouling, both of which have now come into force.
The first of these involves Public Space Protection Orders, which introduce alcohol ban areas in the town centres and seafront, and wider areas to provide police and wardens with new powers to seize alcohol and issue Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for breaches of the bans. Initially, these powers are being exercised by the police, but will be enforced by council street wardens later in the year. FPNs issued for street drinking will be linked to treatment programmes for alcohol and drug dependency, which are available locally. Anyone who persistently ignores the street drinking bans will be strongly encouraged to participate in these programmes, and could potentially be required to enter a programme, through the use of civil injunctions.
So far, the police have been issuing warnings rather than FPNs, as there has to be an ‘evidence gathering’ phase at the start of the process, where street drinkers are given warnings rather than fines. But if they persist (and there is evidence that some will), FPNs will be issued. If they refuse to pay them, court action and possibly civil injunctions will follow.
The second initiative is a trial underway with Kingdom enforcement, a private company who employ street wardens and provide services to the council free of charge, funded by fines received from the FPNs they issue. They will be targeting dog fouling and littering specifically. They began working in Hastings on July 5th, and have already issued a large number of notices. There have been a couple of instances where the notices have been cancelled, but the council is able to do this where the notices seem to have been unreasonable. However, while there have been quite a few complaints, they mostly have been by people saying ‘all I did was drop a cigarette end’ – but that’s a legitimate reason for issuing a ticket. So the message is clear – if you don’t want a fine, don’t drop litter, and clear up after your dog.
Fines can be paid online, via the council’s website.
The trial will continue for a year, after which the council will consider whether to discontinue it, keep it going, or run it ourselves through our own wardens. That decision will depend largely on whether it’s had a noticeable impact on litter and dog fouling across the town.
Reducing Health Inequalities
Hastings Council has been working with Hastings and Rother Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to put together a Reducing Health Inequalities programme, with many of the projects led by Hastings Council. This approach, with the council working closely with the CCG to develop a programme of preventative and community healthcare targeted at reducing health inequalities, is unusual and progressive.
The total funding for the five-year programme is around £5m, funded by the CCG, targeted on the following areas:
- Preventing ill health
- People experiencing ill health
- Establishing Health and Wellbeing Centres
- Healthy housing.
Since it was established in 2015, the programme has supported around 60 projects in the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, ranging from debt advice to a community farm project. Some of the key initiatives include:
- Improved heating and ventilation for elderly and vulnerable people;
- A project to provide mental and emotional support for young people, as well as assistance into employment, which has helped over 200 young people;
- A positive parenting programme;
- A cancer awareness and screening programme;
- A healthy living community pharmacy programme assisting people with long-term medical conditions;
- Researching the requirements and location for health and wellbeing centres;
- A small grants programme for local community projects.
Future initiatives include:
- Initiatives to help young pregnant women to give up smoking and alcohol, and improve breastfeeding rates;
- Improved support for mental health care among vulnerable and homeless people;
- Setting up health and wellbeing centres at selected community venues;
- Early detection and management of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Hastings Council-led initiatives in the programme include:
- ‘Let’s get Moving’, a social prescribing programme run by the council’s Active Hastings scheme in doctor’s surgeries;
- Adult community learning targeted at the most deprived wards;
- Domestic violence advice;
- A Wellbeing Hub to support rough sleepers with healthcare and to help them find and maintain permanent accommodation;
- Support for people who are inadequately housed after discharge from hospital.
The projects implemented so far seem to have been successful, and the overall programme looks like contributing significantly to health improvements, particularly in the most deprived communities and most vulnerable people. It’s a good example of partnership working, between HBC and the CCG, but also with all the other organisations that have received funding to deliver projects.
Long Term Empty Homes
The Council’s Cabinet today approved a recommendation to go ahead with the compulsory purchase of a further 12 long-term empty homes. This is the latest phase of a programme begun ten years ago, and targets around 50 properties a year using Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO). In practice, it’s rarely necessary to go all the way to actual compulsory purchase – usually, the threat of a CPO is enough to make property owners sell their empty home, or bring it back into use. However, even if a property is compulsorily purchased, the council can’t take any kind of administration fee from the sale – property owners must be compensated in full. So there is a cost to the programme, which could be as much as £20,000 per property, if the CPO goes to a public enquiry, but usually isn’t anywhere near as much as that.
What’s needed here is a change in the law, to allow councils to CPO empty homes more easily, and to be able to recover their costs from the property owners. With such a shortage of housing, property owners cannot be allowed to leave their homes empty and abandoned for many years, as some do.
St Leonards Post Office
The Post Office has now announced that they have found a retail ‘partner’ to run the Crown Post Office in St Leonards, which they’re proposing to hand over to a retailer who will turn it into a newsagent with post office services available. The council will be responding to the consultation, expressing the view that the current Crown Post Office should be retained.
There is an online consultation available, with details of the proposals, which you can find here.
The Post Office doesn’t have to take any notice of the consultation, but it’s worth having your say anyway. I’ve asked the Communication Workers’ Union for their views too, and will be incorporating these in our response.
Local composer Polo Piatti has launched an initiative to use the Cambridge Road Congregational Church as a new performance venue. The building, which looks more like a music hall inside than a church, was built in 1885, and is owned by His Place, who use it as a place of worship on Sundays. It will be available as Opus on all other days.
It has wonderful acoustics, and is an extraordinary building, and is Grade 2 listed. But it’s also on Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register, because of its state of disrepair. Profits from performances at Opus will go towards repairs and restoration of the building.
An anonymous donor has also undertaken to pay for the ‘world’s best piano’ for the venue, which is currently being custom-built by Phoenix, and will even have its own name: the ‘Phoenix Opus’. Phoenix, their website says, are the world’s most technologically advanced pianos. And Polo says they’re better than Steinway or Beckstein. So no matter what the performance, the piano itself could be a significant attraction …
The first performance will however not involve a piano, but will be a play – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists on 26th August, based on the book by Robert Tressell, about Edwardian working class life in Hastings. Find out more here.
Summer of Fun
The summer season is well underway now, with lots of events and activities taking place in Hastings. Last weekend was especially busy, with the Classic Car Boot Fair on Hastings Pier, the Midsummer Fish Festival on the Stade Open Space, the Independents Day celebrations in the America ground (and that is how they spell it!), and the Beer Festival at its new home on the Oval. Next Sunday, it’s Pirate Day.
And then of course there’s Carnival Week in August, the Seafood and Wine Festival on 16th-17th September, a summer programme of music and other events on the Pier
and there’s the Council’s Stade Saturdays programme too
… and there’s lots more besides. So it’s another summer of fun in Hastings – enjoy it; hopefully the good weather will last!