Hastings Council Leader’s Report: August 2018

Last year, Hastings Council consulted local people on its ‘masterplan’ proposals for White Rock Gardens, and land from the seafront through to Summerfields Woods. Following on from that, we now need to embark on a more formal process to develop an Area Action Plan (AAP) for this area, covering not just White Rock Gardens, but the whole of Hastings Town Centre as well.

Area action plans constitute a formal addition to the council’s local plan, and as such have to be produced using a detailed and complex legal process. They define planning policies relating to land use in the area of the plan. So it’s different from the White Rock and Bohemia Masterplan – that covers land the council owns, so is proposing to redevelop the area itself. The AAP sets policies for how the defined area will be developed through planning applications by landowners.

Proposals in the plan have to be supported by evidence. So, for example, when planning for retail development in Hastings Town Centre, we have to gather evidence in the shape of external assessments by specialist consultants to predict the likely future demand for retail premises in the town centre. Predicting the future, particularly with high streets changing so quickly, can be difficult though, and many of these expert assessments are likely to be challenged during the planmaking process. The plan also has to be ‘sustainable’, both economically and environmentally. And it has to take account of policies in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which has recently been revised.

During this summer, the draft AAP is available for consultation. There are meetings with residents’ associations, drop-in sessions at the council offices, and consultations with local business groups. The plan is also available online, or a paper copy and paper forms for comments are available at the Contact Centre, Tourist Information Centre, and Hastings Library. Full details are available at:

https://www.hastings.gov.uk/planning/policy/emergingpolicy_guidance/action/

This stage of consultation closes on 24th September, but that’s not the end of it. The council then has to consider the responses to the consultation and produce a ‘submission’ version, which is then considered by a government planning inspector at an ‘examination in public’. This will be advertised at least six weeks in advance, and anyone not happy with proposals in the plan will be able to make objections, or suggestions for changes, to the planning inspector. This could be, for example, landowners who own land in the plan area, or members of the public who object to a particular proposed policy. After the enquiry, the inspector makes their recommendations to the council for any amendments to the AAP, which in practice the council has to adopt. The final AAP will then come into effect after being approved by the council in December 2019.

Summer Events

It’s that time of year again, when the schools have broken up for the summer holidays, and Hastings is packed with visitors. Despite big budget cuts, Hastings Council is still able to provide a lot of events and activities throughout the summer, largely because we’ve bid for and won external funding to make them possible. The Stade Saturdays programme of events continues right through to October, with the Lantern Society’s folk festival, Cirque Rouages and Southpaw Dance Company during August. And at the end of a warm summer’s evening, don’t miss the spectacular Bottle Alley light shows, at or soon after dusk, with an extended show on Fridays. Exact times are on the banner at the top of the council’s website, which at the moment says 10pm (but I’m not convinced that’s been updated – it will be put right on Monday!).

Some of the events we’ve funded are put on in partnership with others. For example, there’s The Source Park’s free BMX session to those new to BMX biking, every Tuesday afternoon. The Source are also putting on their spectacular ‘Battle of Hastings’ international BMX competition, on 6th – 9th September. For young children, there are Play Days at Alexandra Park, and Street Bites, aimed at 11-16 year olds, twice weekly in August. There’s a free football tournament at Horntye at the end of August, and free ‘Summer Streets’ sessions, with football, multi-sports and craft activities throughout August. And there are supervised play sessions at Pelham beach, on Mondays, Fridays, and weekends. You can find details here: https://www.hastings.gov.uk/sport_play/sport/summer-holidays/

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery offers free storytelling from around the world, inspired by pieces from the museum collection on Wednesdays, and free open-air theatre to celebrate Dinosaur Day on 22nd August. The ‘Collect’ exhibition opens there this month too. Details of all these are on the council’s website. A little further off in September, there’s the Hastings Seafood and Wine Festival on 15th – 16th September, one of our most popular events of the year. Hastings parks and nature reserves offer fabulous places to go for walks, picnics, and to play. Alexandra Park, St Leonards Gardens, and Hastings Country Park are well-known, but there are other smaller parks, such as Lynton Gardens, and eight other nature reserves in Hastings to visit – almost a third of Hastings is publicly-accessible parks and nature reserves, maintained by Hastings Council and local trusts, encompassing wetlands, ancient woodlands, meadows, and heathland. And there are our awardwinning beaches, at Pelham and our Blue Flag beach at St Leonards.

But it’s not just council events. Hastings is lucky to have so many volunteer groups, individuals and other organisations who organise events throughout the year. The Hastings Pride Festival is on August 26th, and then there’s the Coastal Currents Festival, a nationally-recognised visual arts festival throughout September. There are free concerts on Sundays in August at the Alexandra Park bandstand, courtesy of the Eat@ café there. And there are a host of guided walks in different parts of town – see the Visit1066 website for details.

So there’s no shortage of things to do this summer. All you have to do is get out there and enjoy it!

Energy Generation

The first phase of the council’s energy generation programme is now underway, with PV (solar) arrays being installed on council-owned buildings. That work should have started by now but has been delayed a little because of technical contractual issues – putting solar panels on buildings isn’t as simple as it looks. Thanks to the council’s recent commercial property investments, we now have more roof space to put the arrays on – so not only have we generated income from the rents on these properties, we’ll also generate electricity, which means more income. This should provide an average of around 2MgW of power – higher than most other places in the country, because this part of the south east coast (and, of course, Hastings in particular) has the most sunshine and so the highest energy yields.

We will now be looking for business partners to work with, so we can use their roofs too – both those who rent property from the council, and those who own their own property. Hastings Council will be offering flexible deals for different lengths of commitment to the scheme, with the council selling the electricity to business owners at well below the grid price, and also paying rent for the space where the council does not own the roof. The deal will also involve an ‘energy audit’ to advise the business on other energy-saving measures, and to help with costing the savings they’ll make. Details of this will be appearing on the council’s website shortly.

In time, we’re hoping to do this with domestic properties, but this is more complicated. Firstly, the roofs are smaller, so it takes longer to get back the installation costs. There are also complications with mortgage providers, many of whom don’t like solar panels. But we’re working on it.

The council is also looking at free-standing solar panels on council-owned (or other) land, and of course wind generators, which offer much bigger generation capacity, but are made more difficult because of the government’s ban on onshore wind turbines. A recent report though (by an expert panel chaired by former Conservative Environment Minister John Gummer) warned that this policy was pushing up energy process, so hopefully the government will scrap it soon.

Isabel Blackman Centre

At its last council meeting, Hastings Council passed a resolution to oppose East Sussex County Council’s decision to close the Isabel Blackman Centre in Hastings Old Town.

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) made the decision not to recommission the care provision provided at the Isabel Blackman Centre at their Cabinet meeting in June. This will mean the closure of a vital centrally-located service, providing daycare for elderly people, from April 2019. It wasn’t long ago that ESCC closed the Moreton Centre in Maze Hill, on the grounds that elderly people could travel across the borough to the IBC, which many of them did. Now the IBC is to close too.

The centre is used by vulnerable elderly people, who will be badly affected by the closure. Many of them have dementia and will not be able to adapt easily to any alternative arrangements and will find it difficult to cope. Many of the centre users are very upset by the proposed closure. ESCC have promised to replace this service with ‘like for like’ alternative provision, but they’ve issued no details of what this means and I’m not confident this will be guaranteed on current evidence. The resolution agreed by the Hastings Council meeting requested that ESCC should reconsider the decision and provide more details of how exactly the service will be provided in any other way, without a centre to operate from.

The resolution at Hastings Council was supported by all Labour councillors, but the Conservatives voted against it, saying that the Isabel Blackman Centre isn’t needed.

There is an online petition to save the centre, which you can find and sign here:

https://bit.ly/2nsY5X2

Green Flags 

Alexandra Park, Hastings Country Park and St Leonards Gardens have again been awarded the Green Flag Award, recognising them as amongst the best managed and maintained green spaces in the country.

The parks are among 1,883 UK parks and green spaces that received a prestigious Green Flag Award – the mark of a quality park or green space. This international award, now into its third decade, is a sign to the public that the spaces boast the highest possible environmental standards, are beautifully 5 maintained and have excellent visitor facilities. Alexandra Park has also received the much-coveted Green Heritage Site Accreditation for the management of its historic features and retained a special award (one of only four nationally) for innovative work on water filtration, through the use of the ‘floating islands’ and reed beds to improve water quality of the Alexandra Park stream, further ensuring the quality of bathing water where the stream flows out onto Pelham Beach.

Hastings Country Park too has received other awards, mostly for the environmentally sustainable way it’s maintained, the use of grazing animals to keep down invasive plant species, using heavy horses and rollers to ‘bruise’ the bracken, and the maintenance of sensitive habitats by management of gorse and other plants that would otherwise overwhelm the rare maritime heathland.

As mentioned earlier, parks, gardens and nature reserves make up almost a third of the area of Hastings, so it’s important that we continue to maintain them not just as place for people to enjoy, but also to maintain the ecosystems and rare habitats that make them so special.

Hastings and Rother Transport Action Group

The Hastings and Rother Transport Action Group (HARTAG) has now been formally established and has started meeting. This was formed because Hastings Council had no formal consultation body to work with the county council on transport issues, and we felt that we weren’t being kept fully informed of county council proposals. Rother Council had Rother Transport Action Group, a consultation body involving Rother Council, ESCC, and other groups in Rother such as the parish councils, so this was remodelled as HARTAG, which makes sense as Hastings and Rother form a strategic transport area.

HARTAG will deal with strategic issues, and has representation on it from ESCC, HBC, RDC, and voluntary and transport groups from both council areas. There’s a website too (www.hartag.org.uk) – an early version, it could be improved, but will give members of the public a chance to have a say on the county council’s proposals in particular, as they’re the transport authority.

There has been one meeting so far – we’ve already put in our own submission to Transport South East’s proposed transport plan and have put ESCC officers on the spot about the Transport and Access Package (a £9m package of improvements to junctions, walking and cycling routes) in a way that we’ve never been able to before, so it looks like it will be useful.

Syrian Refugee Programme

We’re about half way through the government’s Syrian refugee resettlement programme, to which Hastings Council made a commitment to welcome 100 refugees to Hastings and help them settle here. And I’m pleased to say that we’ve now settled 51 Syrian refugees in Hastings. As the programme got off to a slow start, we should be well on track to fulfilling our commitment.

The refugees who have settled here are families who’ve lost everything in the war, often having suffered the most extreme traumatic experiences. They’ve all been housed in private rented housing and have been helped by volunteers to settle in and find their way around. Most are from skilled working-class backgrounds and have found work here. Almost of all of them are living around Central St Leonards, where they have the support of their own community. The resettlement programme is fully funded by the government.

Most of them intend to return to Syria when it’s safe to do so but are very grateful for the hospitality they’ve been shown. They’ve experienced little or no hostility from local people, which is a tribute to the tolerant and welcoming nature of our town. Obviously, they’ve found it difficult to settle in a foreign country about which they knew very little, but the thing many of them have found most difficult is the tiny houses we live in – even relatively poor people in Syria have much larger homes, it’s a big country with a lot of space.

So a big thank you to the council officers who’ve organised the programme (Hastings Council has co-ordinated the scheme across East Sussex), the people who’ve donated furniture and other equipment, the volunteers who’ve helped the refugees to settle in, and the landlords who’ve made their properties available.

 

That’ll do for now – if you’d like more information on any of this, email me at
cllr.peter.chowney@hastings.gov.uk.

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