Hastings Council Leader’s Report: June 2019

Hastings Council Events

Reduced government funding has meant Hastings Council, and others, have less to spend on local events and festivals. Despite this, we’ve managed to continue the council’s own events programme.

These start with the Mid-Summer Fish Festival on 22nd – 23rd June, on the Stade Open Space. As well as the stalls offering locally-caught fish, there will be beer, cider and other produce from local restaurants and suppliers. There will also be an opportunity to learn fish cookery skills from Hastings Fish Ambassador, CJ Jackson from Billingsgate Seafood School, in the Stade Hall seafood training kitchen. Or you can take part in a cuttlefish ink printing session. And there’s live music throughout the weekend.

The Midsummer Fish Festival started in 2014 and has proved a hugely popular event, now in its fourth year. Originally it was funded by the European Fisheries Fund, through the Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG), but that funding has now ended. To allow the festival to continue, there’s now a small entrance charge of £1.50 in advance or £3 on the gate, for the whole weekend (under 18s go free). Tickets are available from the Hastings Tourist Information Centre.

The 1066 Cycling Festival (jointly organised with Rother Council) takes place on the same weekend, on 22nd – 23rd June. The organised rides are bigger and better this year with Handsome Bicycles’ 50 mile Sportive – around the beautiful (but hilly) 1066 countryside. Or there are smaller rides with the Sustrans family ride, the Hastings Urban Bike ride, the 1066 Cycle Club or the Bexhill Wheelers and Classic Cycle Group tour ride. You can participate even if you don’t own a bike – pre-book your bike for the weekend with Hastings Council’s ‘Active Hastings’ Seaside Cycle Hire. Call them on 01424 451051 before 20th June.

The Stade Saturdays programme of free entertainment events on The Stade kicks off again soon, running this year from July, throughout the summer. The programme is still being finalised, but will appear on the council’s website soon.

This year, there’s a comprehensive programme of events, many of them for children over the summer holidays, at Hastings Museum. There’s also a range of sport and play activities put on by the council’s Active Hastings team across the town, including the summer ‘street bites’ programme for children that combines food with sport and play activities. Then there’s the Seafood and Wine Festival on 14th – 15th September, and of course the Herring Fair in November.

Single-use plastics will be banned at all the council’s events and festivals now too, and at other events held on council land.

Summer Events

Most events in the borough are put on by local groups, because they have a passion for their own cultural specialism, or because they just want to entertain. These include:

  • Hastings Comedy Fringe Festival (June);
  • Hastings Fringe Festival of Performing Arts (June);
  • World Crazy Golf Championship (June);
  • St Leonards Festival (June);
  • Hastings Theatre Festival (July); Hastings Beer and Music Festival (July);
  • Pirate Day, with another world record attempt: the largest human image of a boat (July);
  • Hastings Carnival Week (August);
  • Hastings Pride Festival (August);
  • Coastal Currents Visual Arts Festival (September);
  • Battle of Hastings International BMX event, at The Source BMX Park (September);
  • Hastings Week, incorporating the Hastings Classic Car Show, the Sprat and Winkle Run of historic commercial vehicles and the spectacular bonfire procession and firework display (October).

And there are more … apologies to those I’ve missed. That’s an impressive array of summer festivities. You’d be hard pushed to find anything to compare even in major UK cities. Hastings Council does still assist some of these events, either with direct grant funding, help with publicity and printing, or help organising from council officers. But mostly, it’s down to dedicated teams of volunteers and local businesses who work together to make our borough the colourful, exciting and vibrant place it is, and why we continue to attract more and more visitors each year.

It’s that love of Hastings and St Leonards, the desire to contribute to our borough’s success and prosperity, that helps to make it a special place.

Coping with Homelessness

The numbers of households accepted as ‘statutory homeless’ and consequently entitled to emergency accommodation continues to rise slowly. But the costs of this are escalating, mainly because households are spending much longer in emergency accommodation. That’s caused by the lack of local accommodation they can afford to move into. Housing Benefit (or Universal Credit) only covers rents at the ‘Local Housing Allowance’ (LHA) levels. This LHA rate is set by the government. But although the LHA rates have been frozen for some years, rents in Hastings have escalated, meaning that in most cases, actual rents are way above the LHA rates.

The result of this is that Hastings Council is now spending more than a million pounds a year on temporary accommodation. Most of this is local, in bed & breakfast accommodation. However, in some cases we’ve had to place people in hotels outside of Hastings too. Families can remain in bed & breakfast accommodation for over a year.

Putting families in bed & breakfast accommodation is unsatisfactory in many ways. It’s obviously not good for the family, with restricted space and facilities. But it also uses up much-needed accommodation for visitors to Hastings.

So the council is now buying properties to use for temporary accommodation. This is a far better solution – although we have to take out loans to buy them, and furnish them, the total costs are significantly less than the costs of Bed & Breakfast accommodation. Several properties have already been purchased, but the programme of purchases in the pipeline, when completed later in the summer, will save the council around £600,000 a year, and will provide much better temporary accommodation for homeless households.

We did also consider temporary modular housing, of the kind that’s being used in London, Brighton, Bristol and a few other places. But because housing in Hastings is still relatively cheap to buy (compared to Brighton, London and Bristol), buying houses makes more sense here. And when the number of homeless household numbers goes down (ie when government policy changes, or when the government changes), we’ll be able to sell the houses, or pass them to the council-owned housing company and rent them out as permanent accommodation.

Housing Rental Market

A report Hastings Council commissioned on the local rental market, as part of a review of the Selective Licensing Scheme (SLS) that licences landlords and their properties in some wards, makes for interesting reading.

Private rented accommodation now makes up 38% of the housing in Hastings – a significant increase on what was already a high figure, now double the national average, and now the biggest housing sector in the borough, overtaking owner occupiers.

But it’s the changes within Hastings that are interesting. While the proportion of private rented accommodation has gone up in all wards, in wards where this was traditionally the highest (Castle and Central St Leonards in particular) , it has increased the least. In those wards, owner occupation has increased. But in wards where private renting was lowest, it’s increased the most – in Ashdown Ward, for example, it’s gone up by almost 600% since 2001.

There are probably a number of factors at play here. Increases in private ownership in the town centre wards is an indicator of regeneration (and arguably gentrification) in these areas. The increases in private rented accommodation in the ‘outer’ wards could in part be down to landlords trying to escape the SLS by buying properties in wards that aren’t subject to the SLS, and in part because the cost of properties in the town centre wards is going up faster than in the outer wards.

While it’s probably a good thing that private rented housing is being spread more evenly across the borough, the fact that more rented homes are not subject to the regulation, safety checks and tenancy agreement checks that the SLS affords is worrying. The SLS is a flawed scheme, and was difficult to set up – the government only allows the scheme to apply to areas where there is evidence of anti-social behaviour by tenants, when the real purpose of the scheme is to control bad landlords and ensure decent standards in rented homes. The scheme runs for five years, and has so far licensed over 7,000 properties. After that, we can attempt to extend it, but there’s no guarantee that the government would agree to that, nor that they’ll agree to renew the scheme at all. What’s needed is a proper statutory private rented licensing scheme that applies across the whole country – but there are no proposals for that at the moment.

Connecting Hastings and Rother Together

This, you may remember, is a Community-Led Local Development programme funded by the EU, where Hastings Council won a bid for around £4m to fund employment and community development projects in the most deprived parts of Hastings and Bexhill.

Local organisations are invited to apply for funding from the scheme for specific projects, with the bids being considered by a resident-led panel.

The first round of applications to the fund was for major projects – full applications for four projects are progressing well, including the two led by Hastings Council itself. There is now a call out for applications for the second round of funding, with around £1.4m in total available, up to £100k per project. Bids to this could be from smaller organisations joining with larger organisations who are able to ‘cashflow’ the projects. This second call for expressions of interest is open until 20th June and workshops giving advice, guidance and continuing support through the application process are being held.

You can find out more at:

https://www.hastings.gov.uk/chart/

School Strike 4 Climate

This takes place every month, at 11am in the town centre, on the fourth Friday of the month. I went along this month (I’ve been to couple of them), and was pleased to see that there are still over a hundred young people coming along to them, still showing a good deal of passion in their call on politicians and government to take the imminent threat of catastrophic climate change seriously.

This month, they marched along the seafront to the pier, and then on to St Leonards. I suspect the event won’t take place during July and August, as it’s during the school holidays, but I’m sure they’ll be back in September.


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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