Hastings Council Leader’s report (November 2017)

To comment on any of the items below or obtain further information, please contact Cllr Peter Chowney.

Hastings Week

For those who don’t know, Hastings Week is a series of events during the week of the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, on 14th October. There is a Hastings Week Committee (of which the mayor is a member) that co-ordinates the week’s events, but many different groups and volunteers are involved in organising the activities, including Hastings Council.

As well as concerts, talks (including me doing a ‘My Hastings’ talk at the Hastings History House!), and exhibitions, the big events, in terms of numbers attending, are the Hastings Classic Car Show, the Sprat and Winkle Run, the first ever Hastings Classic Motorcycle Show, and of course, Bonfire.

The Classic Car Show takes place over both days of the first weekend, and is a popular and well-established event, with the Stade Open Space packed with classic cars and thousands of visitors. According to tradition, the leader of the council has to take the mayor to the show in his 1958 MG Magnette …

The Classic Motorcycle Show attracted over 100 motorcycles, with some very rare and interesting bikes there. I was actually invited to award the ‘leader’s prize’ there – so I picked a 1934 Brough Superior (see picture). Classic bike shows are unusual, so that one’s likely to grow much bigger in later years.

The Sprat and Winkle run was originally a rally of classic commercial vehicles, starting in Maidstone and driving to Hastings to commemorate the early morning run they used to make to collect the day’s catch. Not all the vehicles attending the show do the run now, but it was again very well attended, with more classic commercial vehicles than ever before. Happy Harold (the 1928 open-top Hastings trolley bus, since converted to diesel) was in attendance, offering rides along the seafront.

 

And the bonfire procession this year was also the biggest ever, with more bonfire societies participating in the procession than ever before, and 50,000 people in the crowds to watch the procession and the spectacular firework display that follows. It’s worth noting that the entire event receives no public funding – it’s all achieved though volunteers and voluntary donations. I joined Mayor Judy Rogers in the procession, and for the first time since becoming a councillor, wore my ‘official’ cinque ports councillor robe and funny hat. I was told I had to dress up for the procession, so it was a pirate, or a hippy, or the robe. The robes are thick, heavy, and smell a bit, so provide good protection from sparks and smoke.
There were many other events during the week of course, but once again, it was a very successful week, so thanks to all the organisers for the excellent entertainment, and the boost to the borough’s tourist economy.


Queensway Gateway Road


This is the road that’s now under construction that will link the A21 to Queensway, via a new roundabout by the Dunelm/Pets at Home junction. The road will run along the northern edge of Sainsbury’s car park, with the Seat garage relocating – Junction Way will close.
The road was originally scheduled for completion about now, but was initially delayed because of legal challenges. Since then, there have been more complications, mostly around re-routing or protecting services that run through the site. This area is something of a gateway in itself, for connecting Hastings to water, power, and utility networks. In particular, an old Victorian water main has to be excavated and specially protected before the road can be built.
The estimated completion date for the road is now December 2018.


Retail Performance

As Hastings Council owns Priory Meadow shopping centre, and is consequently paid 10% of rents, we often meet representatives of New River Group, who own the head lease and run the centre.
NRG report that the centre is performing very well – significantly better than similar shopping centres in the south east. Although footfall is down a little, spending by shoppers is up significantly. People are visiting less but buying more, possibly indicating a decline in shopping as a leisure activity (I remember as a child I was taken ‘shopping’ to Guildford every Saturday afternoon, but I don’t actually remember us ever buying anything). Some shops are reporting very high growth, well above regional and national averages.
There are no empty units in Priory Meadow now, with a waiting list for vacancies. This could affect the nature of the shops in the future, as New River can be choosy about whom they accept as tenants. So overall, this is good news – although high-street retail has shown a decline elsewhere, this seems not to be the case in Hastings.
And conversion work is well underway for the new Primark in the old BHS store, which will open in the spring.


Country Park Visitor Centre

Earlier in the year, Hastings Council celebrated an EU Interreg grant it had received towards building a straw bale construction visitor centre. The EU grants were specifically about promoting straw construction, to produce a building that would be a showpiece for this new and sustainable building technology, and provide a focus for skills training, an international conference, and promotion of environmentally-friendly building technologies.
The total Interreg budget for all UK partners was £906,575, which was made up of £556,575 for Hastings Council and its partner Groundworks, and £350,000 for the School of Natural Building.

However, since then, things have stalled somewhat. This is because straw bale building is a new construction method, and simply isn’t offered by mainstream building contractors. There are people who can do it, and have building experience, but these are mostly small, ‘artisan’ builders. But the public-sector procurement process tends to be complicated and onerous, because of financial and other regulations applying to public sector organisations.
So a report to Cabinet this week will recommend a different approach, putting together a consortium of artisan straw bale builders to take on the work. A consortium of artisans might sound a bit like a herd of cats, and there are risks associated with such an approach. But if the country park visitor centre can’t be built with straw bale construction, then we, and the other organisations, will lose the Interreg grants. So while it would be possible to build a more conventional visitor centre using the usual procurement process, we’d lose the money we need to build the centre in the first place.


FLAG 2

The Fisheries Local Action Group, made up of Hastings Council, Hastings fishermen, voluntary sector, local businesses, and educational establishments, has received a second round of EU funding to promote and fund projects to help the Hastings fishery. This amounts to £800,000, which will be more than a million pounds with match funding.
The money is used to fund individual projects, with local businesses, schools, voluntary groups, and the fishermen themselves putting in bids to the FLAG for project funding. The first round of FLAG funding resulted in a very wide range of projects being funded, including improvements to Hastings fishmarket, restoration of historic fishing boats, cultural events to promote the fishery, net flakers (folders) for all the fishing boats, repairs, and improvements to the fishermen’s sheds, purchasing shingle-moving bulldozers, and surfacing and lighting the Winch Road.
Bids to the fund so far have included new ice-making equipment for the fishmarket, developing a Hastings Sustainable Fish brand, and replacement of obsolete automatic barriers to control access to the fishing beach. There will be many more.
In addition, the FLAG has the opportunity to bid for a further £2m from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, although how much of that could be achieved before Brexit remains to be seen. And post-Brexit, of course, there will be nothing more.


Save Ore Library

East Sussex County Council are currently consulting on the closure of Ore Library. While I’d be the first to recognise that East Sussex, like most councils, are suffering badly from the massive cuts being imposed on them by central government, the closure of Ore Library specifically does seem perverse, as it’s in the very poorest community in the whole of the county.
Furthermore, the savings accrued from closing the library are only £15,000, or 0.004% of the county council’s overall budget. The effects of closing the library, and denying a deprived community of not just a place to borrow books, but also somewhere they can use computers and get Internet access, would be grossly unfair.
On Saturday morning, around 40 of us, including library users and the two Ore Ward Hastings Labour councillors (although not the Baird and Ore Division Conservative county councillor) gathered at Ore Community Centre to ‘march’ to Ore Library (not exactly the Long March, it was only about 100 metres away) where we held a short protest at the closure.
I would be the first to support ESCC in their call for decent funding for local government in East Sussex, which indeed I did, when I and all the other district council leaders supported the leader of ESCC in launching his petition to call for more government funding for East Sussex councils. You can sign ESCC’s petition to the government for more funding here but this cut seems disproportionately unfair, and not worth the very small saving it will achieve.
You can sign an online petition to save Ore Library here.
You can also participate in the online consultation on the library closures here
or pick up a paper form at Ore Library. Hollington Library is not threatened with closure in the consultation, and Hastings Central Library will re-open in the spring after a major refurbishment.


Herring Fair

And in the endless round of Hastings fun, we have the Hastings Council Herring Fair coming up soon. This is held on 18th and 19th November, under cosy cover on the Stade Open Space, to promote the herring. The herring season should be in full swing in mid-November, and hopefully plentiful in Hastings waters. Herring isn’t subject to any quotas, but has fallen from favour in recent years – so the festival celebrates all things herring. As well as fresh herring, there will be bloaters, kippers and buckling for sale (all types of smoked herring), and much else in the way of cooked herring snacks, rollmops, and pickled herring, along with herring cookery events in the Stade Hall seafood training kitchen. And there will be music, wine, beer, cider and more. What’s more, it’s entirely free, so don’t miss it – it’s the fish fair aficionado’s favourite!