Hastings Council Leader’s Report: October 2018

September Festivals

September is a big month for festivals in Hastings (as are August and October, and most of the other months). The Seafood and Wine Festival, organised by Hastings Council on the Stade Open Space, was the biggest yet, with the music tent separate from the main festival, on the beach nearby.

Around 15,000 wristbands were sold, the highest number since a charge was introduced. As children are free, the numbers visiting were probably around twice that number, although the number of visits was much higher as many people made repeat visits throughout the weekend. It was pretty crowded too, with stallholders selling more than they expected, and having to replenish their stocks. As it’s an open-air festival, it is a risk for stallholders though – although the weather’s usually good, if it’s a wet weekend they do virtually no trade at all. But this time, the weather was perfect, which helped boost visitor numbers. This festival is now pretty much selffunding, so will be able to continue whatever else has to be cut as the council is forced to reduce its spending levels still further, as reported last month. It receives quite a bit of national press coverage now too, so brings large numbers of visitors from outside Hastings, providing a significant boost to the local economy.

The Coastal Currents Visual Arts festival finished yesterday too, having taken place throughout September. Artists and makers opening up their studios during the open studios weekends were reporting more visitors than usual, so this again seems to be a festival where increasingly larger numbers of people are visiting, also helped by national press coverage of a festival which, now in its 13th year, has become recognised as one of the UK’s more important regional arts festivals. In this case, the festival was started by Hastings Council, but has now become independent, funded by the Arts Council and commercial sponsors, and run by local arts company Sweet ‘n’ Dandy. So this too is a festival that should be able to continue, despite funding cuts to local authorities. And each year, it leaves some lasting legacies, as well as temporary events and exhibitions. This year, those include the murals at Queen’s Road, Harold Place and West Hill. Because there are so many events, exhibitions and open studios, it’s difficult to estimate the numbers attending overall, but it clearly brings many visitors from outside Hastings, again boosting the local economy and helping us to reinforce our reputation as a cultural and creative ‘hotspot’.

And we also had the International Composers’ Festival last weekend, which kicked off with a wonderful concert featuring 17 pieces of music from living composers from all across the world, at Opus Theatre. Congratulations to local composer Polo Piatti for organising another successful biennial event.

The Marina Proposal

The developers who had come up with a concept to build a marina to the east of Rock-a-Nore have now withdrawn their proposal. They’ve done this because they couldn’t raise the funding, primarily for feasibility studies. The council had laid down some ‘red lines’ that could not be crossed for the council to consider supporting any scheme. These were:

• The scheme and its access routes must not damage the character or physical appearance of The Stade;

• The scheme must protect and enhance the Hastings Fishery, as well as other businesses and attractions on the Stade;

• At least 30% of the housing must be affordable, 25% of the housing must be social rented housing;

• The scheme must include substantial sustainable energy generation, aiming to be carbon neutral;

• All car parking lost to the scheme must be replaced.

Officially, the red lines were not the reason why the proposal was withdrawn, although they would have affected the overall costs and feasibility of any proposed scheme. It’s important to note though that no actual scheme was ever put forward, it was never anything more than a concept. I’d also made it clear that I couldn’t support a scheme that didn’t have the support of the Hastings Fishery, and discussions the developers had with fishery representatives made it clear that was going to be difficult. It would be wrong, however, to label the Hastings Fishery as opposing any changes – they wouldn’t have lasted a thousand years if they hadn’t been prepared to adapt to changing circumstances. But no development in that area could ever be supported if it was a threat to the beach-launched fleet.

The developers have said that they’re looking at a new, completely different sort of scheme. We’ll await that with interest – we’ll continue to look at any proposals put forward by developers, community groups, and others across the borough, if they’re beneficial, feasible, and fully-funded. In the end though, the council can’t stop developers coming forward with schemes, and ultimately has to deal with any proposals at the development control stage in the same way as any other planning application, whether we support the principle or not.

Central St. Leonards Meeting

Our MP recently convened a meeting in The St Leonards Isabel Blackman Centre, to discuss problems with anti-social behaviour and street drinking. In the event, not all that many people turned up, and the mood was rather less hostile than a similar meeting last year. The panel of speakers included me, Amber Rudd (MP), Katy Bourne (Sussex Police Commissioner), the County Council Public Health Director, the Hastings Police Commander, and council officers. Council officers and the police outlined some of the problems, and the co-ordinated multi-agency approach that was being taken to address these problems. They also expressed frustration with the way refusals to grant alcohol licences by the council, supported by the police, were overturned on appeal by local magistrates who paid no attention to the council’s licensing policy and had little knowledge of the area. I made the point that I’d made before, that the street drinking cycle needs to be broken, not just because it’s bad for local business, but because the street drinking lifestyle kills the people who get involved in it very quickly. The presence of street drinkers attracts others to participate in the lifestyle, and it’s a death sentence. Last year, Hastings Council introduced Public Space Protection Orders, which introduced street drinking bans in areas with a known problem – including St Leonards Town Centre. But these PSPOs have to be enforced.

Properly tackling street drinking, by both stopping the problem on the street and getting participants into treatment, is very resource intensive. Back in 2010, Hastings Council was funded by the government (through Area Based Grants) to provide a team of 24 street wardens, as well as a separate team of parking enforcement officers. This grant was cut entirely, but the council has managed to retain a much-reduced team of nine wardens, although they have to do off-street parking enforcement as well, after the County Council privatised their parking services, which previously had been run by the borough (it’s worth noting that this was an ideological privatisation, as Hastings Council had undertaken to provide the service at a lower cost than any contractor). So the consequence of all that is that there are far fewer resources to enforce street drinking bans.

Councils aren’t required to employ street wardens, and most now no longer have them, even if they did in the past. Dealing with anti-social behaviour on the street is really a police responsibility. So it was encouraging that Katy Bourne made an undertaking at the meeting to increase front-line policing in St Leonards and Hastings, by taking £17m from reserves to fund more police officers. At the moment, it’s unclear what this will mean in practice – reserves can only be used once, so we’re trying to find out what kind of police officers will be employed, how many there will be, where they’ll be deployed, and for how long.

The Big Sleep

Last Friday night, several Hastings councillors (including me) took part in the annual Big Sleep event, spending the night in a cardboard box on the Stade Open Space to raise money for Seaview, a local charity that supports rough sleepers, and provides a council-commissioned outreach service to make sure all rough sleepers in Hastings are contacted and offered support. This was the fourth Big Sleep in Hastings – I’ve participated in three of them, missing the one when it poured with rain!

The event is not really a hardship, nothing like rough sleeping really is – you’re in a secure compound with toilets and even emergency healthcare standing by, so nothing like real rough sleeping. There was also musical entertainment throughout the evening, and I got a reasonable (and dry) night’s sleep. £15,000 had been raised for Seaview at the end of the evening, although that will be quite a bit more by the time all the donations come in. Congratulations to Seaview for such a wellorganised event, and to all those who took part. Hopefully they’ll be able to do it again next year – so why not give it a go? It’s fun, and nowhere near as hard as you might think (although the Stade Open Space is actually quite hard).

 

Dawn Butler and the Station Plaza Walk-In Centre

I was very pleased to welcome Dawn Butler, the Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, to Hastings last Saturday. She knocked on doors around St Andrew’s Square, helping us get signatures for our petition to save the GP walk-in service at Station Plaza from closure. Needless to say, it’s not been difficult to get signatures on that petition, and we’re hopeful that the decision to discontinue the service will at least be postponed, and possibly abandoned.

After the door knocking, Dawn joined us outside the Station Plaza health centre, where we got a few more signatures. Dawn was positive, personable, and very natural – thank you to her for visiting Hastings and showing her support for our campaign.

 

 

Hastings Fish

The Seafood and Wine Festival also saw the launch of the new ‘Hastings Fish’ brand. This is a EU funded project, via the Fisheries Local Action Group, and part of the second round of FLAG funding.

The purpose of the branding and accompanying marketing of the brand is to establish Hastings Fish as a premium product, coming from a sustainable fishery and landed on the day it’s caught. The ‘Brixham Fish’ brand has proved very successful for their fishery, meaning that Brixham fish commands premium prices, even though it’s exactly the same fish that’s caught in Hastings.

There will be more projects funded through the million pounds available from FLAG 2, which has already paid for a new ice-maker at the Hastings fishmarket.

Homelessness and Temporary Accomodation

This year, Hastings Council is likely to spend £60,000 more on emergency housing for homeless households than we’d expected. And the total we now spend on temporary accommodation and dealing with homelessness comes to a million pounds a year. Although the number of applications for accommodation by homeless households has stabilised, the length of time spent in temporary accommodation is increasing, because of the lack of suitable, affordable accommodation for them to move into. Private rented accommodation is becoming increasingly expensive, and the amount that can be paid in housing benefit often nowhere near covers the rent. This is particularly true for smaller units, with studio accommodation seeing an average rent increase in Hastings of 21% over the last three years. Social rented housing is in very short supply, and frequently only available to those with the most serious health needs.

The main reasons for homelessness have changed over the last few years. The primary reason used to be relationship breakdown. While that’s still significant (in terms of both violent and non-violent relationship breakdown), the main reason people become homeless now is because their shorthold tenancy is terminated by their landlord – those living in the private rented sector only have security of tenure for six months, something that desperately needs changing through national legislation to make private sector tenancies longer.

Over the last eighteen months, Hastings Council has leased 42 units of accommodation that can be used to house homeless households. This is far 6 cheaper than using bed and breakfast accommodation, and better for the households themselves. A further 20 units should be added over the next three months. The YMCA also helps house single people in Hastings, and the council has an agreement with them that provides accommodation for single people aged 18- 35.

To reduce costs still further, and give the council more control over the supply of accommodation, we’re now looking to buy houses to use as accommodation for homeless households. We’re currently considering buying a large property that will provide five units of accommodation, to house up to 25 people. That programme will continue looking for suitable properties, and we’ve set aside £2.5m (financed through loans) to acquire more property. The advantage of buying houses, rather than investing in temporary accommodation schemes such as container-based units or modular homes, is that the houses can be used for permanent accommodation when the homelessness crisis is finally solved by a change in government policy, or a change in government. However, the council is looking at modular schemes as well, if we can’t acquire enough suitable conventional houses.

Bexhill Road Development

Although the Bexhill Road Sports Village development fell through because the housing developer pulled out, there is still a possibility that the ’lower tier’ site could be developed for housing. The site has never been considered for housing development in the past, as it’s in a flood risk area. However, the council has now been offered a £6m grant for flood mitigation on the site. This flood mitigation work would reduce the flood risk designation for the whole area, so would make houses along that part of Bexhill Road more valuable, and easier to sell. It also means that flood protection insurance would be easier to get for existing houses.

The flood mitigation money is however linked to a new housing development, so wouldn’t be available unless new housing was built. The site is owned by Hastings Council, so we would have control over any proposed housing scheme if we developed the site ourselves. We could also guarantee a decent number of social rented homes in the scheme. It’s also not certain that £6m would be enough to do the flood mitigation and make the site viable – engineering studies would be needed.

There’s also a village green application on the site, which could prevent any development. This is currently being considered by the county council, who decide village green applications.

October Festivals

And of course, there’s lots coming up to see and do in Hastings during October. The biggest event is Hastings Week, with events throughout the week and both weekends, starting with the Classic Car Show on the Stade Open Space on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th , the Classic Motorcycle Show on Saturday 13th, and the ‘Sprat and Winkle’ show for historic commercial vehicles on Sunday 14th. And of course, there’s the Bonfire Procession through town and the big firework display on the evening of Saturday 13th. Details of all events are on the Visit 1066 website. A full programme of events is available at the Tourist Information Centre – sadly they don’t seem to be all online this year, as Ion Castro, who did the Hastings Week website, sadly died recently.

One event you might be interested in (or not!) is a talk by me entitled ‘A History of Local Government in Hastings: Lessons for the Future’, which I’m doing at the Stade Hall on Wednesday 10th at 6pm.

 

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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