The Chancellor’s Budget
Hastings saw the earliest roll out of Universal Credit. Residents became guinea pigs for a system that had major flaws built into it and was designed to punish people for being poor rather than offering them support.
Despite an additional £1bn for the scheme in the budget, three-quarters of the £12bn in welfare cuts announced after the 2015 election remain government policy. And the additional money is to ‘help the transition’ from existing benefits to UC, so won’t help all the people in Hastings who are already on it.
Overall, the package of tax and benefit changes announced since 2015 will deliver an average gain of £390 for the richest fifth of households in 2023-24, compared to an average loss of £400 for the poorest fifth. It has forced Hastings people to use food banks more than ever before.
Announcements affecting local government were aimed mainly at additional funding for adult social care, which is provided by county and unitary councils rather than districts. The additional rate relief for high street businesses could help revitalise high streets, and the loss of income to councils is being fully reimbursed by the government. And public toilets will now be exempt from rates – saving Hastings Council a massive £7,000 – which doesn’t go a long way to cover the £3m budget deficit, and nationally, won’t stop the closures of council-owned public toilets.
There was also £420m for fixing potholes (so that goes to the county council too, rather than us). But that scarcely scratches the surface, so to speak … after nearly a decade of cuts, it’s estimated that the true cost of fixing our roads is around thirty times more than the amount the government has made available.
There is also a lift in the cap on borrowing to build council housing, but that doesn’t help in Hastings. Borrowing can only be made against the value of existing housing stock, and as Hastings Council doesn’t have any housing stock, it’s of no benefit to us.
But hidden in the Chancellor’s Red Book small print is another £7 billion in cuts to public services, the impact of which will only be realised in the years ahead, aside from what will happen if there is no deal on Brexit. Of particular concern locally is the lack of money for Police recruitment to help tackle street drinking and antisocial behaviour following £57 million in cuts in eight years to the Sussex force.
There was also no hint of an ending to the continuing cuts to council budgets, which have led to a system of local authority funding that has become unsustainable and will mean that councils can no longer provide even the most basic statutory services. So as far as local services are concerned, there’s still no end to austerity in sight.
Coastal Space Project
I was very pleased to welcome Sarah Jones MP, the Shadow Housing Minister, on her recent visit to Hastings. We took her to Winchester House, just off Pevensey Road, which is being refurbished from a derelict, abandoned former school to 26 social rented flats for local people. The work is being undertaken by Optivo housing association but is funded jointly by Hastings Council and Optivo through the Coastal Space project. This project has already brought several empty, abandoned properties in St Leonards back into use as social housing. Properties already completed include a former nursing home on the junction of Carisbrooke Road and Stockleigh Road, which had been empty for several years. Other smaller properties in Central St Leonards were also refurbished in the first phase of the schemes, and all were converted entirely into social rented homes.
The next phase will be Leolyn House, a former nursing home in Pevensey Road. Winchester House will be competed and let to tenants later this month.
Sarah was impressed, saying it was unusual to see urban regeneration combined with creating social housing in this way. But it’s expensive to do, and we need much more of it. But combining urban regeneration with new social housing in this way has is worthwhile, as it can offset the effects of gentrification, where private landlords sell off their poor quality private rented homes to owner occupiers as property prices increase. In those cases, existing tenants lose their homes, and find there is less and less affordable housing available to them in the neighbourhood. Schemes such as Coastal Space can provide new affordable rented homes as part of the local regeneration process and help to prevent local people being displaced – Optivo rent the Coastal Space properties to people already living and working locally.
But we need much more of this, which means more money invested in social housing, and urban regeneration schemes such as this, to provide housing for those who need it and to preserve local communities.
Hastings Week took place from 6th – 14th October. It’s a programme of events that happens each year around the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. As usual, it was an excellent programme . The first weekend included the Classic Car Show, with a range of events during the week, the Classic Motorcycle Show, the Sprat and Winkle run of historic commercial vehicles, and of course the bonfire procession and fireworks on Saturday night. Over 30,000 people attended the event, with fewer reports of alcohol-related and other anti-social behaviour problems this year.
So well done to the organisers, and to the council staff who help with this excellent week of events.
Rough Sleeping Initiative
Earlier in the year, Hastings and Eastbourne councils jointly put in a bid for additional funding to help rough sleepers. Between 2012 and 2017 the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough locally has gone up four-fold, with around 45 sleeping rough on Hastings streets on any one night, and about the same number in Eastbourne.
As a result of the bid, Hastings and Eastbourne Borough councils were awarded £664,000 to reduce levels of rough sleeping. This is in addition to the council rough sleeper support services, as well as multiagency teams offering tenancy support, addiction support, and GP service, and of course Seaview, a local charity working with rough sleepers, where Hastings Council funds an outreach worker to make contact with local rough sleepers.
The purpose of this new funding is to provide more support services, temporary accommodation, and long-term housing solutions for rough sleepers. Additional services that will be funded include:
• appointment of a rough sleeper project co-ordinator;
• setting up a new multi-disciplinary team to carry out assessments of each individual’s needs and provide direct access to key statutory services, as well as offering temporary and long-term housing solutions;
• creating an Assessment Unit to provide temporary accommodation for rough sleepers for between 1 to 3 months, while the multi-disciplinary team assess their needs and identify suitable move-on options to long term housing;
• running a ‘housing first’ pilot, getting rough sleepers with multiple and complex needs into accommodation where a dedicated team of workers, alongside the multi-disciplinary team, will offer intensive support to help participants maintain a tenancy and sort out other health, mental health, and addiction problems.
Rough sleepers are attracted to south coast towns, where it’s warmer – Brighton, Eastbourne, Hastings, and Southend have the highest numbers of rough sleepers in the country, relative to their population. Most rough sleepers in Hastings originate from outside the borough but are attracted here partly because of the support services available. This project will help all rough sleepers into accommodation, wherever they come from.
This is a very resource-intensive programme and requires a lot of care and support for each individual participant. But positive as this is, it is short-term, and a sticking plaster. It has only become necessary because of cuts in mental health and other support services that have led to people sleeping rough, along with insecure tenancies and the desperate shortage of genuinely affordable housing. The real long-term fix to this problem will only come with a change of government and an end to austerity.
Station Plaza Walk-In GP Service
Earlier in the year, the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) announced that it was considering closing the GP Walk-In Service at the Station Plaza health centre. The reasons at first appeared to be connected to a £90m shortfall in the local CCG budgets, but they’ve since denied that the closure is being considered for that reason. The reason, we’re told, is because of new government rules requiring them to set up an ‘Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC), which could replace the GP Walk-In Service. The GP Walk-In service would be relocated to the Conquest Hospital.
However, UTCs are quite a different thing. Whether they’re a good idea or not, they are different from a GP Walk-In Service and would not replace such a service. And a GP Walk-In Service at the Conquest would simply be an add-on to an already overstretched A&E department.
The Station Plaza centre is important for many different reasons. It serves one of the most deprived parts of town, with some of our most vulnerable residents. It’s also used by rough sleepers, particularly those referred there by the Seaview Project and other local agencies. But it’s also used by people working in the town centre, as well as the language schools, who send their students there. All these people would find it difficult, or impossible, to use a walk-in service at the Conquest Hospital, on the edge of town and a lengthy (and expensive) bus ride away. It’s also used by local residents who can’t get on a GP list, because of GP shortages in Hastings.
For all these reasons, Hastings and Rye Labour Party began a campaign to save the Station Plaza GP Walk-In Service. We launched a petition both on paper and online, using street stalls and door-knocking to get people to sign it. People were shocked that such an essential service was being proposed for closure and were keen to sign. So far, these petitions have attracted over 4,000 signatures. I recently handed the paper petition to Dr Warden, the Chair of the CCG (in picture, with Erica Smith, who set up the petition), but we’ll continue to collect signatures until the CCG makes its final decision. If you’ve not done so already, you can sign the petition here:
Closure of this service would be disastrous and would represent yet another cut to an already overstretched and inadequate local healthcare system. We will continue to do all we can to oppose it and ensure the GP walk-in centre is kept open at Station Plaza.
Hastings United Football Club
At the council’s November cabinet meeting, we’ll consider a report recommending that the council enter negotiations with Hastings United Football club to relocate their stadium to Tilekln Recreation ground (also known as the helipad) in Hollington, an area of existing sports pitches between Queensway and Ingleside. Hastings Council would lease this land to HUFC, who in addition to a new stadium would also provide a new, properly drained and maintained grass pitch and a new 3G pitch, as well as a fitness studio and other sports facilities. It’s not as big a scheme as the ‘Sports Village’ proposal at Bulverhythe, but would still provide good quality, new sports pitches. These facilities would be available to local people and clubs, and we would want them to focus especially on making the new facilities available to women’s football clubs and people with disabilities.
Hastings Council would also sell the freehold of their existing Pilot Field stadium site to HUFC, which would be redeveloped as housing – the profit from this would fund the new stadium and other facilities.
There would need to be consultation with the Football Association, local football clubs, and the local community, but the proposal does seem worth investigating further, which is what the report to Cabinet report will recommend.
The Horntye cricket ground, sports pitches and sports hall are not involved in this deal, and would remain as they are now.
Just because it’s winter, that doesn’t mean the fun stops in Hastings. We have two of our major annual festivals: The Herring Fair and the Hastings Storytelling Festival.
The Herring Fair is the last of the annual fish festivals for the year, on the weekend of 17th – 18th November, at the height of the local herring season. It’s entirely funded and organised by Hastings Council. Like the other fish fairs, it will involve local fish and other produce, with a particular emphasis on herring. There is perhaps more of a focus on the local fishery in this fair, and their sustainable fishing practices, with plenty of locally-caught and locally-smoked herring products on offer, including kippers, buckling and bloaters. There’s locally produced wine, beer, and cider on offer too.
And of course, there will be herring cookery classes, in the Classroom on the Coast, as well as live music and children’s activities.
This is, to be honest, my favourite of the fish fairs, because it’s under cover and smaller than the others, it feels more intimate. And it’s all free! To find out more, go to:
The Hastings Storytelling Festival takes place during the week of 5th – 11th November. It’s organised by local events company 18 Hours – Hastings Council provides some assistance, but it’s mostly funded through sponsorship and external grants. It grew out of an idea several years ago from Dick Edwards, Chair of the Hastings Old Town Residents’ Association, and has now become an established part of the Hastings calendar. There are events all over town, from theatre to children’s storytelling sessions. The centrepiece this year is ‘Otherworld’, described as an ‘interactive hypnagogic dreamscape’ in Alexandra Park, on the evenings of 9th and 10th November. To find out more, visit the website:
That’ll do for now – if you’d like more information on any of this, email me at [email protected].