Do you know there are big plans afoot for our town centre and the White Rock area? The council is consulting on something called the Area Action Plan which sets out aspirations for the area from St Mary’s Convent in the west, and across the town centre as far as Pelham Place.
People have until 4pm on September 24th to make comments but they haven’t made it easy. When you click on the link you are confronted by a 129 page document with 27 questions.
A one page summary and more visuals would have helped people better understand the proposals.
Hastings Urban Design Group is running two evening walkabouts where the proposals will be presented in a more digestible format and people can see what the plans would mean on the ground. The event, on September 12th, will cover the town centre area. The one on September 13th will focus on the plans for White Rock and Bohemia. Both start at 6pm at the White Rock Hotel with a short presentation about the proposals followed by walking the areas concerned.
There is also one more drop in session at Muriel Matters House on Saturday September 8th (tomorrow) between 10.30am-12.30pm
The plan has huge implications for the future development of the town centre and White Rock area over the next 15 years and it is important that local people make their views known.
While there are some exciting suggestions like exploring a combined heat and power network, this represents a huge missed opportunity to use the plans for this area to kick start a vision for making Hastings a resilient forward looking town with bold plans for our contribution to fighting climate change.
The town centre part of the action plan focuses on improvement opportunities when existing sites come up for redevelopment. There needs to be a much more explicit commitment to better pedestrian connectivity and streetscapes especially at Hastings Station and the connection to Queens Road.
Mention is made throughout the document of delivering good design, efficient use of natural resources, improving the public realm and sustainable transport but these need to have measurable goals incorporated to have any teeth. For example we have had little progress on even the existing routes outlined in the current walking and cycling strategy adopted in 2014. A network of walking and cycling routes needs to be designed in from the start for the White Rock area master plan. Some pedestrianisation is shown for roads such as White Rock Road and Schwerte Way which is a good start but there is no analysis of how to integrate this new quarter with walking and cycling routes across town, in particular the A21 that cuts right through this proposed development with very narrow and unappealing pavements on both sides of the road.
The plan states that, “The objective should be to create frontages to Bohemia Road which will transform it from a road to a street” but it does not cover the area from the Falaise Centre down to the town centre. The whole of the town centre should be designated a 20 mph zone to make pedestrians and cyclists feel safer.
Architectural competitions are mentioned for key developments such as the new leisure centre. The long promised design panel should be set up and require all new developments to be critically assessed as part of the planning process. The White Architecture master plan envisages a whole new town centre quarter. It is essential that this is delivered to the highest possible design standards. Something that has been sadly missing from most new developments in Hastings – with some honourable exceptions.
Active engagement with the community is mentioned but with no clear statement of how this will be put in place. A forum needs to be set up and should have been active prior to this stage so local people have clear ways of actively engaging with creating the plans not just being ‘consulted’ on this one version.
The plans for the White Rock area would mean a considerable loss of green space to build over 650 new houses. While there is no doubt that we need more truly affordable housing we need a public conversation about how and where these are built. Much of the current green space is publicly owned land. If this is to be built on then local people have the right to be involved. Some new housing could fund the much needed investment to upgrade the under-used and neglected White Rock Gardens and better integrate it into the town.
One possibility is to commit to setting aside at least 50 per cent of the land for Community Land Trusts, where local people can decide what housing they want and that would be truly affordable in perpetuity.
We should be creating new neighbourhoods that are climate positive. These new homes will be built on council owned land so they can be bold in demanding low carbon building methods and zero energy homes to measurable standards such as BREAM Excellent (Building Research Environmental Assessment Method) or Passivhaus standards. The government has recently clarified that the new planning policy framework does not restrict local authorities’ ability to require energy efficiency standards above building regulations so there is no reason not to be more ambitious.
Let’s use this consultation to push the council to set new standards for how we build our future in this town. We need a commitment from the beginning to transparent and open negotiations and ambitious measurable standards for walkability and design all conducted through a truly engaged public forum. We won’t have this chance again.