They might be struggling to find a builder to construct the proposed new visitor centre at Hastings Country Park but Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has had the straw bales to build it with in storage since 2015.
A spokesman for HBC told Hastings In Focus: “The straw bales were bought in 2015. They cost approx. £2,000. They are stored professionally in a shed at the farm at Hastings Country Park in suitable conditions to keep them dry with a good circulation of air.
“They are regularly inspected to ensure they are fit for purpose. They were last inspected by a straw bale construction specialist during the summer of this year and found to be completely suitable for the purpose they are intended; to be used to construct the new visitor centre.
“The bales, due to being stored free from wet and moisture, will keep for many years. The baling technique ensures they are of a greater density and mass than normal bales which further ensures their longevity when stored appropriately, as ours are.”
When asked what the storage of the bales was costing the council we were told: “The bales are stored at our farm premises at Hastings Country Park and cost nothing to store. As our architect for the project is regularly in Hastings she is able to inspect the bales at no charge. The bales therefore have no on-going costs associated with them.”
The idea to create a visitor centre built from straw bales was initially approved by the council’s planning committee more than three and a half years ago.
The council spokesman said: “We had anticipated we would be working with a consortium of straw bale builders but were unable to finalise negotiations in an acceptable time. We have re-tendered the project and a report is going to our cabinet on December 3rd to outline the results of the tender process and seek authority to contract with a specialist sustainable build contractor.
“The building will still be built from straw bales and be a low carbon sustainable build.”
While the straw bales have lain in storage there have already been two failed attempts to get the project off the ground and as things now stand the project planned to go ahead is both smaller in total area and significantly more expensive that originally envisaged.
At the end of May the plans for the centre came in front of a specially convened HBC cabinet meeting that acknowledged the building was a difficult design. The cabinet approved a proposal to reboot the project and get it back on track and that included the council borrowing an additional £117,000 on top of the £250,000 that had already been earmarked for the project and along with grant funding secured from the EU brought the whole cost of the visitor centre to £770,000.
Rob Lee, leader of the Conservative opposition group on HBC says the new visitor centre could end up costing £3,400 per square metre to build making it, he claims, one of the most expensive buildings in the town. While initially supportive of the project when it was first mooted in 2014 the Conservative group believe it’s time to look for a fresh approach.
“The Council cannot even find anyone to build this straw house, which is years late and hugely over budget so why are they storing away the straw bales for it?
“It’s about time that they started concentrating on good quality services instead of wasting time and taxpayers money on these strange white elephants.”
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