Are there flaws in borough council’s housing strategy?

A ‘visionary future’ is what’s needed for the old bathing pool site in St Leonards not high density housing that will, “…add to parking and infrastructure problems.”

That’s the view of the West Marina Group (WMG) in St Leonards. It’s seriously concerned about the future of the site: “We want a visionary future for this last seafront site and know the proposed development of high-density housing is wrong for this location,” says the organisation.

In a piece they have just published WMG asks: “…is there a need for up to 150 flats here anyway? Seaside flats could sell to locals but are more likely to sell as holiday homes or become open to abuse as Airbnbs.

“Part of the answer to that question is that Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has a statutory duty to ensure a number of new homes are built within a limited period. The council can’t build these homes themselves. Successive governments have stripped local councils of funding for housing, leaving them with often unaffordable duties.”

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The area set for development, outlined in red.

WMG also examine some of the wider issues surrounding the need for new homes: “There may be more ‘habitable rooms’ in England than there are people, but we don’t know,” they say.

The most recently published English Housing Survey (2017) doesn’t tell us the number of rooms per home, just floor area. In theory we could show that there’s no need to build more homes, just fill all the existing ones. Practise is another thing. 

“Fifty-four per cent of owner-occupied homes are said to be ‘under-occupied’ as they have spare bedrooms. Less than 15 per cent of rented homes are ‘under-occupied’. However homeowners can’t be forced to take in lodgers if they don’t want to. We have small families living in large houses, larger families living in small flats and people living in shelters beside the beach. This inequality is reflected across the country.

“Yes there are empty homes, but many are in places where people don’t want or don’t need to live.

“People need to live near their jobs, their schools, their families and support networks.  A run-down terrace in Newcastle-under-Lyme that was built 150 years ago, to house ‘hatters’ – an industry which no longer exists – wouldn’t be suitable for a working family in St Leonards. Neither would it be suitable for the homeless on the seafront, unless they have links to Newcastle-under-Lyme.”

The National Audit Office (NAO) reported in November on the starter homes scheme announced by prime minister David Cameron in 2014, intended to create 200,000 homes. This appeared to be the government’s agreement that new homes are needed, but their timescale was vague and the NAO report showed that none of these homes have been built.

Meanwhile, further down the social scale, are people who couldn’t afford to buy a starter home in 2014 and still can’t. 

WMG says: “They live in the rental sector, which doesn’t need to be a bad thing but for many it’s a constant struggle to keep a decent roof over their heads. There’s a shortage of good quality homes in the private rental sector and an acute shortage in the public sector. This has led, according to figures for September 2019, to more than 10,000 people in emergency accommodation nationwide. There is nowhere else for them to go.”

That figure does not take account of people who are on the streets. In Hastings borough the official figures for rough sleepers is rising each year despite Hastings’ inclusion in the group of local authorities receiving additional funding under the Rough Sleeping Initiative.

In February of this year Councillor Andy Batsford said: “The number of people living in temporary accommodation has increased significantly over the past year. There are currently around 123 households living in temporary accommodation in Hastings.” This figure has now risen to 150.

WMG says: “All these people need housing, but not in seaside flats in an area where the sea-defences are substandard. Any development which ignores potential rising sea-levels and storm frequency is foolhardy and ultimately a waste of money.

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Plans for redevelopment of the old bathing pool site should make it a ‘destination’.

“The real need in St Leonards is for decent rental homes for the disadvantaged and affordable housing for local families. Large empty dwellings such as those on West Hill Road could be converted to flats, though there is limited stock of these older buildings and conversion can be expensive because of the need to apply current standards to these projects.

“The proposed Bulverhythe development, although controversial, could provide more of the housing that HBC needs than The Bathing Pool Site.  The Archery Road development is proceeding with less density than proposed for the Bathing Pool site. But is this type of development, with only a small amount of social housing beside larger, expensive homes, the best use of either space? There are 1,666 people on the Council’s housing waiting list.”

Other vacant plots in the area with potential for house building include West Hill Road and Caves Road but these sites offer their own challenges, but few risks can be greater than the risk of flooding at the Bathing Pool Site, according to WMG.

More homes are needed nationwide. According to Zoopla, the online property website,  the demand for homes both to buy and to rent is rising, while the existing housing stock still has more pre-1960s buildings than newer ones. Zoopla reckons that 240,000 to 340,000 new homes need to be created each year to keep pace with demand.

HBC’s Homelessness Strategy says: “…it is imperative that the council works with partners to seek innovative solutions to address housing need.”

“Leasing public land to a private developer for expensive flats on our last beachfront site is not ‘innovative’. This land belongs to the people and we have not been consulted. The council also express a desire for the West Marina area to become a ‘destination’ to attract visitors. 

“Blocks of flats will not help create an attractive destination, they will just add to parking and infrastructure problems,” concludes WMG.

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2 thoughts on “Are there flaws in borough council’s housing strategy?

  1. While the West Marina Group rightly express concern for the bathing pool site, the deal is pretty much done between council and developer. And of course no developer is going to listen to the WMG or anybody else out there.
    So much for the “Public Consultation” promised. But anyone following HBC’s business and the methods they use will tell you promises get broken and this is just another one. Rather like the development of Archery Road after the college closed. Considered a sensitive sight in a conservation area with a history connected to Decimus Burton did not phase the council to end up ignoring a public consultation .
    And overall what are Public Consultations at the end of the day? Merely an exercise by a council to say we carried out the protocol and asked what the public might like, what was needed etc. But regardless we will do it our way.

    While Cllr Batsford throws around these figures relating to various aspects of housing how much of this site is going to be provided to those in “temporary accommodation.” And the talk of Affordable Housing is a lip service. Take one significant local developer who manages to dodge the quote of social / affordable housing by splitting his sites up into different planning applicants.

    The WMG should have enough experience by now to know two essential things such as Transparency and Democracy have never been anywhere at the top of their list.

  2. Once this deal is done with the developer – and all avenues point to the signing and agreement of the lease as a done deal now – there is nothing we can do…what has this irresponsible council agreed that the developer can do with the site??? OUR site.
    Where are our elected councillors from both parties? Where are the two local councillors who cover this ward? They haven’t said much so far…
    I fear we have lost this special site forever now…only an intervention from a higher authority will halt this shameful situation.

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