It’s a year since hundreds of local people turned out on wet and windy Saturday to protest against Hastings Borough Council’s plans to develop the old bathing pool site. A year on we still seem to be in the dark about what is going to happen to the site and when. This week Bryan Fisher, representing the leading campaign groups West Marina Group and Save Our Bathing Site (SOBS) reflects on the story so far and sets out the campaigner’s next steps.
It seems only yesterday when Hastings Borough Council (HBC) announced the ‘imminent’ signing of their ‘Terms of Engagement’ with the developers Countygate Sunley writes Bryan Fisher. However it has now been two years since that announcement, two years in which not only the vast majority of the West St Leonards community but the wider community and visitors too, have condemned their decision to build 152 dwellings on the Old Bathing Pool Site.
Leaked details of the ‘developers plan’ show almost all the dwellings are located in five high-density high-rise blocks located at the eastern end of the site, with a multi-storey car park at the western end.
Local community action groups have consistently pointed out that the Old Bathing Pool Site is the last green space linking the sea with the land and, as such, its future use should be leisure not housing.
It is annoying that requests for HBC’s decision-makers to engage with local community groups in West St Leonards have been ignored, despite two very successful protest-gatherings on the site. Residents want justification for losing such a valuable coastal asset to housing, but it seems HBC just want to hide behind a mantra of ‘housing is the number one priority’, rather than risk dialogue with its council tax payers who vote for councillors to look beyond party political dogma and look to the future of this Borough. That future has to include tourism and leisure, if this Borough is to promote itself as the ‘Destination Point’ frequently quoted by Councillor Andy Batsford and others.
Being on the coast is a disadvantage for most light-engineering or service industries and others such as educational colleges because 180 degrees of their catchment area is lost. When you include the appalling roads and slow rail journeys there is nothing much to attract new businesses to the Borough.
However, being on the coast is a great asset to tourism and should be attracting far more visitors to enjoy Hastings and St Leonards. We appreciate the car parking charges do not help welcome visitors either, but there is potential and the Old Bathing Pool site should be part of that potential.
So does having a housing estate on the Old Bathing Pool site instead of a leisure-based package, which draws in visitors from near and afar and provides revenue and jobs, make sense?
The case for housing developments on every significant green space in the Borough has not been made, or even attempted, with those living here. It has been made in council meetings by just a few, and that ‘few’ seem uninterested in transparent and timely discussion with either us council tax payers or even the local media.
Save Our Bathing Site (SOBS) and West Marina Group started a petition out of sheer frustration. That petition is aimed to demonstrate to HBC the high level of opposition in the local community to housing on the Old Bathing Pool site.
Started in June 2020, during the Covid-19 restrictions, it has attracted more than 1,950 objectors, and the organisers are keen to reach the symbolic number of 2020.
Meanwhile Lucie Mason of SOBS is preparing to formally present the petition, via Zoom, to the full HBC council on December 16th. We really hope Lucie’s brief speech will se councillors engage in a meaningful discussion, but past experience of our local council suggests we should not hold our breath! See the links below if you want your voice included in the opposition to housing on the OBP site!
Meanwhile, what news on HBC’s erstwhile developer – Countygate Sunley?
As with requests to HBC to engage in meaningful dialogue, there has been no real contact, only the odd acknowledgement or two of emails and letters sent. But are they still actually interested in developing the site?
They must surely have performed test-bores, and from that realised the difficulties the site presents in terms of added expense in clearance and deep pilings that will be required to support the multi-storey buildings proposed.
They must have checked and found the site is designated a flood plain and surely they must also recognise the overwhelming opposition to housing has not disappeared.
All the added costs must throw into jeopardy the ‘promise’ to allocate affordable housing. It has become accepted practice for developers to be ‘awarded’ a small fine to get any affordable homes dropped from a scheme, happy in the knowledge that they can maximise profits by selling to ‘second-homers’ and Airbnb owners instead.
HBC claims this would never be allowed but, like many other councils around the country, they will find they have little control once the plan is approved.
Hardly the noble venture HBC thinks it is engaged in, but rather a profit-driven development expecting to run rings around the local council!
On Saturday December 5th local community groups are going to symbolically represent the current number of signatories opposing housing on the Old Bathing Pool site via a virtual display. Covid-19 makes large gatherings problematic, but do contact SOBS or West Marina Group as any offers of help will be much appreciated. Otherwise you can always come along to view the visual display, which promises to be striking. There will be more details, such as the time when the protest display will be completed, nearer the time.
To sign the petition version on Change.com:
To sign the online e-Petition:
To contact West Marina Org:
To contact Save Our Bathing Site:
Main photo supplied by Christine Boulton-Lane
Campaigners have also produced a leaflet to promote next weekends protest display…