It’s a big day for the future of our town; the consultation process opens up for the local plan, a document that will set the direction of the town’s development for the next two decades and a proposal to attract £25m of government money to regenerate Hastings will be presented to government – but who had a say in what went in to that document and why has it not been made public?
The document is the Hastings’ Town Deal Investment Plan but critics say there has been scant communication with the public during its preparation and concerns have emerged about how the process has been managed, if the guidelines have been adhered to and whether the deal will prove, as intended, beneficial to the whole borough?
Minutes of the meeting of the Town Deal board held on December 14th say: “Hastings’ submission is in very good shape. The Towns Hub is confident that Hastings has a robust project prioritisation and assessment system, has followed the required steps and has a strong consultative process in place.”
The final detail of the plan was approved by the board last Friday with Hastings bidding for £28.5m of government funding but beyond that no one really knows what the bid contains. Ambitious projects for West St Leonards were rejected including one that would have brought the abandoned St Leonards Parish Church back to life.
“I think we are all aware that town centres need to be reimagined and reinvigorated.”Councillor Kim Forward, leader of Hastings Borough Council
Minutes from last Friday’s meeting talk about: “Town Investment Plan (TIP) discussion and approval. Confidential copy to be circulated on January 18th”.
Writing recently in Hastings Online Times www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk Nick Tedre says: “Unfortunately the people of Hastings know very little about the plan which is shortly to be approved because of the board’s and the council’s apparent reluctance to inform them.
“Specifics are missing from board reports and minutes, and in the case of the December meeting, no reports were made available, despite government guidelines that they should be published on the lead council’s website in advance of the meeting.
“This was due to issues of commercial confidentiality, an officer explained. However, it is normal procedure for the council to flag up matters calling for confidentiality in the agenda for a meeting, as well as in the reports. This was not the case here, nor do the minutes make mention of any discussion or decision that could not be made public due to confidentiality considerations.”
Nick goes on: “In setting out the terms for the Town Deal, the government made it abundantly clear that local people and communities should be involved all the way. According to the prospectus: “It is vital that towns engage with communities to find out directly from the public what they love about their place and how they want to see it grow…
“Communities are more likely to work to implement solutions, and be able to take advantage of the economic opportunities resulting from government investment if they (are) engaged early and throughout the process of designing and delivering the Town Investment Plan.”
Councils were asked by government to be ‘open by default’ with their Town Deal Boards, Town Investment Plan and outline business cases, while acknowledging that commercially sensitive information would need to be protected.
All, that has ben said publicly is that the town deal bid is about to be submitted, and will be made public in due course.
Nick says: “The reticence of the board and the council contrasts markedly with the enthusiastic response of local people and communities to the board’s call for ‘expressions of interest,’ which led to 155 project proposals being submitted.”
The Town Deal webpages show of that total, 70 involved active transport/public realm ideas across the borough and outside the borough, 40 concerned town centre sites and building use ideas, and ten were proposals for St Leonards and west of borough proposals.
There are signs that not all board members are happy with the way business is being conducted. According to the minutes of the November meeting, “…concern was expressed by some board members regarding the level of engagement available to the board with the projects coming forward and that this had not been the best possible process.”
The minutes of the June meeting cite co-chair Carole Dixon to the effect that according to further guidance just received: “focus should be on the town centre, but will include other areas.”
However, while not ignoring town centres, the guidance does not insist on a particular emphasis on it. At one point it says: “We are leaving the flexibility for towns to prioritise investment across the town – for example, in gateway areas, key education or employment sites. We would like to understand your plan for the town centre…”
One man, Chris Lewcock, who fronted the proposal for a Science on Sea project based on the redundant St Leonards church has sent two formal complaints to government citing minimal engagement with the wider community, the lack of a vision, an unbalanced and geographically narrow representation on the board, insufficient basic information for the board to support decision-making and a lack of transparency.
- You an read Nick Tedre’s full report here
Speaking to a meeting of Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce this morning Hastings Borough Council (HBC) leader Kim Forward said the Town Board had opted to look at the town centre as being ‘the hub’ of regeneration for the town and said that: “I think we are all aware that town centres need to be reimagined and reinvigorated.”
In unanimously approving the town deal bid last week the board minutes acknowledge the moment was: “A culmination of a huge amount of work by the project support team.”
The minutes also record a programme of what it describes as ‘engagement’ which includes
- The Town Deal blog and social media channels will go live on Monday, February 1st.
- A press release will accompany this celebrating the submission of the TIP.
- Board members and project delivery leads will be provided with the social media handles and guidance and all were asked to follow the channels and share where possible.
- The stakeholder engagement working group will be established shortly and thanks were extended to those who have volunteered to be part of the group.
- A ‘live’ communications calendar for online and offline engagement for 2021 will be developed over the next month, being mindful of ongoing COVID restrictions.
- A project delivery leads meeting will be arranged to further develop conversations and relations between organisations involved.
No further meeting of the Town Deal Board is due until April 27th by which time it is hoped there will have been a positive response to the Hastings proposals from government and plans can start to be prepared to move to the next stage in the Town Deal programme.
Why was the Town Deal Board set up?
Hastings Borough Council website says:
The government invited 101 towns to develop proposals for a Town Deal, as part of the £3.6 billion Fund. Hastings is one of the towns across the country eligible to bid for up to £25m from the Town Fund with the opportunity to bid for more money from other national funding streams, as well as other sources including private. The Town Deal is being managed by the Town Deal Board, and covers the whole of the Hastings borough, although projects should be targeted towards Hastings town centre and employment gateway sites (such as industrial estates).
The Town Deal funding can only be used for capital projects – such as new or repurposed buildings, places or assets and must refer to the impact COVID-19 has had on the town.
The Town Deal board have also been awarded £173,029 from the government to support the development of the Town Deal, its Investment Plan and business case development for specific projects. Through this process they will have to identify projects, what funding is required; and how these projects fit with the vision, challenges/ambitions and wider longer-term plan for the continued regeneration of the town.
The board will bring forward initial concept proposals developed and shaped by working with partners, private and public investors and the community to produce a Town Deal Investment plan (a strategy document). This will need to be approved by the Government before the board can start working with stakeholders and the community to shape and develop the details of the projects to bring them to life.
If the funding is secured it will deliver jobs, homes, skills, regeneration and action to reduce our carbon emissions.