Last week’s meeting of Hastings Borough Council saw the debate continue over the future of the Harrow Lane playing fields. Gifted to the town for recreational use, HBC now wants to sell them off for housing development. The Conservative opposition wants to retain the playing fields as they, are describing them as ‘the last green lung’ in that part of town. But there are other issues too, with plans for housing and a new supermarket on the Ashdown House site and development already underway right at the top of Harrow Lane can the current roads and other infrastructure actually cope with what is being proposed?
Controversy over plans to build new houses on Harrow Lane playing fields continued at last week’s Hastings Borough Council (HBC) full council meeting.
Councillor Mike Edwards said there was ‘tremendous opposition’ from local residents: “The reasons for this opposition are very well known, general road congestion, the surgery closing down, the hospital nearby is at full capacity—everything speaks against the sale of this council owned green space.
“This is entirely the wrong time to dig up this last green lung in the borough. I would like to firmly declare to the Council we should not proceed with this; the Council is wrong to, when there are so many other planning approvals which already have been granted that could be easily progressed.
…if we don’t bring these houses forward, we are condemning the next generation of our children to yet more poverty, more inequality, less chances of education and work…Councillor Andy Batsford
“This field was given to the Council many years ago, it was given with legal covenants which are about to be broken by this council.”
Former leader of the Council Peter Chowney dismissed opposition to the project: “I know there’s this sudden opposition to it, but we have had some Conservative councillors clearly supporting it.
“This was approved in the budget two years ago. One of the reasons for the sale is because we have a gap in our budget of £3.5million; it is true the money we received from the government throughout Covid has been generous, but we have to make that money up somehow. The sale of Harrow Lane would bring in about £250,000 revenue annually. If you’re not going to sell that, you’ve got to come up with a way of getting that £250,000—whose jobs are you going to cut? What services are you going to get rid of? How are you going to magic up that amount of income?”
Mr Chowney then went on to dismiss opposition from residents of the area, claiming: “You will always get local opposition to large developments – it has suddenly become a big issue.”
Councillor John Rankin told the meeting: “I want to address this situation about me reportedly saying that Harrow Lane should have council houses built on it.
“In 2018 I represented a group of residents and spoke on their behalf against having homes built on Harrow Lane. I also spoke against having homes built on Harrow Lane in 2016. I pushed through an amendment. I changed one word, a generic reference to the council retaining the right to build housing itself. I changed the word ‘had’ to ‘remains’ to say: “It remains the aspiration of HBC to build homes,” which I thought was very important bearing in mind we’ve spent considerable amounts of tax payer’s money on setting up a Hastings housing company, designed for this very purpose, which now sits on a shelf somewhere in an office gathering dust and doing nothing.”
He went on: “…and I want to clarify our MP’s position because she has been spoken about and she is not here to defend herself.
“Our MP is against building on Harrow Lane because she is now aware of all the facts, including the restrictive covenants on the land saying that it must be used for recreational purposes.”
Labour’s Mike Turner hit back at Councillors Edwards and Rankin, dismissing their criticisms and clarifications in what was essentially a personal attack on his colleagues: “This is a sort-of deja-vu as far as I’m concerned. I remember in the council chamber when the Conservatives were protesting against building on the Ridge and they suggested putting it all down to Baird Ward. I have to say what Councillor Edwards and Councillor Rankin have come out with is a ‘nimbyism’ (not in my back yard).
“I have to say as far as the MP is concerned she should learn the facts before she starts making statements. I don’t buy the Tories green credentials, oh no that doesn’t wash with me, ‘nimbyism’ and that’s the fact of the matter,” he claimed.
Former leader of the council’s Conservative group Rob Cooke said: “I was leader of the Conservative group at the time and he’s right that we did oppose one site on the Ridge, but we also opposed building on Speckled Wood and Robsack. At the time the Labour Party told us we were ludicrous and those two sites had to stay in the plan no matter what. Lo and behold, six months later, Councillor Chowney in one of his first meetings as leader took both those sites out, so it’s not fair to say it’s a ‘nimbyism’ when we were supporting residents in Hollington, Tressel, Ore and Baird and you agreed with us.”
Councillor Clair Carr told the meeting: “What seems to be lost among is this plan in Harrow Lane is to help the people in Hastings who need it the most. The problem is we have around 300 people in temporary accommodation, and 3,000 people waiting on the council list for a home. They have nowhere to go. We have targets set by the government we have to fulfil and we need to build somewhere. Wherever we build currently the Tories oppose every single site.”
Councillor Andy Batsford, HBC’s lead councillor for housing said: “All I’ve heard from the Tories is their desperate attempt to play to the crowd, to play to the votes. No talk of the thousands of people, the children, living in damp and terrible accommodation waiting on the housing list for over two years because of the desperate lack of affordable housing in this town.”
Mr Batsford then decided to personally address those in the town living in temporary accommodation: “I’m going to talk to those people,” he said.
“We the Labour council, we see you, we hear you, okay? We’re not leaving you on that waiting list in the hope some development company in the future builds some houses for you—we are going to deliver 500 affordable houses for this town, and when those planning permissions are granted we will celebrate with you and show you those plans that you will call those homes a place where your children can grow up and thrive and be a fantastic asset for our town. Because if we don’t bring these houses forward, we are condemning the next generation of our children to yet more poverty, more inequality, less chances of education and work—this has to be one of the focuses for this town, no matter what.”