Looking after strangers when we can’t even look after ourselves

Since he started writing for Hastings In Focus back in 2019 Tom McCann has never been afraid to court controversy. As a young man trying to make his way in the world and facing an ever more ‘hostile’ local housing market he wonders if Hastings Borough Councillors have their priorities the right way round?

With vibrant organisations like Hastings Supports Refugees, the Refugee Buddy project and Hastings Community of Sanctuary at work in our community what Tom says in this column will undoubtedly spark a debate.

Tom McCann

In the same meeting as Labour Councillor Andy Batsford thought fit to put forward a motion welcoming refugees to Hastings, fellow Labour Councillor Clair Carr revealed 300 people in the town are living in temporary accommodation with a further 3,000 waiting to be allocated council housing.

In a town where there is no room for the people who already live here and whose children will one day start their own families and need their own homes to live in, and into which people are already moving en masse from places like London to escape the cost of living there and driving up the prices here in the process; where is there room for refugees?

Have you experienced the competitiveness of the local housing market? Or how expensive the town’s supply of flats are and how quickly they are snapped up when they do come up for rent, or even for sale?

There is barely anywhere to live, and where there is, is so expensive as to make it barely liveable – if you can even mange to secure it. And yet the people who live here are expected to put their own lives aside for the benefit of people not from here and who have never lived here, and for what?

Refugees are welcome where and when they can be supported. Tell me how can we support even more refugees when we can’t even support the existing population of people living in the town? There is nowhere to go; no way for the young to climb on to – never mind up – the property ladder and yet councillors like Mr Batsford seem too caught up in the idea of virtue signalling. They should be thinking instead of how we house those already here.

It is not racist nor is it anti-refugee to say we do not have the space in Hastings for refugees. We just don’t. We don’t even have room for ourselves.

It’s like driving in a three-door, four-seater car, and before the people in the back have even climbed out we’re letting in three more to sit on top of the people already there, exacerbating the problem of the total lack of room, and then despite this, complaining that there isn’t any.

So often people demand we open up our collective doors to refugees. So do they open their own and offer their spare beds? Have you ever housed a refugee in your own home Mr Batsford?

Of course the council will point to its plans to build housing around the town but nearly every site it proposes is met with a backlash from the public and rejection by local people.

Just look at what’s happening to the planned builds in the greenery of Harrow Lane, the flood plain of Bulverhythe and the controversial plans to build on top of the old bathing pool site. And even if they do push ahead against public opinion how long will it take to build these new houses and how long will it take just to get those 3,000 people off the waiting list never mind providing homes for refugees?

Is it worth destroying the greenery and worsening the already over-used roads of Harrow Lane in order to build the small number of affordable houses that are being proposed? Is it worth sinking concrete piles 20 metres deep in to the ground to mitigate unavoidable floods to be able to build on Bulverhythe? Is it worth building on the old the bathing pool site when thousands of existing constituents signed a petition to reject the proposal, and is that proposal likely to offer affordable housing anyway? Or will it provide luxury seaside apartments that will attract even more ‘DFLs’?

A politician’s duty of care is to their constituents. So why do local Labour politicians seemingly insist on extending that to people who are not their constituents? Perhaps when the housing crisis in this town is fixed with builds genuinely, viably planned and there are places to go for the people who already live here—then, and only then can we extend our hands to the world. 

Until then what’s the use in looking after strangers when we can’t even look after ourselves?

Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

25 thoughts on “Looking after strangers when we can’t even look after ourselves

  1. This article should just start with I’m not racist but…… I actually think that this maybe the last time I read or reply anything from this online magazine.

    I am really sorry Stuart but this racist nasty dog whistle shit is just so disappointing. Why are you allowing your online newspaper which you worked so hard to get a good readership slide in to the murky slime of right wing click bait?
    Sorry it’s just so poor, totally incorrect and incites, racisim, fear and violence.

    1. Councillor Batsford, you show your true colours, this is an opinion and should surely be heard. If we still live in a true democracy with freedom of speech then why not take on board some of his comments and see if he has a point instead of slamming him down as a nasty racist dog. As usual your choice of words do not befit an elected Councillor who has demonstrated time and time again that the only opinion that counts is yours and your dictatorship of a council.

    2. Freedom of speech comes to mind, the last time I looked this was still permitted. This is the trouble when people raise an issue that has real meaning and value, you become targetted as a trouble maker.

      Keep writing Tom, I find your comments grounded in truth however controversial.

      1. This is a good article. Says it like it is. Some of the problem is because Hastings has been a place to move people into. Castleham was built for London overspill. No locals allowed. We are unable to house everyone. Our roads cannot cope now. Some councillors don’t care its just a job not a vocation.

    3. The comments in this article are in no way racist Cllr – and using language like that shows a complete lack of understanding & education – I’m sure that Tom is voicing an opinion shared by many in Hastings that can’t get affordable housing . Maybe get from behind your keyboard and go out and talk to the people who voted for you… #shameonyou

    4. It’s a great shame Andy, that you didn’t use this opportunity to explain in a more coherent and rational way, the housing issues and problems in our town. Instead, your aggressive choice of language has shown your contempt for those who don’t share your ideological beliefs. As a councillor, you should be seeking to inform and reassure rather than raising negative emotions and inviting confrontation.

    5. To put it simply. You and your wife, two children income £100.
      You spend £100.
      Nothing left.
      Would you then take someone in knowing you need to deprive your own children in order to accommodate. Look at the bigger picture and god bless your children’s future.

  2. Please stop publishing work from this uneducated twat. Bexhill on focus lost multiple readers after his article inferring we should let all the vulnerable die of Covid so we can have more money for ourselves. Now you have lost a reader for publishing this tripe of not seeing humans as humans. He comes across as a self assured twat who is completely self-centred who believes himself to be deserving of privilege over others!

  3. sigh. its not an ‘either/or’ situation. look more widely at the reasons people are flocking to the area – Airbnb in particular…

  4. The housing crisis is NOT caused by immigrants ya twassock. It’s caused by 40 years of neoliberal housing policies and successive governments suppressing house building and social housing. It’s the big time property developers and banks/ big time capitalists that have made it hard for you to find somewhere decent to live.

    1. Hmmmmn! I don’t know Tom, so I have no banner to waive also, I’m not sure he claimed refugees were the cause of the housing problem in this article. If however, he is right perhaps, just perhaps, councils up and down the UK are prioritising badly.

  5. I find it amusing that Councillor Batsford refers to the “murky slime of right wing click bait”. Of course he would not even stop to think that his view might be considered by possibly half the country as the “murky slime of left wing click bait”?!
    Personally I think there are good points on both sides unfortunately the standard of politicians on the right, centre and left is so abysmal at the present time that no coherent policy is possible on this subject.

    1. Graham, I have taken issue with Tom McCanns articles before and (please take note Stuart) I have had to assume that he is too young and/or opens his mouth before thinking when writing such articles. I’m all for giving youngsters a chance but Tom, this article of yours is so divisive AND racist which Stuart never has been in HIF. Stuart you should have a long, hard think to yourself before giving Tom free reign to write such unresearched, thoughtless comments. I could never agree with a word Batsford says or commits to paper – he shows his lack of intelligence and ridiculous, childish writing every time he contributes anything at anytime – what is “murky slime of right-wing click bait.” I’m not used to this childish writing or “opinion”.
      Yes,we do have a problem with finding enough housing in Hastings which has absolutely nothing to do with refugees, more the mishandling of building on suitable places in Hastings (there are plenty of them) by the abysmal HBC, oh,or course you should know that as a councillor Mr Batsford!
      I don’t wish to make this into a “free for all” but I will say again, you should not be writing quite major articles that is real NIMBYISM. If you don’t want to support refugees, you’re in the wrong town.if you want more affordable housing, don’t play into Mr Batsord and the rest of the awful HBC’s hands. RANT OVER.

  6. I agree entirely with Andy Batsford on this – this article is a disgrace and threatens to destroy the reputation of the HIF. The article falsely links the enormous housing and social problems in this town to the issue of refugees. The article mention local organisations such as Hastings Supports Refugees, the Refugee Buddy project and Hastings Community of Sanctuary but apparently has not asked them for comment as a professional news organisation would. I hope that the HIF will publish an article from representatives of these organisations in the interests of a balanced a free press.

  7. Why the nasty tone? — what used to be known as unChristian. Free speech is fine but can be better used than this.

    So local people and their offspring have a right to local housing? Where’s Tom McCann from anyway? And how much housing should be built? And by whom? Perhaps he should shove off to somewhere else, where the property prices are more attractive.

    The piece misses aspects such as the second homes phenomenon, and the Birch-era HBC Empty Homes Strategy, and the meanings of landlordism.

    ‘We don’t even have room for ourselves’? But we do, if planning policies and planners were better.

    The jibes about NIMBYISM seem never to record that the true nimbyists are the construction industry, who build elsewhere, where weakened (sometimes gormless) Councils let them get away with it.

    Nationwide, there are over a million homes with planning permission but not built — because developers make more money by land-banking (Local Government Association report ‘Taking Stock’, May 2021). Or see a Spectator article of 26 June: ‘The house mafia: the scandal of new builds’ by Liam Halligan.

    Land-banking is nothing to do with refugees, but about what the government chooses to accept or not. Don’t blame them for a national crisis in housing. Diversionary bilge does not help understanding or HiF.

  8. I think the town needs to look at the amount of flats being snapped up and rented through Air B&Bs …am sure thats also driving the affordable housing /rent problem in this town. Its ridiculous

  9. It’s all veery well publishing opinion pieces but not if they don’t consider verifiable facts. The problem is nothing to do with refugees, it’s all about the lack of affordable housing throughout he UK datng back to Thatcher’s decision to stop councl’s building homes. Rich people will continue to move to attractive places and richer people will choose to have two homes. Tom raises some good points regarding the use of land enjoyed by the community to build homes, too often for DFLs and second homehomers. Also he use of second homes as Air B&Bs is a really relevant issue in seaside towns.
    We do not have enough decent homes but homes are allocated strictly on priority and do not prioritise anybody simply because they are refugees – implying that is to perpetrate one of the great racist lies.
    HBC needs to be more creative in how it seeks to provide homes and also in better managing the HMOs it currently oversees. But ultimately we decide what housing policies we want pursued, by who we vote for at central government level, as well as at local level. If you think private landlords and housing developers are doing a great job in providing quality affordable housing and if you think that blaming the most vulnerable in society for the problems caused by the wealthy and priveleged, then keep voting Tory. If you don’t you might want to consider the policies of other parties.

  10. It’s funny how people are always quick to blame people fleeing wars and poverty yet somehow can’t find fault with a government that’s been in power for over 10 years.

    During that time we’ve seen less houses built than ever, the standard of living going down, the economy disintegrating, less jobs created and relations with our neighbors in Europe destroyed by a lie-filled Brexit campaign.

    But still, at least we can hold up our blue passports as we shout at the few poor people arriving by inflatables from France.

    1. Poor people who incidentally, pay huge amounts of cash to criminals for passage to the UK. I have huge concerns for people seeking safe refuge in a relatively safe country. However, illegal, dangerous and costly entry to any country is not helpful for anyone except exploitative criminals. If they have funds (I accept this is not always the case) why not seek propper routes? Criminals lie to migrants and tell them to ditch their formal papers and lie about age and place of origin, often providing contact details for criminals within the UK to take advantage of benefit systems.

      I’m not just making this up to be deliberately controversial, I spent several years working as a manager of analysts for an organised immigration crime team.

  11. Thanks Tom for dumbing the national housing crisis down to a simplistic argument that feeds the fire of divisiveness. Your sense of outraged entitlement over other human beings, strangers or not, must make your family and friends assured of your help if they ever need it.

  12. Refugees housed in the town are found private rental accommodation, not given preferential access to public housing, which is one of the big misunderstandings around this issue. It’s just as likely that more London migrants would rent those properties otherwise, rather than assuming they would go to ‘local people’, whatever that means. As several people point out, the lack of housing is nothing to do with refugees, but all to do with years of bad government policy. I for one am very glad that our local council publicly signals it’s support for welcoming refugees to the town. The article reduces these people to being ‘a problem’ rather than a group of often skilled individuals who have lots to contribute to our community.

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