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.
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?