by Natasha Scott

Local Momentum activists led by Alfred Bouch set up a stall in the town centre of Hastings at Wellington Place on Saturday 7th January. When interviewing Mr Bouch about his reason for doing this at a time outside of any election campaigns he said “Labour needed a presence in Hastings all the time to actively engage with local people and not just during elections.”

He went on to explain that he had been attending local Momentum meetings, as he wanted to be proactive in showing his support for a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party. He outlined to the local group that he felt the party needed to engage now with the local community, to have a presence in the area and to start countering the media bias he feels is so prevalent in today’s media. With the support of Hastings Momentum the stall was set up for the first time with the help and support of other members from the local group. Current polling figures suggest the hard work is very much ahead of them in turning the fortunes of the party around.

When talking about how the day went Mr Bouch went on to describe how

‘Among the approaches we had was one from a young woman who complained that the council had waived the requirement to have social housing in a building project near the Station and claimed that this action has deterred her and her friends from voting Labour ever again. I told her I hadn’t the answer but would try to have it for her by next week when we set up the stall again.’

Mr Bouch has subsequently been in touch with local Labour Councillor Richard Street to ask him to explain why this was allowed to happen. In Cllr Street’s reply to Mr Bouch he explained

‘This refers to the planning application that was granted in 2007 for the development at Station Plaza that consisted of 3 elements: Sussex Coast College and the Health Centre which were both completed some years ago and a housing development which has not yet started. The housing  development was to consist of 103 dwellings of which 30% would be affordable.

In 2013 the Conservative Government decided to modify the legislation so that developers could seek to have affordable housing requirements removed from planning permissions if they could show that their inclusion would make the development not viable. The developer of this site applied to do this in 2016 and submitted their justification. The Council’s Planning Department had the figures checked by the District Valuer, an independent government body, who agreed with the developer. As a result, we had no option but to agree to remove the affordable housing requirement from the planning permission.’

Mr Bouch explained how he was looking forward and ready to go back to the stall this Saturday so he could explain to the young woman how a Labour led council had been forced into making a decision that they did not agree with.

For people residing within the Westminster bubble and its media entourage this story will be of little consequence or importance but for some in Hastings it could make a difference the next time they go to the ballot box. Housing is becoming a very big issue in Hastings as much as it is in other parts of the country. The Councillor went on to tell Mr Bouch that local policy states a minimum of 25% of all new houses are affordable homes and currently more than 500,000 homes haven’t been built despite having permission.

You have to ask yourself how bad will the crisis need to be before the people who have been sold this land and given these permissions decide that they can make enough money to warrant the housing we so desperately need. So often we are told the free market will decide through supply and demand but the reality seems to be a controlled market dictates. If they can’t make enough money now with the price of homes as they stand right now then I can’t imagine anyone other than the privileged few being able to afford these homes when they are finally built.

This small seemingly innocuous stall could have a very big impact in the future,