I was down at the Bathing Hut café on a recent sunny weekday and took the opportunity to think about the issues involved with the proposed redevelopment of the old Bathing Pool Site. The sky was blue, the sea was full of people – the area had a sense of the local community enjoying itself.

And this abandoned area of grass once housed the iconic open-air pool, described in Lost Lidos as “the finest of pools”, and which was opened in 1933 in front of about 5,000 spectators. So, also an area with a magnificent heritage.

St Leonards used to be called ‘the neglected part of Hastings’: now this is reserved for West St Leonards. But according to the recently formed West St Leonards Forum, it is “a busy area with a long history” with “potential for many opportunities in the future”, which is why they would like to make it “a vibrant and exciting place for all ages to want to visit”. 

The Bathing Pool site is key to any meaningful regeneration of this area. This precious piece of seafront land is uniquely positioned to galvanise this already thriving community with a development that truly catches the spirit of our times: small scale, people-led, attractive to locals and visitors alike – something that could engender a feeling of civic pride.

That’s why there are not just one, but two local community groups who have been campaigning for this future, and they were both out on Saturday 20th June, this time with a newly launched petition to demand that Hastings Borough Council engage positively with the local community.

Cut to the most recent proposals, cloaked in secrecy but leaked on social media last year. A development that focuses on high-density residential development in luxury high-rise dwellings (with a bit of recreation tacked on as an afterthought). And who would be buying these houses? Probably people from out of town who would cash in on the sea view with Airbnb lettings, in other words, the antithesis of a community-led development. 

Comments about the proposals on social media include: “Such a cynical, short sighted, take the money & run vision for that site”, “An absolute joke, Lego on acid with grid!”, and “I presume they were drunk when they planned this”. 

Cut to Hastings Borough Council for a response; “This is not the plan, this is a concept drawing submitted as part of the winning tendering bid. Once the leases are signed, the consultation on design to be submitted for planning will begin.” (OK so this was just the winning tendering bid.)

Cut to the developer who came up with this plan, Sunley/County Gate. Or before we come to them, let’s look at housing developers in general. This from the Guardian five years ago talking about Section 106 of the town and country planning act and likening the way planning permission is awarded in the UK to a “Faustian pact” between developers and councils – with an inevitable outcome. 

“In practice, since council budgets have been so viciously slashed, Section 106 has become a primary means of funding essential public services, … The bigger the scheme, the fatter the bounty, leading to a situation not far from legalised bribery – or extortion, depending on which side of the bargain you are on. Vastly inflated density and a few extra storeys on a tower can be politically justified as being in the public interest, if it means a handful of trees will be planted on the street.”

All developers know this and exploit it mercilessly – but they are not all the same. Sunley is special. Any company with Richard Tice, chairman of the Brexit party, as one of the partners might be expected to raise a few eyebrows among Labour councillors, particularly those concerned with the offshoring of wealth. Does anyone still remember all the shenanigans associated with the Panamanian-owned company the council dealt with when acquiring the pier through compulsory purchase? 

I can only wish the council luck in any negotiations they have with Sunley/County Gate once the lease is signed: or perhaps they will finally listen to the local community and decide – in a post Covid environment – that this is not the way forward. Whatever happens, just like the stink from the nearby overflow sewage tanks, this community protest won’t go away until there is a proper resolution.

To sign the petition go to
https://hastings.moderngov.co.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?id=25

For more information go to West Marina.org or on Facebook


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