Changing Hastings – Or Is It?
By Sam Kinch Community Organiser at Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust
“This seaside town [St Leonard’s] has stepped out of the shadow of its
twin. One could say it was gentrifying, were it not built for the gentry”
(The Guardian, 11th October 2019)
It’s hard not to notice that Hastings and St Leonard’s is changing. From the hustle and bustle returning to Kings Road & Queens Road, the sight of new eateries in once disused shopfronts on the Marina or Mercatoria, the glowing return of our glorious, RIBA award-winning and utterly divisive pier, the visible changes are plain to see. Less visible is the quieting of streets like St Mary’s Road or St Michael’s Place as neighbourhoods are slowly converted to Airbnbs, or the rising number of ‘invisible homeless’ (not to mention our entirely visible fellow community members sleeping in doorways across the town). The impact on once cosy and caring neighbourhoods is becoming hard not to notice.
PICTURE: Dave Young
A group of local people are calling for a discussion on these issues, and as such are planning a town-wide meeting to take place on 21st November at Hastings and St Leonards Angling Association (opposite the Albion Pub) from 6:30pm, under the banner of Changing Hastings. The event will be a chance to hear more information about the situation and for local people to put forward collaborative ideas for how we might tackle some of the bigger issues presented. The event is being sponsored by Hastings Independent Press in the hope that it might dispel myths and heal rifts, as well as creating lively discussions across the town.
Hastings has always been a town in flux and settlement and change is in our blood. In recent years though, the elephant in a lot of rooms has been the debate over DFLs (Down From London) or AOBs (Across From Brighton). These labels and debates are nothing unique to Hastings, as DFLs are being discussed across the south coast in communities where properties were until recently relatively cheap, and coffee was often still granulated rather than ground.
Obviously a lot of the debate is overcharged and plays into unhelpful stereotypes – Londoners are brash and money-obsessed, locals are small-minded and jealous – but the causes and drivers of the tensions are much more nuanced. One of the flashpoints is the debate over housing and income: publicly-available figures paint an alarming picture of change and a town reaching crisis point in some respects. In 2010 for example, the average house price was around £170k, with local wages averaging around £18.2k. Back then, a couple may have been able to afford to compete in the market, but today house prices average out at £250k and local wages have increased by a miserly £500 per annum to £18.7k. Over the same time the number of registered ‘homeless households’ or families in temporary accommodation (families facing homeslessness but not necessarily on the streets) has risen from 61 cases in 2010 to 352 in 2018 with the minimal security of Assured Short-Hold tenancies cited as a major contributor. Rough sleeping is at record levels from 3 recorded instances in 2010 to 48 in 2018 (figures from a mix of sources including NHS, third sector and local government).
Whilst it’s easy to see the obvious problems shown by the data, it’s not always easy to point to the cause, and whilst it’s often easy to blame “the other” (in Hastings’ case DFLs), sometimes the answers require some more subtle analysis and reflection. It is in this vein that the newly local (5 years, DFL) St Leonard’s business owner, Will Stevens, has called for the Changing Hastings meeting scheduled for November. Stevens runs Warrior Square eatery Goat Ledge which serves locally caught fish at prices he hopes most Hastings residents can afford. It’s in conversation with his friends and diners that Stevens noticed the topic of Hastings’ changing face coming up repeatedly. In his own words: “Even in the five years since I moved here (and bought a flat I’d never have been able to afford in London) I’ve noticed how quickly the character of the town is changing. I am extremely conscious of being part of that change. I was brought up in Highbury during the 1980s when the area was fairly diverse. Now it’s incredibly affluent and the disparity between rich (property owners) and poor (renters) is enormous. I moved to St Leonard’s precisely because of melee of people up and down London Road; from conversations I’ve had, I think the spirit of mixed community is cherished and valued by almost everyone here. I found myself wondering whether the negative aspects of ‘regeneration’ are inevitable. How much influence do local people actually have over the future of their town?”
There are examples of ways that towns and cities elsewhere are already dealing with some of the issues that are putting pressure on housing. Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona have all brought in regulation on Airbnbs, to try to stem the tide of holiday lets further diminishing an already stretched housing stock. Closer to home, initiatives like the Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust are proposing to build or renovate housing in the town, to set rents or sale prices which are based on local incomes and then to insure future affordability by capping rents or covenanted sales to guarantee their stock remains affordable. They see housing as homes, not commodities. It’s around these sorts of practical and pragmatic solutions that Changing Hastings hopes to provoke discussion.
The event will feature presentations of research conducted over the past two years by Chris Conelly and James Prentice of Coastal Action to set the scene. Thereafter, attendees will be invited to put forward their ideas for how we might address some of the issues at play in the town. There’s hope that some new initiatives will be started, or pressure put on the correct government departments to enact change. The evening will be rounded off with live music courtesy of local reggae hotshots Mighty Sounds.
Whilst conversation and dialogue will be the focus of the event, if you’d like to attend as a spectator the bar will be open and no one will put pressure on you to take part. It’s hoped that this will be first of many similar events.
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