Richard Price decries the loss of public land being sold off by local authorities including Hastings Borough Council.

The law locks up the man or woman/Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose/Who steals the common from the goose.
(17th Century. Anon)

What is the UK’s biggest ever privatisation? The answer, disposal of public land to the private sector. The land is our land so how can they sell it off? The answer, by being undemocratic. Morally it is not theirs to sell, but they do it anyway.

By 2019 ten per cent of the entire 2m hectares of public land in Britain was privatised. This amounts to about £4bn of public assets transferred to the private sector. 

And Hastings Borough Council is certainly part of this story. If we look at recent proposals, we can see that there is a strategy – even a policy – to sell off our public land. In a way you can hardly blame them. Government cuts make it hard for them to balance the books. Has ten years of austerity made them desperate to sell off public assets?

The council are obliged to list public land that they own. HBC Assets 2021 is an eleven-page long document. About thirty woodland sites and fifteen recreation grounds are listed, including; 

• Bexhill Road Recreation Ground (nine sites)
• Elphinstone Road BOS Recreation Ground
• Harrow Lane Recreation Ground
• Tilekiln Recreation Ground (two sites)
• Hollington Recreation Ground

On 14 October the local press reported that Harrow Lane playing fields had been sold to a developer to build more than 140 houses. On 20 October HIP reported that Hastings United Football Club lodged twin planning applications to build housing on Elphinstone Road Recreation Ground to pay for the building of the stadium on the Tilekiln Recreation Ground. 

Surely the Bexhill Road Recreation Ground is safe? No! On 8 March a plan to build 192 houses received more than 100 objections. Building would take place on a flood plain and against the wishes of local residents, but the council knows there is money to be made.

The sell-off is not limited to recreation grounds. Harold Place, owned by us, used to be useful public toilets in the town centre. The proposal is for a £1.7m restaurant but residents are already objecting to what they say is a tall and unattractive building.

Not even the sea front is safe. There is a proposed new development ‘to house’ the Crazy Golf course. This is public freehold land owned by the Hastings and St Leonards Foreshore Trust.  And the systemic failure to protect public assets extends to freedom of information.

On 4 December 2017 the Hastings Borough council discussed the sale of Bexhill Road recreation land at Bulverhythe. The report to Cabinet stated that the District Valuer had originally assessed the value of this site as £3.7m and the developers have offered to pay the council £2m. An attempt to obtain the valuation reports under the FOI act was refused as “not being in the public interest” under Section 12(5)(e) in order “to protect a legitimate economic interest”. So commercial interest trumps public interest?

On 29 October, HIP reported that the council have signed a contract with a developer to sell public land – the former bathing pool site – at West Marina. There was a lack of consultation. Terms of the contract have not been made public. Cramming in 125 residential units will provide a private company with a large profit and some left over for the council. Who benefits from this regeneration? We can’t entirely blame the council because of government cuts, but wouldn’t it be good if we were told the truth? The council could state honestly that they are forced to sell off public land against the wishes of the public.

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