The freehold owners of Ocean House, the 13-floor office block which towers over Warrior Square railway station, have submitted plans to Hastings Borough Council to convert all but the bottom two floors into residential flats. The proposed design lays out a total of 72 self-contained flats spread over 11 floors – 41 with two bedrooms, 31 with one. 

The conversion of offices into residential premises has been exempted from standard planning permission requirements since legislation introduced in 2015 by David Cameron’s government. Such change of use is allowed in principle as a permitted development right subject to certain safeguards. Each dwelling created must conform to minimum spacing standards and have adequate light; it must be served with adequate transport and highway facilities; there must be no undue risks of contamination or flood; there must be no unreasonable noise from other commercial premises in the vicinity. And the developer must make a prior application to the local planning authority for determination of these issues. 

Readers may recall that when a similar plan was put forward by other developers in 2019 to convert Ashdown House, the former DSS office block located between Sedlescombe Road North and Harrow Lane, into 246 flats, Hastings councillors mounted a very public campaign of objection. The then leader Peter Chowney complained that the 2015 legislation had had “catastrophic consequences” in other towns and cities, allowing poor quality conversions to take place and creating “slum housing”. He urged the prospective developers to consult with the council so as to bring about “good quality, energy efficient and affordable homes” under “proper local scrutiny”. 

Demolition

Whatever legal force there may or may not have been in that campaign, it appears to have been successful. The developers did not proceed with
the conversion, but instead sold to fresh owners who eventually made a much more acceptable proposal to demolish the block and build a new residential estate with the number of flats reduced by over a third (see www.hastingsindependentpress.co.uk/news/from-the-ashes-of-ashdown published in December last year). 

That reversal seems unlikely to be repeated in the case of Ocean House. No substantial housing estate could be built to replace the existing bricks and mortar; and, subject to basic lay-out checks, it is difficult to envisage at first view what grounds of objection might be found by the council to the plans of the owners, Wynbay Limited.

East Sussex Highways have already lodged an approval of the parking provision for 56 unallocated car spaces (allowing 13 more to be retained for the remaining commercial users), and there can be no issue as to the extent of public transport provision.

The conversion proposal reflects the over-supply of office space in the town centres of Hastings and St Leonards, or at least the perceived superiority of competing out-of-town office space. Readers may also recall the recent HIP report of major landscaping company Cultura terminating its tenancy at Ocean House in order to relocate to High Weald House within Bexhill Enterprise Park (see www.hastingsindependentpress.co.uk/news/link-road-attracts-office-relocations published in April).


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