At a cabinet meeting of Hastings Borough Council on 4th October, councillors accepted a recommendation from chief finance officer Peter Grace to increase the budget for erection of a major restaurant building in the town centre from £1.2m to £1.7m. 

The development site at Harold Place, which formerly accommodated a toilet block, has been boarded up for the past four years. Plans for a restaurant were initially approved in December 2019 by cabinet and in February 2020 by full Council in response to interest shown by an unnamed commercial operator, described then by Cllr Peter Chowney as an “upmarket restaurant and café chain which is not in Hastings at the moment”.  This operator, still unidentified, put its bid on hold during the initial onset of Covid-19, but resumed negotiations a year ago, and is now set to proceed. 

It seems that at the initial stage the operator was prepared to purchase the site and undertake the development itself, but the Labour majority on the council voted, against Conservative opposition, to keep control of the design and construction of the building at a then estimated cost of £1.2m. It was recognised that this added financial risk to the project, but ensured that a key building project in the town centre would not be abandoned to purely commercial concerns. 

Future restaurant at Harold Place: artist impression
CREDIT: Hastings Borough Council

That financial risk has proved expensive. The projected cost has risen by 0.5m  to a total of £1.7m, “in line with other building projects across the country” according to Mr Grace, due to supply chain issues and Covid-19. He told the cabinet that the extra money would need to be borrowed but, with the increased cost mitigated by historically low rates of interest, the development remained economically “viable”. 

“High quality” building 

Cllr Chowney moved the acceptance motion. “It’s a very important building, very noticeable”, he said. “It’s not primarily a money-earner, it’s a regeneration project…The building will be of high quality and be built to good energy conservation standards, using recycled materials wherever possible and using good quality materials.”

Cllr Judy Rogers, who is councillor for the town centre ward, seconded the motion, declaring that “we do need to see something happening on that site to the benefit of the town as a whole.”

Cllr Paul Barnett, lead councillor for regeneration, issued a subsequent statement: “I am delighted that we are close to securing this important new regeneration project for our town centre. We will continue to look for grant funding opportunities to support the project to reduce the cost to the council. As a significant project in a key part of the town it is vital that the building is of the highest quality. We do not believe that lowering the quality of the build is the correct thing to do. The development will also provide job opportunities both during the build and in the running of the restaurant when the building work is complete.”

The project was due to be discussed by Full Council at a meeting on Wednesday this week. 

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