On 8 July the cabinet of Hastings Borough Council (HBC) approved proposals for the first new housing development to be carried out in its own name for more than 20 years – the construction of 190 homes on the lower tier site behind Bexhill Road.

Past flooding on Lower Tier, Bexhill Road
PICTURE: David Dennis

This land was originally set to be part of a larger programme for the construction by Keepmoat Homes of 400 residential units alongside a new “sports village” at Combe Valley. Keepmoat pulled out of this project last year, but HBC had by that stage applied for a grant from the government agency Homes England (HE) to fund a flood remediation scheme for the area. As it became apparent that a grant of almost £7m would be forthcoming under HE’s Local Authority Accelerated Construction, HBC has taken the opportunity to pursue this part of the development itself – or rather as a joint venture with a locally operating housing association, probably Optivo.

According to Council leader Peter Chowney, the aim will be to sign up construction contracts within the next twelve months. Stage 1, the flood remediation works, is required under the grant terms to be carried out by March 2021. Stage 2, the construction, is estimated to cost around £27m over the following two years. HBC as a 50% stakeholder will need to raise over £11m from capital borrowing, repayable as completed homes are sold off; the balance of its contribution will be as landowner, with the building plot ascribed a current value of £4.45m. 

It is intended that 40% of the homes to be constructed will be classed as ‘affordable’, defined as bearing 80% or less of market rents. In this case the housing association homes would be at or below the local housing allowance, which means housing benefit would always cover the rent. In addition, the current budgetary calculations forecast an overall profit of £8m. If that is achieved, HBC would, according to Cllr Chowney, apply at least a proportion of its 50% share to buy back some of the homes into a housing company formed by the council for letting purposes. This company will not be subject to the ‘right to buy’ legislation. 

Cllr Andy Batsford, HBC’s portfolio holder for Housing, Leisure and Community Engagement, is enthused by the proposals, which include provision for sports, leisure and play facilities. “We hope the site will act as an exemplar for local development and maximise social value.”

However, there is plenty of local opposition too. In cabinet the Conservative members voted against the proposals. Local ward councillor Karl Beaney complained of the loss of green space and additional traffic influx; lead Tory member Cllr Rob Lee argued that the local infrastructure was wholly inadequate for this level of development. 

More fundamental objections are being raised by environmental campaigners – see the objections set out in our article here.

Cllr Chowney had not seen these objections prior to our publication, but commented: “At the moment, the area is mown grassland, which has low ecological value and not much biodiversity. Domestic gardens are far more biodiverse – one study recently showed UK domestic gardens to be amongst the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. There are some species that like mown grass, but there’s lots more mown grass in the sports pitches adjacent to the site. The flood mitigation ponds and wetlands will also create new habitats and add to biodiversity.”

He told his cabinet: “Almost all the sites we will be putting forward for development are going to be controversial, but we have to do that in order to meet the housing numbers that are going to be required.”

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