Council Pulls Offer of Tilekiln for Football Stadium

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) announced last Friday that it will not proceed with the projected sale of Tilekiln playing fields to Hastings United FC. After almost four years of collaborative dialogue, and a year and a half after the football club submitted a formal planning application to build a new stadium complex there, including an additional 3G pitch and other sporting facilities for community use, the council has withdrawn its sale offer.

That will also mean a halt to the proposed redevelopment for housing of the club’s existing ground at Pilot Field. 

There does not appear to have been any disagreement on the terms previously negotiated between the parties, nor serious objection from a planning point of view to the club’s development proposals. Indeed, according to the club, the Tilekiln application was only a few weeks ago scheduled for hearing by HBC’s planning committee on 23 March. 

CREDIT: Dave Young

“Disorganised”

This hearing was aborted, apparently because the planning officer was requiring a further ecology report, and on 11 March the club issued a statement complaining at the inefficiency of the process. Co-owner and director Daren Burney said: “In 35 years of property investment and developing I have never experienced any outline application taking such time, or the number of reports and information being sought in such a disorganised manner. Politics are in play here, and no wonder the town lags behind most other seaside towns when the Council does not seem to have the ability or will to deliver major schemes bringing significant economic growth and improvement to the town.”

There was no suggestion even then that HBC intended to pull out unilaterally. But last Friday Cllr Paul Barnett, Deputy Leader of the council, made the announcement together with the following explanation: “The world has moved on since we started talking about this four years ago, and our priority now has to be to protect and invest in our green spaces, and wherever possible re-use existing buildings rather than build new ones. This means ensuring that Tilekiln, a well-used and popular community facility, is preserved for the people of Hollington.

 “We realise how disappointing this will be for Hastings United, and those of their supporters who are keen to see a better ground. We admire the work they have done on the pitch over the last two or three years, including starting an excellent women’s team, and expanding their community coaching. So we hope to find other ways of supporting the club, and will be seeking an early meeting with them to look in detail at what is needed to improve Pilot Field so that their growing attendances can attend matches in comfort.”

“Change in mindset”

The club’s immediate reaction was muted, CEO Billy Wood issuing a statement more of sorrow than anger. “Sadly, there seems to have been a change in mindset from the council on the project which disappointingly has led to the club wasting the last two years of planning at considerable cost. We as a club are open to listen to the council’s proposals and look to hold a meeting with them immediately. We will update supporters after the meeting has taken place.”

Political opposition within the borough council has been less diplomatic. Coupling the decision to pull the Tilekiln deal with the withdrawal of the council’s plans for the housing development at Bulverhythe announced the previous week, Conservative leader Cllr Andy Patmore described the housing policy of the Labour-controlled administration as “in tatters and completely hypocritical”. If protection of green spaces and the recreational needs of the local community in Hollington were paramount, what about the former bathing pool site in West Marina and the playing fields in Harrow Lane? “Why are the residents in Hollington being treated differently, you may ask? Shouldn’t the housing portfolio lead member Cllr Andrew Batsford be making this statement? He should, but he isn’t up for election in Hollington this May.” 

Cllr Patmore referred to a statement made in a council meeting by Cllr Batsford in 2019 arguing that “no site, in any ward, should be off limits when deciding where housing should go”.

Cllr Batsford certainly provides a tempting target for Cllr Patmore’s barbs. In 2018, as lead councillor on HBC for both housing and leisure, he had been vocal in welcoming the club’s relocation proposal. “I’m really pleased for Hollington ward especially”, he said then, “but all of Hastings will benefit from this new facility. A new football stadium, gym facilities, sports pitches will be fantastic for the local community, but also increase sports participation for women, disabled athletes and young people”. Cllr Batsford also described the housing development of the Pilot Field site as providing “much-needed homes”.

Comparisons

Green party leader Cllr Julia Hilton also made critical comparisons. “I gather the football club have spent a lot of money on their planning application so far, so while I welcome the council’s rather selective decision to protect green spaces, I feel sympathy for them being left in the lurch with their plans. As a general principle re-using existing buildings is a good one and aligns with reducing the embodied carbon involved in new builds, but not one the council is applying at Harold Place, where they are planning to build a restaurant without a fully accessible first floor for a chain restaurant where all the profits will leave the town. They also seem to be going against their own plans to build as much housing as possible, having ignored their own local plan and pushed through a five-storey hotel on the Cornwallis car park site despite it being allocated for housing. Also, this principle doesn’t seem to be being applied to the Harrow Lane recreation ground or the old bathing pool site, both due to be built on.”

At Pilot Field last Saturday, 1,400 spectators turned up to see Hastings United record their eighth successive victory. Most seemed more concerned with the team’s prospects of league promotion as the season reaches its climax (see page 23) than with the aborted relocation of the ground. Several expressed disappointment, saying that the council was failing to take proper regard of the town’s sporting needs. But not all – one supporter told HIP he was pleased, recognising “the environmental impact of people having to drive to get to matches, being on the edge of town with few public transport options”.


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