The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a chalet as “a small wooden house found in mountain areas, especially in Switzerland, or a house built in a similar style, especially one used by people on holiday”.  Quite so: the 100-plus wooden chalets that form High Beech Chalet Park were erected in the 1960s precisely as holiday retreats. 

Sited on a slope down towards the Marline valley from the top of Battle Road, with glorious views west towards the Downs, the park estate was then quietly rural and intended to cater for an upwardly aspiring clientele. Chalet owners automatically became members of the High Beech Country Club centred on the Edwardian hotel of that name. There were never swimming pools or other sports facilities in the manner of Crowhurst Park or Combe Haven, but plenty of green spaces and teeming wildlife in the woods and meadows around.  

Planning permissions were given by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) on the basis that the chalets should be occupied only between 1st March and 31st October each year. The reason given for this restriction was that “the site has inadequate facilities and amenities to allow use of the chalets as permanent residences”. Most were sold originally on 42-year leases. Why 42? One suspects this may be related to the projected physical life of the structures.

Transfers of Freehold

But what may have been intended 60 years ago as a seasonal holiday park is now permanent. From the 1970s onwards, most of the leases of the chalets, or at least the sites they were erected on, were turned into freeholds in exchange for cash payments to the then park owner Leslie Haines acting through his company High Beech Hotels Limited. And the occupancy limitation imposed by the planners has been gradually whittled away, just as the rural tranquillity has been diminished by the advent of traffic on the Queensway highway swishing constantly behind a line of trees to the south. 

In 1976 HBC allowed the period of occupation to extend through to 31st December each year. From 1994 it was further extended to 15th January, so that the only excluded period was 16th January to 29th February. 

In subsequent years there were individual applications to allow year-round occupation of single chalets citing personal circumstances – for instance by a Mr P Collins in 2001 in respect of no.75. That was refused on the ground that the estate had been “laid out for recreational and holiday purposes”. It was “inadequate” for permanent use, “and in addition the site continues to be valued by many chalet owners as a place for holiday and recreational purposes contributing to the leisure stock of the town”.

Midwinter occupation

Less than 20 years on, these words have a somewhat hollow ring. For it is plain from a casual walk around the park last week that a substantial number of the chalets are in current mid-winter occupation despite the apparent prohibition. And in fact the vast majority, according to owners willing to talk about it, are their permanent (and only) residences for twelve months a year. There is no apparent record of HBC attempting any enforcement of the restriction since 1993.

And why would it? The chalets are in very varying states of repair and decoration, as you might expect – some have been lovingly re-coated and insulated, many have been extended (with individual planning permissions) and modernised, and look fit for permanent human habitation; others are more dilapidated, suffering from long-term damp and cold. But any initiative by the council to enforce an emptying of the site in winter would render the occupants effectively homeless. Hastings has enough of those.

The legal status quo gives one advantage to the chalet-owners. They are charged council tax with a discount of approximately 12% to represent the portion of the year they’re not supposed to be there. But it would be churlish for other local taxpayers to complain of this benefit when the chalets receive no street maintenance, cleaning or lighting, and are treated for most purposes as if they simply aren’t on the borough map – literally beyond the pale.

Read the history of High Beach here

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