Council Cabinet To Debate Town Centre Car Park Development 

The cabinet of Hastings Borough Council will debate next Monday (7th October) a proposal to develop the Cornwallis Street car park opposite Priory Meadow as an 80-bed hotel. This is despite the fact that under the Hastings Local Development Plan, issued in 2015, the site is zoned for housing and/or retail use.

The Council (HBC) issued a press release last Friday, stating that it has been approached by an unnamed developer that wants to turn the site into a hotel and restaurant. And it seems that council leader Peter Chowney will be arguing in cabinet in favour, subject to seeking offers from other developers and hotel operators to ensure that best value is obtained.

He said: “This car park was earmarked for development in our local plan.  We had intended to develop it for housing. But Hastings is desperately short of tourism accommodation, so the idea of a new town centre hotel, within walking distance of the train station and town centre, is an exciting prospect.

 “Based on standard occupancy rates there would be about 35,000 people staying overnight each year. That’s a huge benefit for tourism and the night-time economy in the town centre.

 “Extra people in the town centre at evenings and weekends would offer retail shops and restaurants a real boost for their businesses, and the hotel will provide additional employment.”

Local entrepreneur, Adam Daly, who is not only co-owner of the Albion pub and festival director of Fat Tuesday but also has 30 years of experience in global events management, endorses Cllr Chowney’s thinking. He has first-hand experience of the annual difficulties of accommodating large numbers of musicians and out-of-town followers for Fat Tuesday. He admits that Hastings needs more housing but believes that at this location, the need for hotel beds is more appropriate. “If you exclude trailer parks, there are about 1,000 serviced beds across the whole town – Eastbourne has over 6,000.”

He agrees that a substantial expansion of hotel accommodation in Hastings town centre would feed the local night-time economy, which is in desperate need following the exodus of Brighton University students. “Queens Road has been transformed over the last five years. But a large hotel just around the corner would cascade further benefits.” he says. 

“It would also be a massive boost to the town’s capacity to hold two- or three-day conferences and other large events for visitors out of season.”

Political Opposition

The manner in which HBC has conducted its business in recent years suggests strongly that its Labour Party majority, both in cabinet and in the Council as a whole, will swing behind Cllr Chowney in pursuing the option of hotel rather than housing development, no matter what other political parties have to say. The Conservatives are regularly outvoted within the council chamber, and neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Greens have any representation there.

However, with a general election apparently in the offing, every local issue is inevitably seen, for good or bad, through the prism of party politics – all the more so since Cllr Chowney is not only council leader but also the Labour candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Hastings & Rye. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both the Lib Dems and Greens have been swift to condemn the proposal. 

Nick Perry, prospective local Lib Dem candidate, is quoted on the Hastings In Focus website as saying: “This is exactly the kind of poor judgement from council leader Peter Chowney that resulted in him closing the town centre toilets. We don’t need a hotel here, we need well-designed social housing with dedicated green space and play facilities.”

The Green party has not appointed a constituency candidate yet, despite indicating earlier that they intended to do so at a meeting on 23rd September. However, local party campaigner Julia Hilton gave HIP her “personal opinion” that the car park should be used for affordable housing. “We’re desperately short of housing, and this is an ideal location for a car-free development as it’s so central.” she says. “A car club could be promoted. Also, new residents in the town centre would give a boost to town centre shops all year round, not just in the tourist season. It would be essential to incorporate green space for residents as well.” 

Following the cabinet debate on Monday, there will, says the Council, be an opportunity for consultation as part of the planning process. However, recent experience of consultations conducted by HBC in respect of other development proposals – at West Marina, for instance – does not inspire confidence. Issues of “commercial confidentiality” in the conduct of negotiations with private business are invariably raised by the council with the effect, if not the intention, of stifling objective evaluation. 

PICTURES: Dave Young

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