By Chris Lewcock

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has published its Local Plan, potentially setting the course for development of our town over the next 20 years. It sets out proposed policies, a schedule of sites for prospective development, and maps to show approximate locations. 

Over the next seven weeks – until 24th March – this Plan is open for “consultation”. That process will be online only. To find it and express your views, paragraph by paragraph, click on https://www.hastings.gov.uk/planning/policy/new-local-plan.

PICTURE: Wiki Commons

Some of us want to see if there will be enough social housing.  Others want to protect the green space next door. As you read the Plan, it’s worth having some questions in mind.  Is your interest given real weight? For example, the draft plan is strong on climate change and housing but not on social deprivation or the sea. Your favourite green area may not be mentioned for development, but does the Plan say it must be protected for recreation or nature conservation?  Are the policies supported by solid evidence? Who will carry them out and pay for them? Can they be enforced? Is it imaginative and ambitious enough for a 20-year vision? 

To start you off, these are some first (incomplete) thoughts on a few key topics.

Housing and Climate Change

Government guidance requires land for 8,600 homes within the borough. In 2015 the Government Inspector agreed that Hastings could only find land for 3,400 houses because of the constraints of the sea, flooding, unstable land, protected countryside and built heritage.  What has changed? Hastings planners bravely say they can now find land for 4,275 homes. This will still be a jolly tight squeeze. The Plan also proposes that between 25% and 40% of new housing should be “affordable” – 80% of local market rents – but only on larger sites and where financially viable, which it usually isn’t in Hastings. At least 60-75% of new housing will therefore not be “affordable”.  So it’s a pity that HBC has de-allocated a couple of sites for housing – which it happens to own. How about earmarking land in the Plan for e.g. Community Land Trusts who may be able to build a larger percentage of (genuinely) affordable housing? 

The process can seem like a jargon-laden obstacle course. Don’t be put off

The Plan rightly emphasises climate change. For example, Policy OSP1 includes proposals for reducing energy/carbon use, and this is followed up in other more detailed Policies controlling new developments.  However, in some cases the follow-up is a bit thin. “Expand the network of green infrastructure recognising its essential role in carbon storage as well as its health and wellbeing benefits.” This sounds good, and there is a separate Policy on Green Infrastructure, but nowhere a full list or detailed map of what HBC thinks actually comprises green infrastructure. You can’t enforce against developers for damaging something so vague. There is a similar vagueness in the Plan as to how you get people to actually use local transport and local centres to reduce their carbon count. 

Whilst on the green stuff, there is a Policy on Biodiversity but it is only about protecting what exists and what you can smuggle in on the back of new development. Positive actions are needed to promote
biodiversity, building on HBC’s (forgotten) 2006 Biodiversity Action Plan. This might include increasing tree cover, upgrading the existing non-statutory wildlife sites and helping create wildlife corridors. 

The Sea     

“Strategic Policy 7 (SP7): Managing Coastal Erosion and Flood Risk” deals with the sea as a threat rather than an opportunity. HBC has no planning responsibility below the foreshore, but the Plan should make provision for onshore developments relating to fishing, marine conservation, visitor attractions for boat stores, a slipway etc. Perhaps the Pier jetty could be re-opened for trips round the bay or passing cruise ships?  Can Hastings take advantage of the offshore wind farm industry or new kelp farms? 

There is ministerial pressure on Southern Water to recycle foul water rather than pump it into the sea. Where should recycling take place? How might we re-use their existing premises e.g. at Rock-a-Nore? And what, by the way, happened to HBC’s 2014 Seafront Strategy? 

Focal Areas 

The Plan brings together the Policies in a few geographic locations. This is a good idea, since it makes it easier for residents, businesses and possible investors to understand and get to grips with needs and opportunities. Very confusingly, these are split between four Priority Focal Development Areas, four Local or District Centres and four Strategic Industrial Sites plus a Carbon Mitigation Zone. Some Areas are housing- or shopping- or leisure-led, but none is entirely single focus.  Even with all these, the Plan doesn’t pin down or respond to the spatial distribution of deprivation in the borough. Shouldn’t there be Focal Areas in Broomgrove/Ore Valley and Hollington seeking improved housing conditions, community solidarity, local shops, public transport links, recreational facilities and tree planting?  Nor does the Plan get to grips with the concentration of the borough’s investment potential in its historic and architectural heritage in certain areas. Why aren’t Old Hastings and Burtons’ St Leonards flagged up as heritage- and visitor-led Focal Areas? A single complete set of Focal Areas should be presented showing all their varying opportunities, challenges and necessary policies over the 20-year period. 

Looking briefly at some of the Areas, there are proposals for taller buildings in Hastings Town Centre, housing on the Horntye Cricket Ground (with no apparent replacement), a new housing cluster around Ashdown House, and more housing on the former bathing pool site and in Filsham Valley.  The Carbon Mitigation Zone in Breadsell Wood might host low-energy kit like wind turbines and later become a development site. 

HBC has identified an array of possible development sites, mainly for housing, and gives some idea in each case of what else might be needed. Some of the sites are already controversial e.g. the former bathing pool site. Worth looking at in case there is one near you!

PICTURE: Dave Young

Monitoring

Towards the end of the Plan there is a very brief section setting out how it will be monitored. This needs to be beefed up a lot with e.g. targets to increase biodiversity or tree cover or public health indicators or numbers of tourists.  A disappointment with the current Plan is that no assessment can be made of its successes and failures. Apart from housing land and employment, only a very few, very vague targets were set or monitored. This might explain why the number of local wildlife sites dropped from 33 to 25 over the Plan period – was nobody paying attention?

To get the Plan moving, HBC doesn’t have to wait for things to happen, then control them round the edges. It can work with other agencies e.g. the County Council,

SELEP (South East Local Enterprise Partnership) and the Hastings and St Leonards Local Strategic Partnership, community groups, prospective developers etc. and use its planning powers, powers of compulsory purchase, and extensive land ownership. Government funding is increasingly available through the “levelling up agenda”. Neighbourhood and amenity groups can be actively encouraged to take a lead, since they can often leverage in funds and expertise which maybe the Council can’t.  This potential should be spelled out in the Plan. 

The process can seem like a jargon-laden obstacle course. Don’t be put off. Only tenacity by local residents saved Speckled Wood from the axe in the existing Plan. 

For a specific view from West St Leonards, click here: Draft Local Plan: The View from West St Leonards.


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