By Nick Pelling and Helen Murphy

Despite a range of objections, Hastings Borough Council has just approved the planning application to upgrade the Pirate Crazy Golf site on the Stade in the Old Town. It will become a modern, glassy two-story building. The all-weather enclosed site, with a restaurant upstairs, seems to have divided local opinion sharply. The council received over fifty comments against the plans but also about as many in favour. Who knew that crazy golf could be such an explosive topic? 

The objections were mainly about the scale of the building, and the way a second story would block aspects of the sea view and perhaps be aesthetically wrong for what some see as the quaint Old Town. The plans certainly show a very large site, stretching 75 yards from east to west along the promenade. The height of the second story will reach 24 feet. It will undoubtedly have quite a visual impact.

Artists Impression
CREDIT: Neil Choudhury architects

BLOT ON LANDSCAPE?

Interestingly, the council’s own Conservation Officer, Jane Stephen, felt that “the proposals will cause significant harm to numerous heritage aspects” and argued that permission should be refused. The national body, Historic England, also felt that it would be “out of character.” Some members of Hastings public were obviously quite upset: Ms Elizabeth Webb called it a potential “blot on the landscape”. Robin Jackson called the design a “carbuncle”. Many felt the sea view would be ruined. Bernard McGinley was exasperated that the Foreshore Trust, a body run by council members with responsibility for preserving the historic integrity of the seafront, appeared to have no view whatsoever on this major shoreline development. In McGinley’s view, the Foreshore Trust has “a duty” to have a clear opinion. But so far, they have been silent on the matter.

However, there were many comments sent to the council that took an entirely supportive stance. Sean Dennis, of Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, felt it was an important part of the town’s “regeneration”. Many people seemed to feel that having an all-weather attraction was a huge plus and would bring more people to the town, particularly out of the summer season. There are currently few places actually on the seafront where you can eat and enjoy a sea view without worrying about the wind and rain. Stuart Ball felt that it was “an opportunity to inject some interest and enjoyment into the area.” Darren Gurr, father of three children under eight, loved the idea of such a facility because it would get his children “out of the house” and “away from their technology.” As if crazy golf might keep children sane.

AN ECONOMIC BOOST?

But perhaps the strongest argument in favour was the idea that the all-weather leisure facility would bring economic benefits to the Old Town area. Increased footfall means more people spending money in Hastings and, perhaps in turn, more jobs. Opponents said that this was not proven. Mrs Joyes asked the probing question, “do people really come to Hastings to play crazy golf?” 

And it seems that some absolutely do. An intriguing part of the debate centred upon the fact that Hastings is, according to the mini-golf Pro, Sean Homer, the “spiritual home” of Crazy Golf. The Crazy Golf World Championships have taken place in Hastings since 2003 so it’s possible that the upgrade would turn the Old Town site into a sort of St Andrews for the crazy game. 

CREDIT: Dave Young

Those who objected on the grounds that it would be out of keeping with the Old Town felt that the design was, if anything, ‘a bit too modern’. The design company, Neil Choudhury Architects, has come up with a predominantly glass structure, with a large mini-golf course downstairs and a circular restaurant, the Beach Retreat, upstairs. There are elements to the design that are clearly intended to make it visually appealing:the golfing area has a “sculpturally amorphous” form, according to the architects. The upstairs has a terrace around the eating area and also a sweeping arc of roof that will be covered in beach shingle and exotic plants. There are also curves – or what the designers call “sinuous waves of clear U-Channel glazing over gabions filled with salvaged, dredged pebbles.” The wavy modernism may well soothe some people’s aesthetic objections. But some might still see it as a glass elephant.

It now seems likely that the building will go ahead, given that there is, we understand, no right of appeal for the general public. This is undoubtedly good news for the owner of the site, Chris Richards. His family has owned the business for almost 40 years and perhaps deserve a chance to take their business forward. Richards has certainly put a lot of effort into trying to sell the idea. There is still the possibility that the Foreshore Trust will suddenly express a negative opinion, but it seems more likely that the Old Town is in for a bit of modernism. 

The World Crazy Golf Championship took place in Hastings between 10, 11 and 12 June. Congratulations to the new World Champion of Crazy Golf, Adam Kelly.


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