On The Way To The Forum
Last month we published (HIP 152 – A Site Worth Seeing) an account of the setting up of a new website by the West St Leonards Forum, weststleonards.org.uk It aims to provide information to the residents of this part of town, and to encourage them to participate in local development proposals, in particular by input into the compilation of a statutory neighbourhood plan.
Leaflets were delivered by Forum activists (local volunteers) to more than 2,000 households in the area asking whether recipients would support a neighbourhood forum and plan; where they thought the neighbourhood boundaries for the plan should be drawn; what they like about the area; and what they think is lacking. Canvassers followed up the leaflets by knocking on every door to hear people’s views. Three forums were held prior to the March lockdown – in the Marina Fountain, the Comet and the Freshfields Discovery Centre. A total of 170 people responded to the survey, online or in person; 70 attended at least one of the three forums.
The feedback from the forums and the survey responses has now been pulled together.
According to the Forum Team, local residents have given overwhelming support both for the neighbourhood forum and for the proposed neighbourhood plan, with general endorsement of the area boundaries proposed – see map below.
With regard to the survey responses, the Forum has drawn up a number of summary points:
• Residents have a strong sense that this is a neighbourly place – “it lifts your spirits”. There is, however, a feeling that the area has been “forgotten”, and there are some minor concerns about security;
• They appreciate its character – mixed seascape, countryside and town with a lot of underlying and under-appreciated history. This character is, however, “undermined” by neglect of routine maintenance and, in some parts, scruffiness. Bexhill Road “needs a lick of paint”;
• Multiple attractions for residents and visitors are flagged up, especially local shopping, pubs and services; also many forms of informal recreation on the seafront and in the green spaces, with suggestions for extending these assets. Some important shortcomings are pinpointed, e.g. the lack of activities for young people and the need to refresh the community centre;
• Disappointment is shown at the lack of understanding of the purpose and potential of key local assets, in particular the former bathing pool site and the Countryside Park, resulting in inappropriate proposals for exploitation;
• Many speak up for the importance of the natural and wildlife assets throughout the area, and the need to protect and enhance them;
• Pedestrian access around the area is important to local people. Attention is drawn to poor maintenance and to the need
to improve pedestrian access to the Countryside Park, across Bexhill Road and across the railway line;
• The presence of the railway station is welcomed; London services could be more frequent, and there should be access to the Brighton line (which cuts through the area). A need for better-spaced bus services extending into early morning and evening and on Sundays, and linking Bexhill Road with Harley Shute, is identified;
• The current choice of sites for housing development in the area (in particular the former bathing pool site) is almost universally regarded as inappropriate: alternative suggestions are made.
The Forum Team recognise that this is not yet the complete picture. Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, they intend to convene a meeting or meetings with local businesses (there are over 150 in the area). They also expect to survey schools, and seek the views of amenity, sports and other community groups who come into and use the area.
A view of West St Leonards
PICTURE: Dave Young
A further report will then be compiled, including recommendations for the proposed neighbourhood forum and plan, and for finalisation of boundaries. These will eventually be put to a residents’ meeting to discuss, amend if necessary, and agree. At that point the forum will be formalised with an established committee, to replace the current team structure which arose informally out of the original group that opposed the housing development at the bathing pool site.
Depending on how things evolve in the next few weeks, this may all have to be conducted on-line. However, the Team are very conscious that many local residents don’t have access to the internet. They hope to put out a paper leaflet to all local households to bring them up to speed.
• West St Leonards residents can still print off and return the original survey, if it was missed before, to 15 Seaside Road, St.Leonards TN38 0AL. The form can be found via the website above.
West Marina Agreement “Remains A Priority”
Last October, the then Hastings Borough Council leader Cllr Chowney told a cabinet meeting that a lease of the bathing pool site at West Marina to Sunley/County Gate for a mixed development of housing and “leisure destination” would be signed “within the next fortnight”. It wasn’t. In January this year the council informed HIP: “the documents are with respective legal advisers to be finalised before formal approval”. That still appears to be the position.
When asked last week when, if at all, the council expected to proceed, its media team replied: “Some of the council’s projects have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, as resources have inevitably been focused on other immediate concerns. The completion of the West Marina agreement remains a priority and will be progressed.”
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