St Leonards Steps, a pedestrian footpath down the cliff edge between West Hill Road and the seafront immediately to the west of St Leonards Parish Church, has been closed off. This follows recent closure of the Burton family memorial garden, on the cliff-top in West Hill Road, which features the pyramid-shaped tomb of James Burton, builder of St Leonards in late Georgian times, and of his wife Elizabeth. Both closures arise from land slippage, though in the case of the Steps the immediate cause is a cracked wall within the curtilage of 19 West Hill Road which the owners are being required to repair. 

The cracked wall above St Leonards Steps
PICTURE: Christopher Maxwell-Stewart

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) say that, although they have not served a formal dangerous structure notice in respect of this wall, “discussions have taken place with some of the owners and the managing agents…. A formal consultation procedure was carried out, and the owners are about to send out the second stage notice which will expire in 30 days. Once completed the chosen contractor will be instructed to carry out the work.” The council say they hope for “resolution” around mid-February and anticipate that the footpath will be reopened “once work has completed”.

No such restoration has been promised in respect of the memorial garden, which is licensed to HBC by its church owners. Cllr Maya Evans, lead councillor for the natural environment at Hastings Borough Council, issued a statement earlier this month: “The licence allows the council to maintain the land and the Burton memorial in good condition and to allow public access to the gardens. Because of the possibility of further slippage, we are having to close access on safety grounds for the time being.”

Local residents are concerned that the underlying problems of movement in the slope threaten St Leonards Church and the flats at Victoria Court below. Another former pedestrian link, Sussex Steps, which ran down to the seafront from further up West Hill Road collapsed and has never been revived.

Rejection by Town Deal Board

An ambitious scheme was recently submitted to the Hastings Town Deal Board, engaged in applying upwards of £25m of government funds for economic improvement across the borough, for the re-use of the church and surrounding area, including the Steps, as a national maritime museum to be branded “Science-on-Sea”. The scheme’s programme included stabilisation of the cliff above and was budgeted accordingly. This scheme was, however, rejected by the Board at a meeting in November for reasons which have not been released.

It has also been pointed out that funding to address the slippage might be forthcoming from the Environment Agency within its general remit of protecting against coastal erosion. Several of the Agency’s grant-in-aided schemes elsewhere have involved works to stabilise cliffs behind established seawalls, though those protecting the seafront at St Leonards may seem at quite a remove.

What does seem improbable is that HBC will apply any of its own hard-pressed funds to protective action unless it is compelled to
do so.

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