Investing in Hastings – Sport and Business

It’s the culmination of 18 months of work, according to the board of directors of Hastings United FC. But for most of the town the proposals announced earlier this month – to build a brand new multi-sports complex at Combe Valley with funds to be raised from housing development of both Pilot Field and Horntye – have rolled in like a tsunami from the deep. Those who have followed the struggles of both the football club and Horntye Park trustees to keep their respective sports arenas afloat will know that they have each been casting around for alternative set-ups for some years. But the idea of embarking on a joint venture of such proportions is a visionary one – particularly when it appears that it will be dependent financially neither on public funding nor on a supplyofmoneyshoweringlargesse from afar but rather on hard-headed local enterprise.

None of the land involved is privately owned. The freehold of Pilot Field, the home of the principal Hastings football club (in various guises) since 1921, is held by Hastings Council. The land at Horntye, which once constituted the playing fields of the former Summerfields School, is held in trust by the charity that previously owned the Priory Meadow cricket ground and bought it effectively as a replacement. The land at Combe Valley earmarked as the location for the new sports “village”, more popularly – and sometimes infamously, recalling its perennial exposure to wind and flood – known by generations of local footballers as Bulverhythe, also belongs to Hastings Council, even though it is situated outside the borough’s boundaries.

Importantly, therefore, all planning decisions that will need to be made concerning the new site there will, at least initially, be in the hands of Rother District Council, while Hastings Council will be the relevant planning authority for the proposed housing developments at both existing sites.

While many in the town will welcome at least in principle the prospect of much-needed additional housing and much-desired improvement in sports facilities, there will no doubt be opposition. Will the infrastructure of neighbourhoods of Elphinstone Road and Bohemia Road accommodate major new housing estates? Will the houses be affordable? Can the land at Combe Valley be sufficiently protected from flood, from wind and from contamination from the Pebsham rubbish sites? How will sporting participants and spectators travel to get there? Will they be able to park in sufficient numbers? Will there be environmental objections to the further encroachment, following on the building of the link road, upon the green corridor between St Leonards and Bexhill? For the football club there is

the prospect of a new state-of the-art stadium without constant dilapidation costs. For Jeremy Bunday, volunteer director of the Horntye Park Management Company and also chair of the South Saxons hockey club, the benefits of relocation also look immense. The artificial surface at Horntye, now 16 years old, is reaching the end of its usable life and would have to be replaced within the next two or three years at a current cost of up to £250,000. The cricket pitch is in good nick, but the sports hall and multiple corridors of function rooms, offices, dressing rooms etc designed and built at the same time have proved insufficiently attractive either for Sussex county cricket or for other premium visitors, while local schoolsmostlyeitherhavesufficient facilities of their own or simply disregard any significant sports provision for their pupils. The current set-up is not sustainable.

The proposed complex at Combe Valley should on the contrary attract constant footfall by the variety of sports on offer. It could be a true community centre rather than just a venue for a few specialist club members. You could play a game of hockey or squash at lunchtime, watch an afternoon football match and then have a drink to celebrate or commiserate afterwards.