By Emma Harwood

Two buildings which formed part of the University of Brighton’s Hastings Campus, due to close in September, have been placed on the market with agents Bray Fox Smith. 

The 32,272 square foot Priory Square building on Priory Street, which presently houses student services, staff offices and teaching facilities, has been valued at £3 million.

Meanwhile the long term leasehold for 44 Havelock Road is on the market for £2 million with the brochure stating that both buildings are suitable for a wide range of alternative uses, subject to planning permission.

The final cohort of students have completed their studies this summer while around 20 of the 60 support staff members employed on the campus are thought to be facing redundancy. Others will either be redeployed to other sites or campuses, while some have found new jobs elsewhere. 

High tech equipment such as film editing and broadcast media facilities will be transferred to the university’s Brighton and Eastbourne campuses.

Both buildings were acquired by the university for nominal fees while significant amounts of public funds went towards their renovation and development costs.

But the UoB says it has invested £15 million in total into the campus to include £10 million towards the completion of its Priory Square building in 2013 and several million pounds in running costs and facilities at 44 Havelock Road.

This figure also includes the purchase of a third building, Lacuna Place on Havelock Road, bought by the university in 2012 for £2.7 million. 

This was recently sold to Hastings Borough Council for £9.4 million.

A university spokesperson said that even with the sale of its other two buildings the university did not expect to fully recoup its investment.

The UoB’s decision in 2016 to close its Hastings campus dashed hopes for the town’s regeneration and prompted outrage among the university’s staff and student unions, residents and local politicians. 

Following the announcement MP Amber Rudd told HIP: “A decision to close the Hastings Campus would be a backwards step for our town’s regeneration, especially since we have invested large sums of taxpayers’ money [£12 million] into creating the campus in the first place…I want Hastings to remain a university town and I will continue to work with Sussex Coast College, Brighton University, Hastings Borough Council, local businesses and all those who will help us to create more higher education opportunities in our much loved town.” 

History and original concept
Originally the concept was to create a ‘multiversity’ in Hastings with the University of Brighton as one of five universities providing courses at what was then the University Centre between 2003 and 2009. 

A partnership was formed between South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) with the University of Brighton as lead academic provider. The aim was to provide local people with access to a range of university courses. 

SEEDA with the ‘not for profit’ economic regeneration company SeaSpace (now SeaChange Sussex) funded the renovation of the first campus building, 44 Havelock Road, while HEFCE provided an initial grant to fund teaching at the campus whilst student numbers grew.

But by 2009 the expected numbers of students had not materialised and the other universities (Sussex, Greenwich, Open University and Canterbury Christ Church) pulled out.

However, UoB decided to continue providing higher education in Hastings and subsequently bought 44 Havelock Road from Sea Space. 

In 2011/12 the university also bought the partially complete Priory Square from Seaspace and renamed the University Centre the University of Brighton Hastings Campus.

But student numbers were not sufficient to keep the campus operating sustainably. A report by Biggar Economics into the future of higher education in Hastings and Rother shows that in 2015/16 around 680 students were based at the Hastings campus, forming just three percent of Brighton University‘s total student population. There were a further 120 higher education students at Sussex Coast College Hastings (SCCH). “This falls well short of the ambitions and the target for a sustainable higher education model in the area,” the report states.

Other similar initiatives around the country have had similar disappointing levels of interest from local students in recent years. 

Canterbury Christ Church announced in 2017 that it would cease student recruitment to its Broadstairs campus from September 2018 due to students preferring to take up courses at its main campus in Canterbury rather than study locally in Thanet.

This week, one long-term employee on the Hastings campus told HIP that while the decision to close had been met with great sadness all round, it had been “unavoidable”.

”We felt that we had done a great deal of good because we were working with students who normally wouldn’t have gone to university and it was somewhere local for them to go.

”I’m extremely sad that Hastings has gone but the university has had to make hard decisions and I don’t think they could have done anything else, to be honest. We’re living in very difficult times.”

Meanwhile, a range of Brighton University degree courses are still on offer to students at the University Centre at East Sussex College, Hastings.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.