A Battle of Blue, Red and Green

The tarmac yard of the Roebuck Industrial Estate adjoining Old Brewery Yard in Hastings Old Town is the venue for a current legal dispute that’s become a little feisty. The issue is a public right of way. In the blue corner (a colour for commemoration as in blue plaques) are Old Hastings Preservation Society (OHPS) led by chair Anne Scott, who maintain what they claim are longstanding rights of pedestrians to cut across the yard when walking between the High Street, Roebuck Street and the Bourne. In the red corner, reflecting the bright colours of the yard buildings, are the freehold owners of the Estate, Alan and Adam Corsi (father and son), who seek to maintain untrammelled private property rights there.

First round went against the OHPS: Mrs Scott’s application made in November 2017 to register the pedestrian routes as public rights of way under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was rejected by an East Sussex County Council officer Stephen Kisko on the ground that she had adduced insufficient evidence. Depositions of herself and seven other local residents claiming to walk regularly across the yard were not enough. But this decision was reversed earlier this year when a Planning Inspector upheld her appeal, and the registration was duly made in June. Back from the red corner came a formal objection letter addressed to Mr Kisko, claiming that public access across the yard damages its further development potential and also gives rise to safety risks from manoeuvering HGVs. This objection is currently awaiting determination. 

Party dispute

What has added piquancy to the dispute is that the objection letter was written on behalf of the Corsis by a local architect Ken Davis, , who stood as a Green party candidate in the local elections in May this year. It included an allegation that “the original application to create a ‘public’ way across the site was made by Anne Scott and her associates and, as ‘preservationists’ was made entirely to stop any redevelopment of the site rather than in the interests of any perceived and established public rights.” 

Old Town resident Jonathan Coe, who describes himself as a supporter and voter for the Green party but was one of the deponents giving evidence on behalf of Mrs Scott of his personal usage of the routes in dispute, takes umbrage at this. He wrote last week both to Mr Davis and to Old Town Green party councillor Julia Hilton complaining at the arguments and language adopted by the former. Pointing out that the interests of a private owner are irrelevant to public rights of way, he added in his address to Mr Davis: “I cannot understand why prominent members of the Green Party, like yourself, do not go out of their way to make friends of [OHPS} – rather than seek to oppose and disparage its work and officers.”

He feels that the attempt to extinguish public rights of way runs directly counter to a commitment in the Green party manifesto, on which Mr Davis stood, to “restore access to the countryside by re-opening lost public rights of way and creating new ones” – though perhaps the centre of Hastings Old Town isn’t quite countryside territory. 

Cllr Hilton has, in any event, sought to down play the party issue.  She met with Mrs Scott last week at the yard, and indicated general support for the rights to be registered, “They seem reasonable requests, following routes across the site that are well used by local people,” she said, “and would not unduly limit any future redevelopment if these routes had to be allowed for in any proposal for new buildings on the site.” 

However, while she confirmed that she does not agree with Mr Davis’s opinion about the issue, she added: “This is his professional opinion, which he has a perfect right to.” 

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