Wanted: Renewal Of Planned Public Investment – But “No Sign” Of It From Current Government, Says Chowney
Hastings Borough Council leader Peter Chowney has used the August holiday period to post a website report on the history of “regeneration” of the town over the past two decades and on its future. In it he argues that the town needs a return to a programme of planned interventions with a similar level of public funding to what was invested during the period of national Labour administrations between 1997 and 2010 – in the region of £250 million. But he is not optimistic, at least in the short term. “At the moment, the future looks fairly bleak”, he concludes. “There’s no sign that anything like that will be forthcoming from the current government.”
Cllr Chowney recounts that, from 2010 onwards, planned regeneration programmes were replaced with competitive funding schemes and short term, one-off initiatives, both from the government and from the EU. Many bids made by the council and/or by other local groups have been successful over this period. But, as he points out, the overall money offered, though significant, is “nowhere near the levels of funding the town was receiving pre-2010”. Moreover such funding “is random, based on what programmes are out there that the Council and local partners can bid into, rather than a planned investment to address the problems that Hastings still faces”.
He acknowledges frankly that some of the major investment initiatives have had disappointing outcomes – in particular the hopes raised, then dashed, of the University of Brighton settling long term in the town centre ; and of the pier restoration, achieved through Lottery funds and community enterprise only to be sold off to, as he puts it, “a controversial private owner”. He also concedes, with an admission of “could do better”, that development of new office accommodation in the town centre has failed to attract the level of new businesses and employment that was hoped for; that some projects have run “significantly over-budget and over-time”; and that “the publicly owned regeneration companies” (he doesn’t name them but is presumably referring to Seaspace and Seachange) have “lacked transparency”.
There have, on the other side of the balance sheet, been successes, Cllr Chowney maintains. “Hastings has changed substantially since the 1990s, having become a much more desirable place to live in, work in, and visit. The Council’s Cultural Regeneration Strategy has been particularly successful, promoting Hastings as a cultural destination, attracting new visitors, and encouraging those working in the cultural sectors to settle here”.
The town will continue to apply for external funding through competitive grants as and when that’s available, Cllr Chowney writes. “But we’ll also be moving towards a more ‘project based’ way of working, planning a series of our own physical regeneration projects that can be ‘self-funded’, for example through the sale of housing, as well as seeking grant funding towards this”. He enumerates a number of projects which are either already in motion or may be shortly.
A new regeneration company may be needed to take these plans forward. If so, it is likely to be developed jointly with Rother District Council, whose new leaders are said to be “much more interested” in joint working than their predecessors. But, without “proper planned public investment” at the level of the 1997-2010 period, long term problems and the plight of the town’s most deprived communities “will continue”.
• Lists of the principal regeneration projects – past and present – are set out below. Cllr Chowney’s full report can be seen on his Labour party website but will also be posted on the HIP website www.hastingsindependentpress.co.uk soon.
Regeneration projects 1997-2010
• Combe Valley Way, the Hastings – Bexhill Link Road;
• Employment space (Hastings Town Centre and Rother Sites);
• New Hastings Secondary Academies;
• Hastings Station improvements and transport hub;
• Marina Pavilion;
• Redevelopment of the former coach and lorry park to create the Stade Open Space, Stade Hall, Stade café, facilitating the development of the Jerwood Gallery (now Hastings Contemporary);
• Crime reduction initiatives by Safer Hastings Partnership – including purchase of CCTV system;
• New further education colleges (Hastings Town Centre and the Ore Valley);
• Station Plaza Health Centre;
• New Hastings Railway Station;
• Central St Leonards Urban Renaissance Programme;
• Central St Leonards Renewal Area ;
• Hastings Innovation Centre;
• Creative Media Centre;
• Town Centre Renewal (Priory Quarter);
• Brighton University campus.
Also a number of Neighbourhood Renewal and Area Grant Programmes to fund housing improvements and social and employment initiatives, plus Area Committees and local regeneration partnerships in specific localities, including Hollington, Ore Valley, Central St Leonards and Castle ward.
Regeneration projects 2010-19
• Various seafront improvements, including restoring White Rock Baths as The Source Skate Park, new kiosks, new signage, and the White Rock water feature (currently being constructed);
• Cultural initiatives, including fish fairs, Stade Saturdays, and the ROOT1066 festival to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings;
• Bottle Alley refurbishment and lighting scheme;
• Hastings Pier restoration;
• Rock House housing and workspace;
• Health Inequalities Programmes by the local Clinical Commissioning Group;
• North East Hastings Big Local Programme;
• Connecting Hastings and Rother Together (CHART), an EU-funded programme to fund social and employment projects in the most deprived areas;
• Funding to help rough sleepers and address escalating levels of homelessness;
• The Coastal Space project, a joint initiative between Hastings Council and Optivo Housing Association to create around 100 units of social rented housing in St Leonards by restoring abandoned properties;
• Hastings Opportunity Area education improvement programme;
• SUCCESS, an EU-funded grants programme for arts and cultural businesses;
• Two rounds of EU Fisheries Local Action Group funding to help the local fishery;
• Hastings Town Centre Business Improvement District;
• The Observer Building, now being restored by Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust.
Current and future projects
• Redevelopment of White Rock Gardens and land in Bohemia as the ‘Bohemia Quarter’, to provide housing, visitor accommodation, a new arts and leisure centre, and new gardens;
• Housing development incorporating 40% housing association rented homes on land behind Bexhill Road (the ‘lower tier’ site);
• A housing and leisure development at West Marina;
• A new business start-up unit creating 78 jobs at Sidney Little Way;
• New housing on the former Harrow Lane playing fields;
• Potential redevelopment of Priory Street car park and the post office sorting office.
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