But councillor calls for “ideas and creativity”

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) is about to complete the grant of a long lease of the former bathing pool site at West Marina to developers County Gate. Council leader Peter Chowney told the full council meeting on 23rd October, in response to a question raised by local ward councillor Karl Beaney, that the lease would be signed “in the next fortnight”. 

County Gate have been the preferred bidder for the site for more than a year, and the council passed a resolution approving disposal for development in April this year for a mix of housing and leisure use in accordance with the Local Plan. There was talk of proposals to build upwards of 150 housing units on the site, which seemed to leave rather little space for unspecified leisure facilities (apart from a slipway for boats to reach the beach). No details of the developers’ plans nor of the terms of the intended lease have been released by either side since then. Is all now about to be revealed?

Andy Batsford, lead councillor not only for housing and leisure but
also a new cabinet portfolio of ‘community engagement’, has told HIP that the signing of the lease will “kick-start” a process of consultation “that HBC and the development company have been waiting for since the tendering process was completed… The process of such a complex and detailed lease arrangements had to be done correctly so that HBC protects its assets for the town and ensures that we deliver the quality leisure and residential development that has been promised for such a long time”.

He dismissed the objections of those local residents “that do not want any development at all”. 

As far as he is concerned, “that public consultation happened over seven years ago during the development of the local plan”. 

However, he said that the new leaseholders were “very keen to establish a full timetable of engagement and consultation”, and that he would be making sure that all information and dates would be made available on an open website.

Cllr Batsford is determinedly enthusiastic about future local engagement: “I am encouraging all residents close to the proposed development and the wider Hastings population to get involved with the design process, bring their ideas and creativity, and find a receptive response. We have promised a leisure destination for the whole of the town, and to encourage investment and regeneration for West St Leonards. This is our best hope in delivering this, finally pulling both tourists and locals down to the west of the town….As the next phase of development starts, a high quality community engagement will step up”.

However, a residents’ forum, the West Marina Group (WM), has been less impressed. “Andy Batsford engaged well in the early stages”, says WM treasurer Robert Sorrenti, “but not at all in recent months. The council has had County Gate’s plans, but wouldn’t release them because the company ‘has copyright’”.

Another member of WM, Graham Wilkins, is more scathing. “We represent over 500 local people who are frustrated and angry. I like Andy personally, he has attended meetings, and we think his heart is in the right place, but we’ve seen no evidence that he has gained a hearing for any of our concerns.”

WM have argued that no development plans should be finalised at the bathing pool site until the future of other neighbouring sites, the former premises of Stamco and vacant land owned by the Ministry of Defence, has been determined. Mr Sorrenti says that WM want to develop a formal neighbourhood plan that encompasses these, and he is due to meet with the HBC planning department next week with a view to getting their commitment to engage with WM on it. However, it seems that the terms of the lease to County Gate may be finalised by then. 

What room will that leave for genuine future consultation between the developers and the public? We wait to see. Mr Wilkins says that Cllr Batsford told him at the beginning of the process: “There’s no point in putting anything here that people don’t want”. Which people did he mean?

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