The former bathing pool site at West Marina, on the West St Leonards seafront beyond Grosvenor Gardens, has been vacant for over 30 years. From the point of view of residents of Seaside Road and others who live close, it has formed a green space for dog-walking or an open play area for kids if they don’t fancy the beach beyond.  But not for much longer. 

PICTURE: Dave Young

At a Cabinet meeting on Monday evening, Hastings Borough Council, which owns the land, nodded through a recommendation from its Financial Services and Revenues department to publish a formal notice of intended disposal for purposes of development. On 4 March the Cabinet will review Heads of Terms negotiated between its agents Carter Jonas and the preferred developers, Sunley and County Gate Properties. Their plans have not been published, but they are believed to allow for the building of over 150 houses as well as of some commercial units and an upmarket camping facility. If approved, council officers will then be directed to proceed to exchange of contracts for the sale to the developers of a long lease of the site. Development will still be dependent upon topographical and other surveys to be carried out by these purchasers, and also on planning permission being applied for successfully over the following year. They would then have another 12 months to commence building works, and a maximum of four more years to complete them.

Local residents, who have banded together in a loose association calling themselves the West Marina Group, are far from happy. Their chair Virginia Vilela, who lives in Seaside Road, emphasises that they do not object in principle to development of the site, but complains that the council has adopted a secretive procedure with the aim of encouraging the maximum number of housing units to be built there without any positive or meaningful engagement within the neighbourhood, without taking due consideration of what the local infrastructure can cope with, and ignoring the wider opportunities now becoming available in the immediate vicinity. Two years ago a scheme prepared by Carter Jonas, which proposed 120 housing units, was put forward at a public meeting held at the Royal Victoria Hotel and widely condemned as giving rise to unreasonable density. Clearly the current scheme goes denser.

HBC lead councillor Peter Chowney has acknowledged that the council is currently interested in acquiring two neighbouring sites, formerly occupied respectively by the Ministry of Defence and by Stamco, with a view to potential development there too. These sites are recognised to carry flood risks from the Combe river that may inhibit house-building. But so does the open space at issue: indeed the centre of this site accommodates a Southern Water storm water overflow tank, which will have to remain where it is. Ms Vilela argues that the council should defer any binding contract for building on the West Marina site alone until a comprehensive plan is formulated for the whole area. 

As to lack of transparency, Cllr Chowney has written to Ms Vilela saying that it will be up to the purchasers “to conduct future consultations with much more detailed proposals”, but that these “are in effect their intellectual copyright, which they won’t want to share until the council has appointed them”. He was naturally keen to stress, however, that there will be “a requirement for 25% social housing anyway, whatever the scheme”.

So there you have it. The council has decided without any effective discussion (and, it should be noted, with cross-party agreement) to go forward with the sale, leaving any consultation with the local community to be addressed at the planning stage. And who will determine what permission is in due course granted? The council itself, of course, knowing that at that point any refusal could have serious costs consequences if it were overturned on appeal. 

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