Council signs development contract but terms still not revealed

After four or more years of negotiation Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has entered into a contract with a company styled West Marina St Leonards Limited for the transfer and development of the former bathing pool site at Seaside Road. This development company is wholly owned by County Gate Properties, the preferred bidder over most of this period. Its development plans are reported to entail the construction of a minimum of 125 residential buildings, some further commercial units described as workshops and live-work units, 50 beach huts and 12 “glamping spaces”, plus a car park, on the three-and-a-half acre site.

The contract is reported to have been signed on 8th October, but neither news of this event nor any information as to the contractual terms have so far been disclosed by HBC – rather, they have emerged from an article in an obscure online journal TED (Tenders Electronic Daily) which reports procurement outcomes for purposes of compliance with EU financial rules, though the deal does not seem to involve any EU funding. TED states “the total value of the procurement”, presumably combining the value of the land transferred with all projected development costs, as £35m.

CREDIT: Dave Young

According to TED, the freehold of the land intended for residential use will be transferred to the development company for a nominal value, and the commercial areas will be subject to a 250-year lease. But there is no absolute obligation on the company to carry out works. The agreement remains subject to survey, i.e. if the company deem it unsatisfactory they will be entitled to pull out.

As to the residential units, HBC will have pre-emption rights over just 15 at market value, with a 5% discount if it purchases more than six. The TED summary indicates that “some” of the units will become “affordable”, but it is not clear that this proportion will amount to 25% as previously promised by HBC’s lead councillor for housing, Andy Batsford. It seems, moreover, that the live-work units are not included in the minimum number of 125, so the actual number of dwellings will be higher.

Any more specific terms of the development contract have to be guessed at.

Lack of consultation

Members of the West Marina Group (WMG), who have represented local residents in attempted discussions with the Council over the development programme, say they are shocked at the lack of communication with regard to the terms. Leading cabinet members – 

Cllrs Peter Chowney, holder of the financial portfolio and Batsford – 

have in the past made frequent pledges to consult, but consistently failed to honour them once it became clear that there was overwhelming objection to the number and size of the proposed residential buildings (some designs have shown intent to erect five-storey tower blocks on the site).

After the council election in May this year, WMG members approached Cllr Paul Barnett, newly appointed as deputy leader of HBC and holder of the regeneration portfolio, to set up a meeting to address the issues afresh. Cllr Barnett duly set up an online Zoom meeting in July for himself, Council managing director Jane Hartnell and leader Kim Forward to discuss with four members of the Group. Chair of the latter, Virginia Vilela, describes the conversation as focussing on the adverse impact on the local community of the Council’s refusal to listen to their views or take any account of their interests. A further meeting was promised – but there has been silence since.

Earlier this month the West St Leonards Forum, which has been engaged constructively with HBC’s planning depart-ment in drawing up a neighbourhood plan for the area and includes an overlap of membership with WMG, invited councillors and an officer from the planning department to attend a public meeting. Local ward councillor Karl Beaney turned up, but a last minute message from the Council was received that the planning officer would not “because of Covid risks”. It seems that it is current HBC policy for officers not to attend any face-to-face public meetings for this reason. But, if so, that policy has not been made generally explicit, nor has there been any consideration expressed as to how it may impact on relationships with the community which the council is supposed to be serving. Graham Wilkins of WMG has no doubt: “We have been promised consultations, communication, openness and transparency. Lack of information makes people anxious and angry”, he says.

In preparing this report HIP asked the Council to confirm details of the contract with West Marina St Leonards, to summarise its expectations of what would be built and over what time scale, and to explain what financial implications will ensue (negative and/or positive) for its budget. No response has been received at the time of going to press.

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