Where has all the Green Gone?
Julia Hilton of the Hastings Green party has been studying the Area Action Plan
(see news story here) which could transform the town over the next 25 years, and wonders if the planners aren’t missing a raft of environmental opportunities
The plans for the White Rock area would mean a considerable loss of green space to build more than 650 new houses. While there is no doubt that we need more truly affordable housing we also need a public conversation about how and where they are built. Much of the current green space is publicly owned land. If this is to be built on, then local people have the right to be involved. Some new housing could fund the much-needed investment to upgrade the under-used and neglected White Rock Gardens and better integrate it into the town.
The White Rock area today
While there are some exciting suggestions such as exploring a combined heat and power system, this represents a huge missed opportunity to use the plans for this area to kick-start a vision for making Hastings a resilient forward-looking town with bold plans for our contribution to fighting climate change.
The Town Centre part of the Action Plan focuses on improvement opportunities when existing sites come up for redevelopment. There needs to be a much more explicit commitment to better pedestrian connectivity and streetscapes, especially at Hastings Station and the connection to Queens Road.
Mention is made throughout the document of delivering good design, efficient use of natural resources, improving the public realm and sustainable transport, but these need to have measurable goals incorporated to have any teeth. For example, we have had little progress on even the existing routes outlined in the current walking and cycling strategy adopted in 2014. Architectural competitions are mentioned for key public buildings, but the long-promised design panel should require all new developments to be critically assessed as part of the planning process.
Built environment as envisaged in plan
Active engagement with the community is mentioned but with no clear statement of how this will be put in place. A forum needs to be set up, and should have been active prior to this stage, so local people have clear ways of actively engaging with creating the plans not just being ‘consulted’ on this one version.
One possibility is to commit to setting aside at least 50% of the land for Community Land Trusts, where local people can decide what housing they want and that would be truly affordable in perpetuity.
We should be creating new neighbourhoods that are climate positive. These new homes will be built on council-owned land, so they can be bold in demanding low-carbon building methods and zero-energy homes to measurable standards such as BREAM Excellent (Building Research Environmental Assessment Method) or Passivhaus standards. The government has recently clarified that the new planning policy framework does not restrict local authorities’ ability to require energy efficiency standards above building regulations, so there is no reason not to be more ambitious.
Let’s use this consultation to push the council to set new standards for how we build our future in this town, with a commitment from the beginning to transparent and open negotiations and ambitious measurable standards for walkability and design all conducted through a truly engaged public forum. We won’t have this chance again.
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