Labour has given a ‘cast iron’ pledge to consult every step of the way on plans to develop the old bathing pool site at West Marina, St Leonards.
Councillor Andy Batsford, Housing and Leisure portfolio holder, told a packed, and sometimes noisy council chamber on Monday: “We want to get this right. We desperately need housing, we need investment and to increase tourism in our town.
“The most important thing for us as a council is that those processes are as transparent as possible. There’s no point in sticking something up there that nobody wants or likes. It needs to be a place where people want to come – and live.”
He said he had already engaged with residents, not least on social media, and added: “I give a cast-iron guarantee that you (the residents) will be part of that conversation. They’ll be workshops to discuss this; it will be much more than just a planning forum.
“We will make sure that the whole of Hastings is taken along with this process to develop something really exciting.”
We’ll consult you every step of the way, says planning chief
Around 100 residents attended the council’s cabinet meeting to hear the go-ahead given for the preferred developer, County Gate/Sunley, to submit detailed proposals, following a recent unanimous agreement to dispose of the site.
Many expressed concern at what could be a potential 150 homes on the ground, which has lain empty for more than 30 years since the once famous pool was demolished. There were also worries about parking and complaints that residents hadn’t been consulted.
However, the plan to develop the site, at the western end of the St Leonards seafront, is nothing new: it was agreed three years ago. But developer after developer failed to come up with suitable schemes.
The council has at last secured a favourable deal – which will involve County Gate/Sunley taking an initial five-year lease while they set out their plans.
This in effect puts the onus on the developer to both satisfy the council’s ambitions – and allay the anxieties of residents.
As well as homes – the number yet to be decided – on the ‘wish list’ are leisure facilities such as artists’ studios and galleries, potentially a hotel, children’s play areas, a cafe, water sports facilities and a slipway. The aim is to make the site a ‘destination’ for tourism at a neglected end of the borough.
Virginia Vilela, representing residents who had petitioned the council, said the plans so far were ‘far too much for such a small space’.
The bathing pool site was the only green space along the Hastings/St Leonards seafront and was used by lots of people: “Residential and commercial development would not enhance this seafront site in any way.”
She said, so far, the council had failed to be open and transparent about what the developers had in mind.
However, the council’s Chief Finance Officer, Peter Grace, said there was no plan yet in place that could be formally consulted on; first the developers needed to carry out a full evaluation.
He added: “The council is looking to push the costs onto the developer in taking this scheme forward and these will not be inconsiderable given the complexity that has rightly been identified and the constraints on this particular site.”
Among these complexities are storm tanks under part of the site, and the developers were aware of this.
The development promised a more sustainable future for the area in the longer term. But he emphasised: “The residents will get their say, and rightly so, as well as councillors, on the final scheme.”
The council was also in discussions about potentially purchasing the nearby Stamco and MoD sites.
Council leader Peter Chowney said the principle of developing the West Marina site was in the Local Plan which itself followed a couple of years of consultations.
By leasing the land, the council – as landlord – retained the right to determine the level of development: “It gives us a veto on anything they might propose. So it has to be the right kind of development, with all the things they say they can achieve for us to approve it,” he said
And he concurred with Councillor Batsford, adding: “I want to see a lot of consultation, both in terms of the local community and Hastings as a whole.”
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