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Group demands “meaningful consultation” over Council plans

Residents opposing plans to transform the former bathing pool site in St Leonards for residential use protested this week, angry at the council for its ‘secrecy’ on the issue. Around 50 protesters joined Saturday’s action organised by the West Marina Group and Save Our Bathing Site – two groups set up to oppose plans for housing on the site. Those at the gathering said they were angry with Hastings Borough Council for their ‘lack of communication with the local community and local interest groups’. Previously, Hastings council said there was a proposal for a mixed use community of housing and leisure on the west St Leonards site which has been empty for more than 30 years.

At a council meeting in March, which was attended by members of the West Marina Group and SOBS, councillor Andrew Batsford, lead member for housing, said it was ‘important’ that processes were as transparent as possible, adding ‘there’s no point in sticking something up there that nobody wants or likes’.

Speaking at the protest, Bryan Fisher, from the West Marina Group, accused the council of ‘secrecy’ in their pursuit of a joint development by County Gate and Sunley of 152 residential units and high-rise blocks.

He said: “Will their plans for high-rise blocks bring the tourists flocking from the Old Town, or even locals from London Road? Perhaps we will get visitors coming once or twice to see the effects of the flooding and sea-damage but we would rather those people came to enjoy the Old Bathing Pool site for leisure. It has a unique position in that it is bridging the promenade, the coastal routeway, the land and the sea. There is no other site like this available in Hastings and St Leonards and any development must be done after proper and meaningful consultation with local residents and local interest groups. No more ignoring our views, no more secrecy, no more tricks – engage with the local community as we want to ensure this really does become a destination point.”

After the protest, Virginia Vilela, the chairman of the West Marina Group, said members understood the need to develop the site but urged the council to consider leisure facilities that may encourage locals, or even tourists, to visit that part of town.

In response, a spokesman for Hastings Borough Council said: “The principle of developing the site for combined leisure and housing use followed a two-year consultation during the development of the Local Plan. That involved workshops, drop-in sessions, online responses, advertisements in the local paper, eventually culminating in an examination in public by a government planning inspector in which everyone who had lodged a complaint or suggestion was allowed to bring this to the attention of the inspector at an examination in public. That led to the Local Plan, incorporating proposals for the Bathing Pool site, in the final plan adopted by the council.

“The council, in line with the approved development plan, wish to see the site developed for mixed housing and leisure uses. The housing element would contribute towards the development of the rest of the site. Because of the large surface water holding tank in the centre of the site, and flood risk, there are constraints on how the site can be developed. Housing would have to go at the eastern end, and the centre part left as open space. The council remains committed to creating a leisure destination that will benefit all Hastings residents, as well as providing much needed housing, and create an attraction that will bring tourists to the eastern end of the promenade. The council does understand that the site is important, and sensitive, and will ensure that any development is appropriate, and built to the quality and standard of design that such a prominent and sensitive site deserves. The time being taken to agree the legal agreement and terms of the lease with the developer reflect this. The council is seeking to ensure that the development is an attractive destination through the creation of, for example, artists’ studios, a slipway, cafes and a restaurant, a new children’s play area, and other leisure facilities. In terms of the housing numbers, the council is not setting a figure of 152 units. The figure will be dependent upon the final design and the planning permission granted following full consultation. The Council understands that residents will have many concerns and they will be able to raise these and influence the final design through the consultation process with the developer.”

Article originally appeared on Hastings & St Leonards

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