Britain’s longest running building site?

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A BLOT on the landscape first created almost 50 years ago in the heart of St Leonards is believed to have become Britain’s longest running building site.

The eyesore site in Undercliff was first started way back in 1966 when planning permission was first granted to build 16 apartments.

Eye-sore building site, Undercliff, Hastings. 14/11/13'Stuart Rumsey and Christine Francis

Eye-sore building site, Undercliff, Hastings. 14/11/13'Stuart Rumsey and Christine Francis

But since then only half a car park has been completed and residents say they are now sick and tired of the site and are demanding action.

A catalogue of landslides, changes in ownership and planning applications has left the site with the uneviable tag as one of the worst in the country.

Hastings Borough Council has now spent £2,000 on a land survey and £1,000 on hoardings for the site yet no work has taken place since 2005.

The staggering longevity of the wrangle surrounding the site has surpassed the previous record of 30 years involving a site in Liverpool set in 2010.

Now the site’s last owner API Undercliffe has recently been dissolved at Companies House, residents worry about many more decades it will remain an eyesore.

The Burtons’ St Leonards Society claim there is a band of shale running through the land which makes it totally unsuitable for development.

There have already been two major landslides on site and the society claim the susbsidence is starting to affect the Burton family tomb and the wall at the Parish church next door.

James Burton who built St Leonards in the early 19th Century and died in 1837, is buried in the tomb along with his wife Elizabeth and eldest daughter Eliza.

Christine Francis, secretary of the society, who lives in nearby West Ascent, said: “We know that there is a band of shale running through this section of land. But to build on it needs to be stabilised. The site is part of the Burtons’ St Leonards Conservation Area which is very important but the land has got more and more expensive. We have a concrete structure that was meant to be a carpark - that’s what’s left. It’s a mess and more than likely the land behind it is still on the move at the back of Courtlands and West Hill Road. There is a crack in the wall next to the James Burton tomb at the back of the premises, there are sand stone popping out of the wall. We are concerned that the tomb will start to move. The 20 yard wall between the St Leonards parish church and West Ascent is cracking under pressure. We want a change in the planning law where you have to start within three years and finish it within five years. The general planning law needs to be tightened up We want to protect the conservation area and encourage good development. It’s tragic that the man who built St Leonards is now at risk of losing his own family tomb.”

Architect Stuart Rumsey lives opposite the site. He said: “In my 40 year career I have never come across such a poorly planned building project. Plans that were drawn up in he 60s are just not appropriate 50 years later. Who wants to stare at a brick wall out of their window or be overlooked in their property? The law needs to be changed. It is not right for any developer to start a job 50 years ago and never finish it. In the 1970s - the council granted a certificate of lawfulness. They could see what they were buying but they went about it the wrong way. Its in a conservation area - the gardens at the back have to be reinstated and made safe. Unfortunately it’s a private legal matter now. The ultimate would be to reinstate it into a park or community garden area but that would mean major commitment from the council.”

Kevin Boorman, spokesman for Hastings Borough Council, said: “This site is not Hastings Borough Council’s although we did indeed spend a modest sum of money on a geotechnical survey to help identify possible ways of dealing with problems on the site, as previously advised. Again as previously advised this suggested that a solution may be expensive. We are under no obligation to Compulsory Purchase the site but will continue to talk to the site’s insurers to work out a way forward.”