Convent deserves a better proposal

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THE heartfelt response to the Archery Ground decision (excellently discussed in last week’s Observer and elsewhere) indicates a shift of attitude in the borough.

Perhaps the HBC planning department will again reflect the views of residents as well as those of developers who want to infill relentlessly with blocks of flats.

Just possibly civic pride is back – that our council and officers have often shown so little of – in a double-town, that is truly exceptional. The residents of St Leonards and Hastings tend to take its assets for granted, but the developers don’t, and the erosion in the spirit of place is marked. After years of waiting, soon the Magdalen Road Convent will be up for decision by the planning committee about a bog-standard estate for the site, largely similar to the rejected Archery Ground one, and again despite its exceptional setting and rich history.

The Convent was built by John Howell – archetypal Hastings builder – and mostly designed by W. Wilkinson Wardell, who went on to do major work in Australia: either could be a focus of heritage. That the Convent playing fields could be made good use of by the adjoining primary school has yet to be properly assessed by East Sussex County Council.

The antics by the developers about whether this is an ‘enabling development’ (a technical term closely defined by English Heritage) are extraordinary. The Convent is neither an enabling development nor ‘a type of enabling development’.

The playing fields of the northern half of the site are threatened by blocks of flats and some five-bedroom houses, and it is peculiar that the council chose to make the status of that northern site other than Designated Open Space. Additionally, the Italianate red-and-white East Wing (the centrepiece of the Convent) remains under threat of demolition. If White Rock Gardens, including the Oval, is not to become a shabby and grotty annexe of a horrible estate (that has no affordable-housing element), a different future for the site needs to be found. The Convent, like the borough, deserves much better than what is intended.

BERNARD MCGINLEY

Magdalen Road

St Leonards