Hastings developer reveals plans for former Observer building

A neighbourhood developer has vowed to turn the former Observer building into a community asset after its offer to purchase the building was accepted.

Wednesday, 14th November 2018, 11:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th November 2018, 12:31 pm
The former Observer building in Cambridge Road, Hastings. Picture: Beth Woolf
The former Observer building in Cambridge Road, Hastings. Picture: Beth Woolf

White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures – the owner of neighbouring Rock House – secured the purchase of the empty Cambridge Road site on Monday (November 12).

Beth Woolf, communications leader of White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures, said: “We can’t bear to see the vast, beautiful space wasted any longer when it has the potential to offer so much to the town.

“We are in a strong position having made a success of the community-led development of Rock House.

The former Observer building in Cambridge Road, Hastings. Picture: Beth Woolf

“Although the project will be a stretch for our team, we know we have the resources, networks, creativity and energy to act as lead developer and realise the building’s value for the community.”

The former Observer building has had 12 different owners since it closed in the 1980s.

In December 2017, an application for an artist studio on the lower ground, residents’ gym on the mezzanine, and a restaurant and shop, together with 50 flats with private roof terrace was given the green light by Hastings Borough Council.

However, after work was completed on the internal structure, the building was put back on sale for £1.5million.

Photo taken on a tour when the building went up for sale, February 2005. Picture: Justin Lycett

After a great deal of deliberations, surveys, tours and phone calls, White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures decided to make an offer.

Now its offer has been accepted, the group, which is made up of ‘under ten’ members of staff, hopes to exchange contracts on November 22 and have the keys to the building on December 20.

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Photo taken on a tour when the building went up for sale, February 2005. Picture: Justin Lycett

The group said its plan is to occupy the building as soon as possible, making it economically productive with local tenants paying capped rent on the floors where it is safe to do so.

Ms Woolf added: “We will approach the task of renovation in phases, securing grant funding and social investment along the way to complete the works on each floor.”

The group hopes to revamp the building into 15 to 20 capped-rent flats, likely to be managed by community land trust Heart of Hastings CLT, which would place them in community ownership forever.

The group will also offer four floors of affordable workspace for local businesses inside a ‘community self-managed building’.

Ms Woolf said: “It has had 12 different owners since it closed and nobody has realised its value. It has been a constant cycle of people selling it for more and more money.

“We want it to be a public space and will be taking an approach that is right for this town.

“This is a huge undertaking for our team, by far our most ambitious project yet.

“We are encouraged by the amazing gestures of support and interest from local people so far, and we are very clear that this project will only succeed if it is underpinned by a community wide effort.”

White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures is now looking for people to express an interest in becoming a tenant or a volunteer by joining the group’s mailing list.

You can do so by visiting theobserverbuilding.org.uk.