AN HISTORIC Old Town church has been told it cannot convert its graveyard into a children’s play area.
Developers had applied to Hastings Borough Council (HBC) to move the headstones in the graveyard of St Clements Church in Croft Road, part of which the Crest nursery currently uses as an outdoor space. The plan was to extend the play area to cover the whole of the graveyard, but councillors gave it short shrift when the proposals came before the HBC planning committee last week.
Cllr Godfrey Daniel, chairman of the committee, said: “I do not like this at all. I am an atheist but it is a very interesting piece of heritage. The church is a listed building and the setting of the gravestones around it is traditional. I like a bit of tradition. This is where Foyle’s War was filmed and I don’t think the producers chose this road for no reason - it’s because it is an historic setting.
“However long these people have been dead I suspect their descendants are probably not aware of these plans and would be rather upset,” he added.
His views were echoed by Cllr Emily Westley, who said: “Knowing the Old Town there will be descendants still living there and they would be devastated if this went ahead, as I would be.”
St Clements Church dates back to 1080 and is where the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti married in 1860. Planning rules state that consecrated ground can be developed if the graves are more than 100 years old.
Cllr John Wilson supported the application and said: “The Old Town is short of suitable places for children to play. To have a piece of ground there would be welcomed, rather than us putting a spanner in the works and saying they cannot do it.”
But Cllr Andrew Cartwright disagreed. “This is an area not only where many people live but where many people visit and many jobs depend on,” he said. “It is very important for the local economy.”
The application was refused by majority vote.
Rosemarie Loosely, the supervisor of the Crest nursery was frustrated with the decision. She said: “I feel really disappointed and the children are going to lose out.
“This is an uncared for, unvisited graveyard - nobody cleans up the drug paraphernalia, the used condoms or the beer cans there, I do that in my own time. We were going to make very sympathetic changes, planting shrubs in wooden barrels with brass name plaques and using natural materials and natural colours.”
She said the Old Hastings Preservation Society had carred out a full survey of the graves and that headstones in graveyards in Egremont Place and Wallinger’s Walk had been moved for redevelopment.
“It has already been done in this town,” she said.