Government minister gives thumbs-up to Jerwood plans

A senior government minister has urged Hastings to 'get on' with building the controversial Jerwood Gallery at the Stade.

Margaret Hodge, Minister of State for Culture, Media and Sport, visited the town on Monday evening to meet council leader Peter Pragnell and Hastings MP Michael Foster to discuss the plans.

She said: "If you can find a cultural asset in a town and invest in it this can be used as a catalyst throughout the town and can have an enormous impact in terms of bringing in jobs. Hastings has a lot going for it.

"I think it is hugely important that we go ahead with this.

"I am pretty confident over time that the people anxious over the plans will be proved wrong so let's get on with it."

Mrs Hodge said past examples of restoring places like Blackpool and Dover had proved successful.

She said: "In the 1970s when I was leader of the local authority in Islington, we controversially invested in an old agricultural area to turn it into a business park. It completely transformed a run-down and derelict part of Islington."

Alan Smith, secretary of Save Our Stade (SOS), which is against Jerwood, said: "I can only think that Margaret Hodge was not properly briefed and only heard the story from one side.

"She is clearly not aware of the very large degree of opposition to the plans."

The council submitted a fresh planning application in October.

The original planning permission for the redevelopment of the Stade was challenged for not properly addressing traffic issues.

Hastings Borough Council did not contest the claim and the High Court quashed the application in July.

The proposals would see the Stade coach and lorry park and the Fishmarket car park turned into a new leisure area including the gallery, a new cafe, a community education centre and an open space.

Kevin Boorman, head of communications and marketing at Hastings Borough Council: "It was very good to get such positive endorsement for the scheme from the minister, and to hear of her first hand knowledge of cultural-led regeneration.

"Her enthusiastic support for the project was extremely encouraging."

Residents are being urged to comment on the Stade plans before they are discussed next month by borough councillors.

Mr Boorman said: "We extended the deadline for comments because one or two people said that they could not find the details of the plans on the website.

"The deadline for comment is Friday November 27, and all comments received by then will be forwarded to the planning committee considering the applications, which meets on Wednesday December 9.

"At the exhibition in the Fishermen's Museum, the majority of people who came were definitely in favour, although that wasn't reflected in the forms that were completed. We had 69 objections to the Jerwood Gallery, 30 objections to the new open space, caf and community facilities, and 45 letters of support.

"Save Our Stade on its own admission was taking handfuls of forms and asking people to comment outside the exhibition, then returning those forms.

"It seems very odd that those people were commenting on the plans without even coming in to see the exhibition, they seemed to have already made up their minds beforehand.

"I would urge anyone who wants to comment to look at the plans and then do so, it's important that everyone's voice is heard."

The plans can be inspected at the Aquila House offices in Breeds Place on the seafront by the fountain during office hours and at the Hastings Information Centre in Priory Meadow seven days a week.