Hastings council leader outlines priorities for town over next two years

Peter Chowney
Peter Chowney

The council’s leader has made saving the University of Brighton’s Hastings campus from closure one of the top priorities for the authority over the coming two years.

Councillor Peter Chowney said it was vital Hastings remained a university town.

He made the comment at the borough council’s annual meeting at St Mary-in-the-Castle yesterday (Wednesday, May 18), where he outlined the council’s main aims over the next two years.

Cllr Chowney said: “The decision to close the Hastings campus came as devastating news, a decision which I believe was wrong and misguided, and was opposed by the MP, business sector, voluntary sector, and pretty much every group and agency in town.

“Together with East Sussex County Council and Rother District Council, we’ve commissioned consultancy work to advise us on how we can keep a university in Hastings, which is something we’re determined to achieve.”

Cllr Chowney also made his feelings clear what would happen if the UK votes to leave the European Union (EU) on June 23 in the referendum.

He said: “This council has been very successful at applying for grants. That applies both to regional and national funds such as the Coastal Communities Fund and the Regional Growth Fund, as well as European funding, attracting more than £4 million to Hastings over the last couple of years.

“We have bids in to EU funds for millions more - around £5 million for the Community Led Local Development fund alone.

“But if Britain votes leave on June 23, all that falls, we get nothing, which is one of the reasons why I stand alongside our MP in urging everyone to vote remain on June 23.

“Brexit would be disastrous for the UK economy, and disastrous for Hastings in particular.”

Cllr Chowney said making savings and generating more income for the authority was a top priority between now and 2018.

He said: “We have consistently saved more money in our budget year-on-year than we planned, saving more than £100,000 more than budgeted on our senior management restructuring alone. Transforming the way we work through our transformational change programme, and the Firmstep project to make more services available online, will continue to make big savings.

“Last year, I said how important it was for the council to generate income, to embrace ‘entrepreneurial socialism’. That isn’t a quick fix, it’s a process that requires a lot of research and planning to set up the right, sustainable income-generating projects.”

The council leader said there were five main areas the authority was exploring.

These include setting up a housing development company, property investment, such as new factory units being built, the acquisition of Aquila House and associated retail shops, as well as looking at investments outside Hastings, energy generation, which will include a report on suitable sites for PV arrays, income from council assets such as parks and the seafront, and making better use of the seafront.

“Income generation by bringing services back in-house is also being looked at, specifically through the building cleaning contract, which is up for renewal at the end of the year,” Cllr Chowney added.

Cllr Chowney highlighted the council’s achievements over the last year.

He said: “We’ve seen 73 long-term empty properties brought back into use through council action, and 53 properties improved through the Grotbuster programme.

“We’ve organised a whole range of festivals throughout the year, including the Mid-Summer Fish Festival, the Seafood and Wine Festival, Stade Saturdays, The Herring Fair, Coastal Currents Arts Festival, as well as financially supporting many others.

“We’ve organised a programme for a major arts and cultural festival this year to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, which will add to Hastings’ growing national and international reputation as a cultural centre.

“On the seafront too, it’s been a big year. We’ve completely refurbished Bottle Alley, we’ve reopened the long-abandoned White Rock Baths as a world-class skateboard and BMX arena run by The Source, we’re currently carrying out further improvements to the promenade, and of course, there’s the pier itself, now open after a six-year project carried out by Hastings Pier Trust, with its compulsory purchase from a Panamanian company carried out by the council, and more than £1 million spent by the council on acquiring the pier and grants to the restoration project.”

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