From: Bernard McGinley, Magdalen Road, St Leonards
This week the winner of the 2019 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize was announced.
Winning the Stirling involves instant wow and usually landmark status. The distinction is immense – or so you would think. In 2017 that recognition was given to Hastings Pier.
The leader of Hastings Borough Council said at the time that Stirling recognition would ‘attract attention to Hastings for all the right reasons’, and that winning was ‘something the whole town can take pride in’. The local MP spoke of a wonderful achievement and testament to the dogged determination from all parts of the town to make sure that we rebuilt our much loved Pier to a really high standard.
The president of RIBA described the project as a ‘masterpiece of regeneration and inspiration . . . a stunning, flexible new pier to delight and inspire visitors and local people’. The Stirling Prize judges said the project ‘evolved the idea of what architecture is’: Councils across the country should take inspiration from Hastings Pier, and open their eyes to the unique assets that can be created.
Since the change of ownership in June 2018 however, Hastings Pier’s ability to ‘stimulate, engage and delight’ has literally taken a battering. The building was disfigured with speakers and cheap signage and battens, disregarding the Pier’s Grade 2 listed building status, in a Conservation Area, and requirements for listed building consent. The council were indulgent.
Some enforcement action is reportedly in process but a lot of damage has been done. Planning applications made for five large sheds on the pier were successful.
The distinction of being a winner of the Stirling was downplayed by planners and councillors. Planning committee reports routinely stated: whilst the [Stirling] award is gratefully received, it can only be given little weight in the consideration of this application.
But this is not true. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear that the significance of a ‘heritage asset’ is to be considered and weighed in making planning decisions — not the significance of its designation or listing.
Did local authorities across the country ‘take inspiration from Hastings Pier’? Possibly, but HBC was not among them. The absence of civic pride shown by the council is peculiar: Hastings councillors and council officers have lacked it for years, and it shows. Mugsborough is in danger of turning itself into a national laughing-stock.