Making a town centre action plan

Last year, Hastings Council consulted local people on its ‘masterplan’ proposals for White Rock Gardens, and land from the seafront through to Summerfields Woods. Following on from that, we now have to embark on a more formal process to develop an Area Action Plan (AAP) for this area, covering not just White Rock Gardens, but the whole of Hastings Town Centre as well.

Area action plans constitute a formal addition to the council’s local plan, and as such have to be produced using a detailed and complex legal process. They define planning policies relating to land use in the area of the plan. So it’s different from the White Rock and Bohemia masterplan – this is land the council owns, so is proposing to redevelop the area itself. The AAP sets policies for how the area will be developed through planning applications by landowners.

Proposals in the plan have to be supported by evidence. So, for example, when planning for retail development in Hastings Town Centre, we have to gather evidence in the shape of external assessments by specialist consultants to predict the likely future demand for retail premises in the town centre. Predicting the future, particularly with high streets changing so quickly, can be difficult though, and many of these expert assessments are likely to be challenged during the plan-making process. The plan also has to be ‘sustainable’, both economically and environmentally. And it has to take account of policies in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which has recently been revised.

During this summer, the draft AAP is available for consultation. There are meetings with residents’ associations, drop-in sessions at the council offices, and consultations with local business groups. The plan is also available online, or a paper copy and paper forms for comments are available at the Contact Centre, Tourist Information Centre, and Hastings Library. Full details are on the council’s website.

This stage of consultation closes on 24th September, but that’s not the end of it. The council then has to consider the responses to the consultation and produce a ‘submission’ version, which will be considered by a government planning inspector at an ‘examination in public’. This will be advertised at least six weeks in advance, and anyone not happy with proposals in the plan will be able to make objections, or suggestions for changes, to the planning inspector. This could be, for example, landowners who own land in the plan area, or members of the public who object to a particular proposed policy.

After the enquiry, the inspector makes his recommendations to the council for any amendments to the AAP, which in practice the council has to adopt. The final AAP will then come into effect after being approved by the council in December 2019. Plan making is never a speedy process …

When the plan comes into effect, there will be no immediate changes. Rather, it will change the planning policies against which planning applications are considered. But it will provide a framework for the way the council redevelops White Rock Gardens and Bohemia area under its masterplan proposals – councils, as landowners, have to stick to their own planning policies. The council’s proposals to create a new leisure centre, a new performance venue, refreshed open spaces and new housing in the White Rock and Bohemia area will hopefully get the AAP needed to make it all happen.