After only a month since the local elections things already seem to be going wrong at Hastings Borough Council. The plans for the very overdue visitors centre in the Country Park came before a specially convened cabinet again at the end of May. These plans have been around for some years now and still nothing has been built. It appears that the plans are having to be rethought as the building is of a difficult design as it will be made out of straw, yes that’s right straw.
I like the idea of having a visitor centre at the Country Park and the Conservatives were supportive of the plans when they first came up at the Council back in 2014. However the spiralling costs amongst other problems means it has lost Conservative support now.
After 4 years and two failed attempts to find someone who is willing to build a house of straw for the Council the situation looked hopeless, so again it has come before the cabinet with a proposed solution to revive the project, but of course this time it’s going to cost much more money.
To this end the Council are now going to borrow an additional £117,000 on top of the £250,000 already earmarked for the project in an attempt to get it under way, which along with the EU grant money brings the whole cost of the visitor centre to a whopping £770,000.
Unfortunately it gets worse from this point onwards. The size of the centre is only going to be 225 square metres (2422 square feet) meaning that it will cost you over £3,400 per square metre (£318 per square foot) to construct (out of straw) making it one of the most expensive buildings in the town.
There is a strange twist to this rather sad story of an unbuilt straw house costing over three quarters of a million pounds of taxpayers money to build, and that is who will actually run the place. The project is being undertaken in conjunction with an organisation called ‘Groundwork’ who specialise in regeneration projects mainly in the North and the Midlands. They will be staffing the centre and, importantly, have control of the Café which is the only real money-making part of the scheme, so the council have no chance of even beginning to recoup the vast sums it has borrowed. The café profits will be taken by ‘Groundwork’ who, as they are involved with the construction of the centre, surely have a conflict of interest by operating it as well.
I looked into ‘Groundwork’ and see that they already run the small centre and cafe at Combe Haven Country Park, they have a job advertised currently for the café there which will pay less than the national living wage, one can only presume that those working at the new visitor’s centre at the other Country park will be payed equally badly. The Labour Councillors voted for the scheme to go ahead with it’s inflated building costs and low wage jobs.