A ‘free-for-all’ on St Leonards seafront with people living in caravans and motorhomes does not look like being resolved any time soon with two authorities deadlocked over who should take responsibility.
Hastings Borough Council leader Peter Chowney said it was East Sussex County Council who should be moving on the large group of people currently residing in Sea Road.
However the county council says it does not believe it would ‘be appropriate’ to use its powers, and says the borough council is responsible as the landowner.
The issue was raised with Cllr Chowney by ward councillor Karl Beaney (Con, West St Leonards) at a meeting on Wednesday (October 17) where he asked what action the council was taking to address the concerns of local residents.
He said: “Since I was elected back in May we have had several conversations about people living in caravans and motorhomes along Sea Road.
“Obviously it is an issue that has been going on for a long time and has been allowed to continue. It is particularly worse in the summer months, when it sort of turns into an illegal caravan park. It is a free-for-all with no enforcement.
“Not only is it illegal but it also, I would say, poses public health risks and there is a lot of anti-social behaviour involved.”
In response Cllr Chowney (Lab. – Tressell) said: “The problem with [Sea Road] is that while it is Hastings council-owned land it is still a highway, so the statutory responsibility for dealing with obstructions there is not with us but with the highway authority.
“Now we have had a long to-ing and fro-ing about this scenario with East Sussex County Council, where they wouldn’t accept it was their responsibility and said ‘it’s your land, you’ve got to sort it out’.
“The process for us sorting it out – which technically we could do – is much more complicated, expensive and long-winded. [East Sussex County Council] has powers under the Highways Act to deal with it much more quickly and easily.
“Of course we will work with them, through our housing role, to attempt to re-house the people who are in there and are homeless.
“Hopefully this will happen but we are dependent still on East Sussex County Council getting their act together and using their highways powers as they have now agreed to do.”
Cllr Chowney also said that the county council had actually agreed to take responsibility for the area after he had written to council leader Keith Glazier about the issue.
However the county council says this is not the case, and argues that it would not be appropriate to use its powers as they are designed to deal with abandoned vehicles only.
An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “While we understand residents’ concerns, we also have to bear in mind that these caravans are effectively being used as dwellings by people who have become homeless.
“Unfortunately these individuals are some of an increasing number of homeless people across East Sussex who are living and sleeping in vehicles and caravans with no other accommodation to go to.
“Having taken legal advice, our view is that it would not be appropriate to use powers under the Highways Act which are intended to deal with abandoned vehicles to remove caravans that are being lived in.
“At a recent meeting with the borough council, we advised that the most effective legislation to use in this instance is Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules in order to gain possession of the land.
“These powers are available to the borough council as landowner, and we have offered to contribute towards any legal costs incurred by the borough council in seeking this order.
“We are awaiting a response from the borough council on this and will continue to work with them to try and find a solution to this issue.”
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