Hastings business leaders discuss post-pandemic challenges and opportunities
Hastings businesses owners have expressed their hopes and frustrations about the future of the high street, as the town sets its sights on post-pandemic recovery.
On Tuesday (June 1), a wide variety of businesses and organisations – including Love Hastings, the Chamber of Commerce and Hastings Borough Council – met at The Courtyard, the recently opened seafront plaza by The Source Park.
Organised by Ian Gillam, owner of Southside Wrappers in Cambridge Road, the event was intended to act as a forum for local businesses to get together and share their ideas for how the town should steer its way out of lockdown.
Mr Gillam said: “The collective thing here is how are we actually going to increase the footfall we get and stop people going to Bluewater and Brighton.
“We hear there are plans, we hear there are things going on, but we need retail, we need a draw into the town.
“We need creative and proper ideas on how we are going to drive footfall into the town.”
A common frustration among businesses was East Sussex County Council’s decision to increase the charges for on-street parking in July last year – something which those present said had reduced footfall.
The county council also came under fire over the condition of the roads and pavements in the town centre.
While an East Sussex County Council decision, criticism was also directed towards Hastings Borough Council as some felt it had not done enough to challenge the higher-tier authority’s plans to raise the parking charges.
Some present – notably the owners of Brewing Brothers – also expressed frustrations at the borough council’s willingness to support and work with them.
For Brewing Brothers, the issue surrounded an unsuccessful bid to use a closed off road outside of its Queens Road premises as outdoor seating, which the business hoped to use as covid restrictions eased earlier this year.
Others called on the council to look at capping the rent on its own commercial properties in the town in an effort to influence the local rental market.
Concerns were also raised about anti-social behaviour in the town centre and what could be done to address it.
Another common cause for concern was the recent closure of the Debenhams store in the town centre, with nearby business owners raising fears around a loss of footfall should the building remain unused for a long period of time.
John Bownas, of Love Hastings, told attendees he was in contact with the building’s new owners (who took over the property shortly before the pandemic) to talk about their plans for the future of the building.
Mr Bownas said he thought it likely these plans would involve a residential element, but offered to share ideas from local businesses with the owners.
Among the attendees at the meeting was Cllr Paul Barnett, Hastings Borough Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and culture.
He said: “I was delighted to see so many town centre businesses at the meeting. It was also an opportunity to see the new facilities in The Courtyard at Source Park, a great destination now, and one supported by public funding.
“I took on the regeneration and culture lead for the council two weeks ago, and will be out and about meeting people as often as possible. As was said last night, the more we work together, the more confident we can be about the commercial future of Hastings.
“We are going to be a very popular destination this summer and I expect for years to come, and by helping our independent and creative businesses thrive, the more popular we will be for local, national and international visitors.”