MORE than 500 signatures have been collected in the space of a week in support of a campaign to preserve the old Observer building for the benefit of the community.
The petition by Hastings Trust, calls on Hastings Borough Council to list the building at 53 Cambridge Road as a community asset, in order to buy the organisation more time to purchase the building, which has lain empty for the last 25 years.
The purchase and renovation of the vast 41,000sq ft structure is expected to cost around £5.5 million, and ideas for its redevelopment include a hub for community support services, space for designers and makers, arts and performance space, and a restaurant.
Mel Bonney-Kane, executive director of Hastings Trust, said: “We have been completely overwhelmed by the level of support we have received.
“The comments that people have been leaving on the online petition are absolutely incredible.
“It is about communities coming together and protecting buildings that are of value to them.”
Hastings Trust has been working away in the background for the past nine months, with a number of other organisations including Brighton University and The School Creative Centre in Rye, to test the feasibility of a number of proposed schemes,
Mel said they decided it was time to go public after the building’s owner, a South African investment bank, put it up for auction earlier this month. However it failed to make the guide price and remains unsold.
A total of 350 signatures were collected on the printed petition last Tuesday (November 20) in the town centre, and at the time of going to print just over 300 people had signed the online petition.
Support has come from as far as France, and even from the great-great granddaughter of FJ Parsons, who bought the Hastings Observer in 1866, and who the building was built for in 1924.
The plan is to deliver the online and printed petitions, calling for the building to be designated as a community asset, to Hastings Borough Council.
The council must consider any nomination made for a building to be listed as a community asset. If the nomination is accepted, the group will be given time to come up with a bid for the building when it is sold.
This scheme came into effect in September of this year as part of the Localism Act 2011,.
Councillor Jeremy Birch, council leader, said: “If Hastings Trust can find a viable way forward, the council will be supportive, because it is the biggest derelict building in the town.”
Sign the petition online at tinyurl.com/ccmavnf.
A potted history of the building:
The building, designed by Henry Ward, was built in 1924 for FJ Parsons and served as the Observer Newspaper offices and printworks for decades.
The building has not been used as a printworks since 1985 where it received planning permission for change of use to retail store and warehouse, followed by more than 10 further planning applications, none of which have been taken forward to development.
It is currently owned by South African investment bank Investec, which put the building up for auction on November 1, however it failed to make the guide price.