Hastings council should focus on sites already in plan

From: Chris Lewcock, Archery Road, St Leonards

First we saw the failed fiasco of the unworkable and unwanted marina at Rock-a-Nore. Unwilling to learn their lesson the Council Cabinet has come up with another half-baked pie-in-the-sky.

After discussions behind closed doors they’ve decided to spend £25,000 on consultants to try and get £6.9m of central government subsidy to build 170 houses on the Bexhill Road playing fields.

That’s about a £40,000 subsidy per house and doesn’t account for the fact that the council owns the proposed site and will probably throw it in for free.

The Bexhill Road playing fields are currently very well used and shown in the council’s own recreation reports as a vital part of local sports facilities.

They are especially valuable given the number of other playing fields which have been lost to housing in the Borough in recent years.

The fields are also part of the Combe Valley Countryside Park, which the council is committed to keeping open and green. The site is not shown for housing in the council’s own Local Plan.

At a practical level the proposal is unworkable. The playing fields are on a floodplain and indeed are underwater in the winter. Solving the flood problem would require (if it can be done at all) major and very costly alterations to the drainage system all the way up Combe Haven and with “collateral damage” to nationally important wildlife interests.

The playing fields were created on top of a waste tip which local residents watched being filled with, for example, unsorted hospital waste.

The fields are within metres of a toxic leachate pumping station. The Health and Safety Executive would simply refuse to allow new housing to be built in such a risky location. And oh yes, all the traffic from the new housing will go on to Bexhill Road – undoing the traffic relief from the Link Road.

The council will claim that we need to find new housing in the Borough. Maybe so, but at any cost, just here and for whom? What guarantee do we have that these new houses will go to the homeless and young couples in the Borough who really need them? There are numerous other sites in the Borough which are shown in the Local Plan for housing but which for many years for one reason or another haven’t got off the ground – Westerleigh School, Malmsbury House, Cornwallis car park, the Undercliff, etc.

Investment in solving problems on those sites, perhaps using compulsory purchase powers where landowners are reluctant to help, would be a much better use of council officers’ time and public money than hiring yet more consultants to try to put substance into unworkable mirages.

An all-Party and no-Party consensus managed to stop the council proceeding with its fantasy scheme for Rock-a-Nore. Let’s hope that something similar can be mobilised in this case.