A multimillion pound fund to improve Hastings town centre could soon be unlocked, following a decision by a senior county councillor.
Cllr Claire Dowling, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for transport and environment, agreed today for the authority to enter into a £9.754m grant funding agreement with Hastings Borough Council, as part of the Towns Fund programme.
The funding is earmarked for the Hastings Town Centre Public Realm and Green Connections project — a scheme which is expected to bring a range of improvements, including the creation of a new ‘adaptable public space’ where Havelock Road meets Harold place.
The project, which is expected to go through the planning process next spring, is also expected to include tree planting, junction changes, and the ‘reallocation’ of roadway for pedestrian and cycle infrastructure.
The funding agreement was cautiously welcomed by Hastings county councillors Godfrey Daniel (Lab) and Peter Pragnell (Con), although both raised some reservations about the project as a whole.
Cllr Daniel said: “I will never say no to lots of money coming in to Hastings, as you are well aware, so I am not going to impede the allocation of this money, [but] I have concerns about the whole scheme.
“I was invited to a preliminary [presentation] … which left me more worried than I was before the presentation. Some of the stuff you’ve got in the supporting information is conceptually misguided; it seems to be conceived around people coming down by train.
“Just remember that train journeys from London to Hastings are very long … so I am not keen on the focus there.”
He added: “I’m particularly anxious about the capacity of the borough council to deliver on most of this, given their financial strictures at the moment.
“I suppose one thing I would point out is the green connections side. I would always welcome greening, but green connections will mean high maintenance costs.
“I have been assured that the borough council are going to take those on board, but I would like to know where they are going to get the money from to do that, because they don’t seem to have much money.”
Similar concerns were raised by Cllr Pragnell (who is also an opposition member of Hastings Borough Council). He said: “I think it is going to be one heck of a challenge turning [the area], especially Harold Place, into a green and wonderful open space.
“It is … a very windswept piece of real estate. It has been very bleak recently since the demolition of the neoclassical public convenience that was the architectural centrepoint of our fair town. It is now very bleak, very windy and — as recent weather conditions have reminded us — is below sea level.”
Both councillors also raised concerns about antisocial behaviour in the area and asked for the detailed designs to take this in account.
According to council papers, the new ‘adaptable open space’ — to be known as either Albert Circus or The Haven — is expected to act as a focal point for a range of events, activities and festivals throughout the year.
This will come alongside improvements to the Havelock Road/Harold Place corridor, as well as in Wellington Place towards the Albert Road underpass. This is expected to be complemented with increased tree planting and ‘the introduction of biodiverse ecologies that brings together urban and coastal landscapes’.
The papers go on to say the county council has completed the concept design stage for the project and has procured transport consultants ARUP to begin the preliminary designs and public consultation and engagement elements of the programme.