Observer column: 18 May 2018
Back to business
On May 3rd, a Labour Council was re-elected in Hastings. We took 24 seats, with the Conservatives taking eight. Twenty years ago, Labour took control of the council for the first time ever. By the next council election in 2020, Labour will have run the council continuously for ten years. So I'm very grateful to all those who have shown confidence in the Labour Council in Hastings, both for our past record as well as for our manifesto and future plans. We will do our best to represent and help you, however you voted.
But now it's back to business. There are some ambitious ideas in our manifesto, which we'll now be putting into effect. However, because of the massive cuts we've suffered in our government grants, our first priority will need to be generating the income we need to continue to supply good quality services. So we'll be extending our programme to buy commercial property, to generate income from the rents. We'll be using our housing company to develop housing schemes, particularly on council-owned land. And we'll be investigating sustainable energy generation, using wind, solar and potentially wave power to distribute electricity through a local supply network. We'll be looking at other council services too, and how we can make money out of what we already do. We've invested in new IT systems to make many of our internal services more efficient, now we need to look at how we could market those efficient services to raise income. And we want to set up a Hastings Lottery, to raise money for children's play as well as funding for voluntary groups.
In this way, we can maintain the services that have played an important part in the regeneration of Hastings. The 'Grotbuster' programme that's led to the improvement of almost a thousand eyesore properties, as well as the programme to compulsorily purchase empty homes. Our cultural regeneration strategy, which has helped to put Hastings on the map as a centre for arts and music, will be further developed. We'll push ahead with our enforcement strategies, weeding out bad landlords through our private rented licensing scheme. And our services to homeless people and rough sleepers, a problem that's likely to get worse in the coming years.
But we have more ambitious plans too. For example, we will be consulting on an Area Action Plan for Hastings Town Centre and the 'Bohemia Quarter'. Through that, we intend to regenerate White Rock Gardens, an underused area that will be completely remodelled to provide new gardens, leisure facilities and a performance venue. We'll also be looking at ways to enhance the linkage between the town centre and the seafront, improving Harold Place and the underpass. All this has to be largely self-funding, but we believe there are ways to achieve that.
That's just a taster - there is much more, such as a new 'straw bale' visitor centre in the Country Park, the seafront mini-tram, a 'mist play' area on the seafront -all in the manifesto that we've been elected on. It's not going to be easy, there are difficult times ahead. But we will do our very best to continue to make the difference, to work with others to change Hastings, and continue the regeneration of our town that we began 20 years ago.
Council Leader's column