Observer column: 22 January 2021
COVID-19 continues to dominate our lives, and although the number of new cases locally has begun to slow, the virus rate remains very high and, sadly, the local death rate is also very high.
Our thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones.
The Conquest hospital, like many more across the country, is stretched to capacity and our continued thanks to go to all the front-line workers. Please remember that we must stay at home unless we have an essential reason for going out. We can show our care for each other by doing this and by keeping our distance from others, covering our faces and washing our hands.
It is good news that the vaccination programme is underway here in Hastings and our thanks to Dr Fox and his team for leading the community vaccination programme at King's Church as well as to everyone involved in the vaccination of health and social care workers at the Conquest hospital. I know we are all looking forward to being contacted with an appointment time. It is important that we continue to follow the rules even after receiving a vaccination as you could still pass the virus on to others.
We are now paying grants to businesses across the town required to close as a result of the current national lockdown. Those businesses who have previously applied for and received the November lockdown and Local Restriction Support Grants do not need to re-apply as they will automatically receive these new payments if they are eligible. The council is using a fast payment system, so funding should be in bank accounts within two hours of being ratified.
The council began paying the grants as soon as guidance and funding were received from the government which was some time after the announcement and the delay was frustrating for all involved.
This is an important time for two big pieces of work locally, both of which could impact on our town for many years to come, the Local Plan and the Town Investment Plan.
The Local Plan is the document that manages the future development of land and buildings in our town until 2039. The plan will include several important themes that will help achieve a thriving future for Hastings, with better prospects for all. These themes include plans for quality housing within well designed neighbourhoods, the provision of sustainable transport links and infrastructure that assists with the growth of businesses, a boost for the local economy and offers new skills and job opportunities for residents.
The plan also has a role in helping to protect the environment and tackling climate change ensuring we work towards carbon neutrality by 2030.
The draft plan will be published next week, and we would like everyone with an interest in Hastings to look at it and share their thoughts and comments. You can find more information at www.myhastings.gov.uk
Next week the Town Deal Board will submit the 'Town Investment Plan', which we hope will unlock £25m of investment in and around our town centre. Look out for more exciting news on this over the next few weeks.
We remain very concerned about the most vulnerable in our community and the disproportionate impact that this pandemic is having on them. We are proud to be one of the only councils still providing 100% council tax relief for those most in need and we will continue to do this.
It was good to see that there was no opposition to the call in Parliament for the extra £20 a week being paid out in universal credit to be extended beyond the end of March. It is essential that the government do the right thing and keep this lifeline for the six million people on low incomes or out of work.
There are concerns about the standard of free school meals being provided to our children and worries about provision through the holidays. Again, the government must do the right thing and ensure our children are properly nourished.
Finally, this year's Holocaust Memorial Day event will take place virtually. It will be launched at 1100 on International Holocaust Memorial Day Wednesday January 27th and remain available to view on our website afterwards. It has been organised by Dr Shelley Katz with the support of Hastings Borough Council. The theme is 'Be the light in the darkness.'
Let us all come together to remember and pledge to be the light in the darkness.
Council Leader's column