Observer column: 26 August 2016
As we approach September, the main part of the council's ROOT1066 festival to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings is about to get underway. From Chris Levine's laser spectacular on Hastings Pier, to the Battle of Hastings BMX competition at The Source, to Glyndebourne community opera, there will be a big selection of events to suit all creative tastes. And as well as that, there will be the 'traditional' Hastings events, such as the ever-popular Seafood and Wine Festival, and the events during Hastings Week itself, from the classic car show to the bonfire procession.
And of course, this year, there has been even more to do in town than usual, with the re-opened pier bringing visitors to the attractions and events taking place there, and new businesses opening up along the promenade, from pop-up catering venues to the new kayak hire facility along Bottle Alley.
All of this means Hastings is getting more and more attention in the national press, and nowadays, for the right reasons. Not so many years ago, it was pictures of derelict hotels and empty buildings that attracted news photographers. Now, it's the refurbished seafront, the pier, the boutique hotels, the restaurants, the galleries, along with all the other tempting and photogenic gems that illustrate the summer crop of articles on what a wonderful place Hastings is to visit, and to live in.
All of this is good for the local economy, in that it promotes the town to new tourists and visitors, especially those staying overnight, increasing visitor numbers and the amount they spend here. But there's more to it than that. Hastings is still a poor town, with relatively high levels of deprivation, poor health, and below average educational attainment, mostly concentrated in the larger social housing estates. By making the town more attractive, and by changing its image nationally, we can make it more attractive to employers to relocate their businesses here. While tourism remains our biggest industry, jobs are often seasonal and low-paid. We need new employers, particularly in specialist manufacturing, who can offer good quality, higher paid jobs, especially the kind of jobs that will be the start of a career for young people living in these more deprived areas.
But we need to keep this programme on track - cuts to public sector funding have made it much harder to keep up the regeneration momentum. Along with all other seaside resorts, we've seen a big increase in rough sleeping and street drinking. The reasons for this increase are not straightforward, but benefits caps and sanctions have led to more vulnerable people simply not being able to find housing they can afford. While we can work with other support services to try to help people back into housing, it becomes a vicious circle, with more people becoming homeless because of benefit cuts, and less money available to deal with the resulting problems. This becomes an added challenge, on top of trying to find the money to keep up our programmes to improve the physical appearance and quality of the town.
So while we've come a long way in regenerating Hastings, we're not there yet. Hastings' reputation as a creative and cultural centre of excellence, a must-visit resort, and a wonderful place to live and work, is growing all the time. We must make sure that continues.
Council Leader's column