Observer column: 22 September 2017
The Hastings Harbour Project has generated a lot of public interest. People are concerned about the impact it will have on the Old Town, its effect on the marine and coastal environment, what kind of jobs and homes it will provide - and much more.
So far, the project is little more than a concept. The idea is to create up to 1,300 homes and up to 500 jobs on an artificial platform in the sea, coupled with a 600-berth marina and a new harbour that would enclose and protect the fishing beach. There are as yet no plans, no drawings, no details - the 'indicative drawing' that's been published doesn't represent the final layout, the artificial platform shown isn't big enough.
But the idea has potential, if important demands are met. At least a quarter of the housing must be social rented, to provide homes for 1,000 people in greatest need from our housing waiting list. Jobs should be focused on skilled marine engineering, or similar, with apprenticeships linked to local communities. There's no need for extensive catering and retail units - existing businesses should benefit from the additional visitors it would attract. Access must not damage any of the businesses, attractions, or historic structures along Rock-a-Nore. Any lost car parking must be replaced elsewhere. It must genuinely protect our beach-launched fishing fleet, and enhance its prosperity. It must have a zero-carbon footprint, generating all its energy from sustainable sources. Any additional costs incurred by Hastings Council must be funded by the developers. And there must be extensive public consultation, with details sent to every household in the borough, before any plans are submitted.
These are minimum demands Hastings Council would make for our support and co-operation. The development isn't on council land, and the council may not even be the planning authority - it could be determined directly by the government. But the developer would obviously prefer to secure the council's co-operation.
There are many other questions that need to be answered. What will the ecological impacts be? How will the unstable cliffs affect it, can they be stabilised without environmental damage? Is the structure even technically possible, from an engineering point of view? Can they raise enough money, with a substantial contingency (marina projects around the country have a history of running out of money)? These questions will need to be answered through various studies, analyses and 'due diligence' before any design work happens. And someone will need to pay for them. That won't be Hastings Council - the Treasury and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have been approached for public funding. Whether or not the project goes ahead, a lot of those reports will be useful - geological studies on cliff stability and the Country Park, for example. And the LEP has already approved a study on transport, access, and parking, which will be useful to address these problems in the Old Town whatever happens.
So the council is supporting further investigation. To turn it down flat would be wrong, when it could, potentially, deliver significant economic and social benefits for the town. We need to be involved in this, and make sure we're able to influence what happens. But we need to be cautious, and make sure it provides the maximum benefits for local people and businesses. I would need to be certain of that before giving it my support.
Council Leader's column