Observer column: 23 March 2018
Council plans for exciting times
Over the next few years, we'll be embarking on a major redesign and redevelopment of White Rock Gardens, and the 'Bohemia Quarter'. This will probably be the biggest public space redevelopment in Hastings since the last war, and would mean new, modern facilities for sport, leisure, and culture, developing this space to complement Hastings Pier, and become a new destination for our town.
Hastings Council owns all the land from the seafront by the pier, up through White Rock Gardens, and across Bohemia Road to Summerfield Woods. Much of this area is currently underused, and the facilities there are old and worn out. Summerfields Leisure Centre is outdated and needs replacing. The Falaise fitness centre was originally a tea dance venue, built in the 1930s. The White Rock Theatre was built for the Hastings Municipal Orchestra and was never intended to be a theatre - it doesn't work as a modern performance venue. There are disused tennis courts and bowling greens and the outdoor spaces are not much visited.
Last year, a couple of hundred people from local businesses and community groups participated in drawing up a 'master plan' for the area, which has been available on the council website. As with all master plans, this was more of an exploration of what was possible rather than an actual plan for what will be there.
Now the process moves on to a more formal stage, through the creation of an Area Action Plan (AAP), for Bohemia Quarter and the town centre. This still won't show exactly what buildings or other facilities will go where, but it will determine what broad purposes different areas of land will be used for. Work on this has already begun, with public consultation beginning over the summer, and eventual adoption at the end of 2019 after an 'examination in public' by a planning inspector.
While there is not yet any detail, there are some priorities we want to achieve through the plan. We need a new leisure centre, incorporating a pool, fitness centre and other leisure facilities. We need a new, modern performance venue - most likely a new building, if it's not possible to revamp the White Rock Theatre. And we'll still need a showground, to replace (or enhance) The Oval.
Initial views have been that it would be better to have new built facilities towards the back of the site, and north of Bohemia Road, with new gardens and outdoor leisure facilities at the southern end. That will be subject to consultation through the Area Action Plan. But the theme here will be a place that combines leisure, culture, and sport: somewhere to 'rest and play'.
The redevelopment will, however, be expensive. While a new performance venue and leisure centre will be cheaper to run than the existing facilities, and should also generate an income, a significant capital investment will be needed. We'll be looking to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership for grants towards this, but some of the capital would come from a good quality housing development, probably towards the north of the area.
So watch out for the AAP consultation when it emerges later this year. This could be one of the most exciting projects we've seen in Hastings for a generation, creating a new cultural, leisure and tourism destination, something quite special for visitors and local people alike.
Council Leader's column