Hastings Council Leader’s Observer Column – 13 October 2023

Regeneration on the way

Regeneration is often talked about in an abstract way: is gentrification a good thing? How can all communities benefit from growth?

East Sussex County Council are working with Team East Sussex, where business and local government come together, to prepare a Growth Plan for the county. This will be published in the spring after local consultation in each district, and will set out a vision for the next 35 years. It will highlight the potential to invest in strong economic sectors, so they expand and create more training and job opportunities for local residents. In Hastings this will certainly include the vacuum technology sector, the new green training centre at the Ore Campus of East Sussex College, and the buoyant cultural sector.

Central St Leonards now has the highest number of people employed in the creative industries outside of London. This has been a long-term aspiration here and now we are finally the market leaders, their voice needs to be heard in how we plan Hastings regeneration.

Planning regeneration though is always complicated. The town prepares a vision for where we want to go, and how to ensure everyone benefits. But when suddenly major investment opportunities appear, we have to act quickly in order to secure this welcome cash. And that can make the long-term plan harder to deliver.

Now we have this happening again. Just as we complete the complicated Town Deal package and deliver the Shared Prosperity Fund three-year regeneration of Broomgrove, we have been told that new government investment of £40m is coming to Hastings. And another £40m to Rother, so we need to work on some of this together. This means an £80m investment locally that could and should attract many millions more. But it comes with nationally agreed rules.

First we have a £20m Levelling Up Partnership that has to be spent on capital, and spent fast. Very little time to develop a new plan, and no time to find other matching funding. So this will need to go to schemes that are ready to go next year.

Secondly, the new £20m for 55 towns, which will be spread over ten years. That means an average of £2m a year, a really useful but actually very modest amount when you consider how many millions have been cut from the public sector over the last 12 years.

The Council will be working with Government to consult widely on priorities for levelling up. And we will also be ensuring a remodelled local town board to oversee this investment. But that takes time and has to be done at the same time as we tackle the housing crisis that is overwhelming our annual budgets.

So, as I said, regeneration is always complex, but Hastings now has the opportunity to transform itself. The town centre, housing, health, our children’s needs, culture and tourism, training for new jobs. These are the issues on the doorstep and we will all be judged by how well we ensure this welcome investment is allocated to these priorities. If you want to be part of this journey, please contact me.