Does Hastings town centre need a roadmap to the future?

Does Hastings town centre need a roadmap to the future?

Hastings Observer column November 2021

Over the last two days, as I’ve been swinging above the town centre in the basket of a cherry-picker helping programme the town Christmas lights, I’ve been thinking about how the town has changed and how it continues to evolve.

Not only did the high vantage point change my perspective on Hastings, but also the driver of the crane helped paint a picture of how different things were 27 years ago when he first started installing the annual festive display.

He remembered vividly the time before the centre was partially pedestrianized – as well as how different the massive iron decorations they had to fight with back then have now been replaced with lightweight and smart fittings that can be controlled via mobile phones.

I may be the biggest Christmas Grinch at home, grumbling every year when I have to rummage in the loft for the box of decorations, but I do hope Hastings will still have the town centre lights next year. This will depend on whether businesses vote in favour of another term for the Business Improvement District – as although the council makes a contribution, it’s unlikely they would ever return to funding them in full.

But looking forward I wonder what the town will look and feel like in another 27 years, as the decisions that are made today all contribute towards shaping its future.

Right now I’m involved with various consultations and planning processes to do with big capital investment projects being led by both our borough and county councils. I’m also chair of the board of the Trinity Triangle Heritage Action Zone – a group made up of representatives from a wide range of organisations.

What is abundantly clear is that one of the biggest problems we face in terms of strategic control over the look of the town’s public realm is the way that funding comes in a disconnected fashion.

So right now we have the county council faced with the need to spend money on resurfacing large sections of paving – but lacking the funds to do the whole area, which will lead to yet another mismatched patch in the jigsaw puzzle of blocks, slabs and tarmac that make up our almost-but-not-quite pedestrianized areas.

Then we have the Town Deal in the early stages of finalising elements of its proposals for a ‘green town’ – which will be several years away, and may well conflict with the current ESCC plans.

This is just one example of a fairly typical scenario that means the evolution of the centre will happen in stages. However, with no clear roadmap to follow, those responsible for each new initiative are left to guess as to which direction their steps should take them. As we consult on our plan for a second five-year term this is, perhaps, something that we can work towards on behalf of local businesses.