ANNEX D: VISIT NOTE - STAKEHOLDERS IN
HASTINGS, 18 OCTOBER 2006
Dr Phyllis Starkey MP (Chair)
Lyn Brown MP
Dr John Pugh MP
Robin Deane (Performance
Director, 1066 Housing Association)
Clive Galbraith (Co-chair
of the Local Strategic Partnership)
John Hodges (Co-chair
of the Local Strategic Partnership)
Tim Hulme (Director of
Projects, Hastings New College)
Steve Manwaring (Director,
Hastings Voluntary Action)
Graham Marley (Ten Sixty
Cllr Matthew Lock (lead
member regeneration at Hastings Borough Council, and East Sussex
County Council transport lead)
Roy Mawford (Chief Executive,
Hastings Borough Council)
Cheryl Miller (Chief Executive,
East Sussex County Council)
Michael Nix (Partnership
Director, Hastings and Rother Learning and Skills Council)
Cllr Peter Pragnell (Leader
of Hastings Borough Council)
Cllr Simon Radford-Kirby
(economic development projects, East Sussex County Council)
John Shaw (Director, Sea
Space (local regeneration company))
Luke Springthorpe (Chair,
Young Persons' Council)
Steve Swan (National Sales
and Development Manager, Tomorrow's People)
Owen Thompson (Chair,
Local Strategic Partnership equalities group)
The Chair opened the meeting by thanking local stakeholders
for attending, and outlined the main themes of the Committee's
Cllr Pragnell welcomed
the Committee on behalf of the participants. He stated that having
recently become council leader, he and his group intended to maintain
the cross-party commitment to regenerating Hastings, a prime example
of which was the university centre in which we were having the
meeting. But it had taken the town 40 to 60 years to decline,
and regeneration would be a long-term process. He said that the
key issue facing the town was education and training with a view
to improving the skills base in order to attract employers. An
early key plank of that programme would be the development of
a major college on the old station site.
Mr Mawford said Hastings
had, 50 years ago, been the third tourist resort in the country
behind Blackpool and Bournemouth, but that over-reliance on tourism
was part of the reason for subsequent decline. None the less,
although education was, indeed, the key issue in reviving Hastings,
tourism remained the second most important issue. Transport was
the third major need: Hastings connections with Kent and beyond
were vital to bring wages, house prices and employment levels
Ms Miller said Hastings
differed significantly from other coastal towns in the strength
of the partnerships forged between the various strands of local
government and development agencies. This had arisen from the
Government's rejection of a bypass plan, leading to the creation
of a 10-year, five-point plan for the area.
Mr Shaw outlined the vision
for Hastings contained in those five points: 1) Urban renaissance.
2) Educational excellence. 3) Business and enterprise initiatives
aimed at existing businesses, expansion and links to educational
institutions. 4) Improving IT use in business, particularly broadband.
5) Improved transport connections, both road and rail.
He added that Hastings' employment demography gave
the town unique problems:
- 41% is public sector;
- 13% manufacturing (which is above the regional
- 22% is in distribution, retailing and hospitality
(below the 29% regional average);
- 8% is in financial services (well below the 22%
This profile highlighted the lack of high-skilled
employment opportunities in the area. In addition, the employment
rate was 70%, against a national 80% average, and educational
qualifications also fell below national averages.
Finally, Hastings suffered from low-quality housing
stock as a result of poor conversion of former tourist resort
properties. In the 1950s, the town had 50,000 bed nights, with
accommodation to match. Now the figure was nearer 900 bed nights,
with the accommodation converted into flats or HMOs.
Mr Hodges said Hastings's
problems stretched back 150 rather than just 50 years. The town
had always had transient populations moving through and had been
at the fringe of everything and the centre of nothing. The former
tourist hotels had now become transient accommodation for refugees,
with a high concentration of Kosovans. But the town needed to
remember it had a 180 degree hinterland, with the view in the
direction of the other 180 degrees across the channel.
Mr Deane talked about
the neighbourhood renewal focus on social housing. The neighbourhood
renewal unit, in particular, had a strongly urban focus, rather
than dealing with specifically coastal concerns. HMOs were a common
issue facing coastal towns.
Mr Hulme also said the
town had significant similarities with Margate and Folkestone
as former coastal resorts. The new college in Hastings was focused
on improving skills among the young, with 1,200 full-time and
10,000 part-time students. Employers seeking workers had reported
that basic reading and writing skills in the area were often poor
- in some instances, school leavers had the literacy levels of
10-year-olds. For the college, that raised the difficulty that
students of the right age were often a long way from being able
to undertake further education.
Mr Mawford added that
the town had an unusual population profile: more young and older
people than average, with consequently fewer in the middle age
Cllr Radford-Kirby said
that Hastings suffered, as the whole of East Sussex did, from
accessibility problems. This was nothing new: 14th century east
Sussex peasants had been unable to join the Peasants' Revolt for
lack of usable roads.
He highlighted significant local employment issues,
such as the seasonality of employment and the number of low-paid
jobs - "not what you'd want if you had a choice".
Cllr Pragnell, in response
to questions, stressed that tourism was not the No. 1 industry
in the town, and had not been since at least the 1970s. Although
educational attainment was rising, the town still had high levels
of people suffering mental health problems.
Mr Marley said there were
two key issues: skill levels and 'employability' among younger
people; and transport, with 85% of the area's businesses and micro-businesses
operating within a 10-mile radius because they simply couldn't
get out any further.
Mr Swann, national sales
and development manager of Tomorrow's People, pleaded with the
Committee not to forget disadvantaged people and the work of the
third sector. He said that Single Regeneration Budget funding
for his group would end in March and that the Learning and Skills
Council was providing only 10 months' funding for educational
provision. Sustainable long-term funding for the third sector
was a priority.
Mr Thompson, chair of
the local strategic partnership equalities group, said that Hastings
was a multicultural town. It had become a dispersal area for
asylum seekers, but without sufficient government support for
that burden in an already deprived area. The town had coped, but
needed more help.
Cllr Pragnell added that
the number of asylum seekers being housed in the town was falling
off, and that dispersal was being handled better with people being
housed at different locations throughout the area: at one point
previously, "torturers and tortured" had been housed
in the same former hotel, leading to the obvious trouble between
Cllr Matthew Lock said,
on educational needs and skills levels, that he had been shocked
to read a survey saying most employers in the area would prefer
to employ an ex-prisoner than a school-leaver on the grounds that
the former were more reliable.
Cllr Radford-Kirby said
that there had not been enough money to deal with dispersal of
asylum seekers in Hastings, perhaps because the area suffered
from the incorrect perception that the south-east is rich.
Ms Miller noted that the
black and minority ethnic population of the area was only 3% of
Mr Thompson added that
that population had previously been negligible: when he arrived
in Hastings 40 years ago, his was the only dark face he ever saw.
Cllr Pragnell added, though,
that there are now between 70 and 90 ethnic groups within the
Ms Miller said that a
response to the changing population was required from the area's
education authority, and that increasing legal constraints on
how the travellers population should be dealt with raised issues.
She agreed with Mr Radford-Kirby that Hastings
might be seen as prosperous because it was in the south-east,
while it in fact had the same GDP as Merseyside or Humberside.
She, too, stressed connectivity problems
it takes as long to go from Hastings to London as from London
She, too, said improved tourism will not alone regenerate
the town: better employment opportunities are the route to economic
improvement, while changing the town's image as somewhere people
retire to is also essential.
She also explained the need to change the town's
demographic profile, stressing that Hastings had among the highest
proportions of elderly people in the country.
Mr Manwaring, said although
Hastings was a small place it had a vibrant voluntary sector with
more than 400 organisations at work. But local action sometimes
happened in spite of rather than because of national programmes.
He called for neighbourhood renewal assistance to help get self-starting
local schemes under way.
Cllr Lock, in response
to questioning on whether the role of tourism was not being undervalued,
said that Hastings was looking forwards not backwards.
Cllr Pragnell added that
the town had a past and was proud of it the recent 940th
anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Hastings, for example.
Links were being forged with Bayeux, Calvados and Caen on the
basis of that shared past, but Hastings was not primarily a seaside
resort and tourism alone would not be enough to lift out of decline
a town that was the 39th most deprived borough among 350.
Mr Hedges said, however,
that 2,000 people had taken part in the Battle of Hastings re-enactment
recently, with 10,000 in the area and spending money for the event.
He said many of Hastings's problems were self-inflicted, with
inept councils not investing properly.
Mr Springthorpe said
there were 25,000 young people in the area. His main interest
was in the social side of regeneration, with a major need for
a youth building offering educational and recreational opportunities.
Otherwise, drinking was a local problem because young people had
few places to go but pubs, especially in the winter months.
He said local buses could do better at serving people's
needs rather than sticking to set routes: for example, they could
focus on places young people might leave in significant numbers
late at night.
Older people in the town perceived a pandemic of
youngsters out drinking on the streets, a perception that could
be partly addressed by creating a centre for the younger population.
Like Cllr Lock, he was appalled by the survey
reporting that employers were more likely to employ ex-prisoners
than young people, and he felt that owed something to perceptions
created by the media about young people's habits and educational
He believed that most young people would want to
leave the town when it came to seeking jobs. There simply were
not enough high-end jobs, with Brighton and London much more attractive.
Low-skilled jobs were available, but the town badly needed a
high-skilled labour force so that jobs would be created in the
He also said that while schools surrounding Hastings
were of good quality, standards within the town's schools were
It fairly easy to obtain "soft" drugs
cannabis and ecstasy in particular. Some cocaine was also available.
He believed that these drugs came to the town from London.
Mr Thompson praised the
youth council for working with older people in the town on common
Mr Mawford, questioned
about perceptions of the town created by the media, said the local
media were generally supportive, but that national media stories,
particularly in the Daily Mail, had been deeply unhelpful.