Hastings Local Plan Consultation Draft (Regulation 18)
2. Hastings in Context
2.1 Before outlining our emerging policy ideas for the future development of Hastings, in this section of the plan we briefly 'set the scene' with a summary of important facts about our town. This draws on the information and data that we have published as part of our Local Plan evidence base available on our website. This has helped deepen our understanding of the place and the needs of our communities, making sure that our development strategy is relevant and delivers the right kind of homes, business space, and community and other supporting infrastructure.
2.2 Hastings is located on the south coast of England. Figure 2.1 shows the connection of Hastings to the rest of the South East. Our town has almost eight miles of coastline and is surrounded by the mainly rural district of Rother. The natural and open space of the High Weald is located to the north and includes Hastings Country Park to the east. Combe Valley Countryside Park lies to the western side of the Borough.
2.3 The town is served by four railway stations: Hastings, West St Leonards, St Leonards Warrior Square and Ore. Direct connections to London and Gatwick International Airport are available by train with journey times of around an hour and a half. The A21 road connects with the A259 in central Hastings, the main east – west road link along the seafront. Combe Valley Way (A2690) was completed in 2015 and connects the A259 in Bexhill to a junction with the B2092/A2690 Queensway in Hastings. The route is designed to ease congestion on the A259 by providing a second main road link between the towns and a more direct link from the A27 to the A28 via the A259 and the industrial locations along this corridor. Linked to this is the Queensway Gateway Road which is currently under construction.
Figure 2.1 Map showing the connection of Hastings to the rest of the South East
2.4 Hastings developed from a small fishing port to a substantial town and is known worldwide for its rich history including the Norman Conquest in 1066, almost 1,000 years ago. Hastings' history is shaped partly by its relationship to the sea and the physical constraints of its environment, wrapped as it is by the rural landscape of Rother and the sea to the south. It is also influenced by its distance of just 65 miles from central London. Following a period of significant economic decline over the latter half of the 20th century, Hastings is now well on its way in terms of its regeneration journey. Hastings has benefitted from in excess of £450m capital investment4, including state of the art further education colleges located in Hastings Town Centre and Ore Valley, new office space at Priory Quarter, business centres, eco-retrofits of housing and employment stock, road improvements, schools and cultural and creative facilities. Town Centre neighbourhoods have been transformed to create attractive and popular destinations to live, work and shop.
2.5 Hastings is growing, changing and developing but there are still a number of challenges to be met before we can truly achieve our objectives. Hastings is the 13th most deprived town in England5 with a quarter of children living in poverty6. While the skills base of the resident population has gradually improved, including the proportion with higher qualifications (NVQ4+), 20% of the working age population have no qualifications7. Unemployment hovers at around 4.8% and our job density (jobs per person) is just 0.66 which is well below the 0.88 average in the South East. Improving access to training and job opportunities is therefore a priority.
2.6 Linked to the lack of employment opportunity and poverty, there are significant public health challenges that need to be overcome. Hastings has the worst life expectancy at birth and at age 75 of all the districts and boroughs in East Sussex.8. A quarter of 4 and 5 year olds and 33% of 10 and 11 year olds are considered obese 9. The poor health outcomes experienced by too many members of our community is an essential focus for all of our partners.
2.7 Major infrastructure challenges also exist. Despite having the ambition, we do not yet have the high-speed rail connections enjoyed by other areas, and power supply and topography limits train lengths on the railway line from Hastings to Tunbridge Wells and London. Travellers on both the A21 and A259 roads experience severe delays at key junctions10. Better walking and cycling infrastructure – as well as buses - is needed across the town to make leaving the car at home easier for the 64% of people who still travel to work by car11. Investment in walking and cycling infrastructure (active travel) is essential to our goals to reduce carbon emissions from transport and can also have positive public health benefits.
2.8 Digital connections are improving. The East Sussex County Council led 'eSussex' project has made significant progress in improving connectivity. While 'Superfast' coverage in Hastings (>30Mbps) is 99%, Ultrafast coverage (>300Mbps12) is only 0.8% as at July 2020. There will be a need for full fibre infrastructure Borough-wide although neither Openreach nor CityFibre have yet selected Hastings for commercial investment.
2.9 Hastings is not immune from the global problems that face towns and cities across the world. The climate is changing due to greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. The impacts of an increase in temperature by one degree Celsius are being felt today. We are seeing the increased frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events including heatwaves, droughts, flooding, major storms occurring throughout the year and wildfires. Average temperatures for the last 10 years have been the highest on record. In 2018 a worldwide movement of climate emergency declarations began. Hastings Council being one of the first councils agreeing a motion to declare a climate emergency in February 2019, including to make Hastings carbon neutral by 2030.
2.10 It is difficult to assess the long term effects of Covid-19 on the country, but its impact has been acutely felt. Over just a few months in 2020 Covid-19 transformed life in the UK. The social and economic consequences on the national economy over the next few years are likely to be significant and will affect Hastings. Social changes such as where and how people choose to live and work are not yet clear or understood - but we anticipate a dramatic expansion of remote working.
2.11 These problems are significant and pressing but Hastings also has much to offer. Many of those who have already chosen our town as home would live nowhere else. Hastings is a quirky, independent, and free-spirited town perhaps most evident in traditional community-led events like Jack in the Green and the Hastings Bonfire to more modern arts and cultural facilities including the Hastings Contemporary gallery and a thriving live music scene. Hastings' cultural heritage is a source of local pride.
2.12 The built and natural heritage of our town is extraordinary. The seafront is a key feature of our town; we have a magnificent coastline. Hastings is rich in diverse landscapes too. Wildlife sites include the internationally designated Hastings Cliffs, Special Area of Conservation (SAC), 3 nationally designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest at Marline Valley, Combe Valley and Hastings Cliffs, 8 Local Nature Reserves designated by Hastings Borough Council and 25 Local Wildlife Sites. Hastings also has a stunning historic townscape with numerous high status heritage assets, including; over 900 nationally listed buildings recognised for their special architectural or historic interest, 6 scheduled monument sites, 18 Conservation Areas, two registered historic parks and gardens and numerous sites of archaeological interest. We need to protect and enrich these natural and man-made assets so that we can make Hastings a beautiful, verdant and truly unique place to live, work and visit.
2.13 Hastings cultural attractions combined with the mix of natural spaces and urban built heritage attracts over 4 million visitors each year with around half a million staying overnight. The visitor economy accounts for £358 million in business income each year and some 22% of all employment13.
2.14 Industrial parks are near capacity and occupancy rates for retail properties in Hastings Town Centre are still high for now, bucking national trends. Gross Value Added (GVA), a measure of the value of goods and services produced, has grown in Hastings from 2008 through to 2019 and the value of goods produced is now just over £1.6bn and supports 38,800 jobs14. This equates to around 0.8% of total jobs in the South East region (4.8m) and 0.6% of the regional GVA (£265bn)15.
2.15 The Hastings to Bexhill Link Road (Combe Valley Way) has opened up opportunities for growth. The Queensway Employment Corridor – with the Enviro 21 Park, an environmentally sustainable industrial park, will act as a catalyst for attracting other new businesses and premises. This means that future employment opportunities in this area are strong. South of Ridge West and along Queensway, and through to neighbouring Rother, there are opportunities to increase the volume of industrial and commercial premises and to strengthen the links between the Hastings labour force and the town's exports with the wider market of the UK and beyond.
2.16 There are opportunities ahead. We have been chosen as one of a small number of towns across the country eligible to bid for up to £25m from the Government's "Town Fund" with the opportunity to bid for more money from other national funding streams. We are already working on the Government's "Town Deal" Programme as directed by a board of local leaders to try and leverage in funding to benefit the whole Borough and support implementation of the Local Plan. We enjoy a beautiful natural setting, a breathtakingly rich historic environment – and relative to other parts of the South East lower land values with the opportunity to create added value for investors. We are open to development that delivers our vision.