Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Will the sun shine on us in 2013?

Waiting for the Hastings v Middlesborough tie to get underway
2013 opened with glorious sunshine. On New Year’s Day the seafront was packed with promenaders as if it were a Summer’s day. The sun had appeared after what seemed weeks of being hidden behind rain clouds and stormy winds. Tragically 2012 had ended with one of the council’s close friends and collaborators sadly losing their life after an incident on that same seafront. Fran McKeown of Hastings Voluntary Action died despite the best efforts of the emergency services and passers-by to save her. She will be remembered with affection and gratitude by many of us in the town.

So what does 2013 hold for us? Will the sun continue to shine on Hastings?

We are all eagerly awaiting work commencing to restore our Pier with the council completing the compulsory purchase now that the Heritage Lottery has come up with the £11.4 million. The calendar of festivals and events is already prepared from Fat Tuesday in February, through Jack in the Green on May Day, right through to the Seafood and Wine Festival and a second Herring Fair. And the free entertainment offered by Stade Saturdays will continue for a second year from May to September. I’m sure the new management arrangements for St Mary in the Castle will really come into their own in 2013.
The council will carry on getting stuck in to derelict and scruffy buildings and just now work is underway on some of the most prominent of them – like the Congregational Church on Pevensey Road and buildings on Robertson Terrace and Eversfield Place. In Ore Valley we intend going through with the compulsory purchase and demolition of the eyesore that is the old Malvern pub with the aim of creating new houses on the site.

The council will also be launching a second round of its mortgage deposit scheme offering first time buyers of existing properties the chance to get a mortgage with just a 5% deposit and not the 25% they have been fearing. We are also looking to press ahead with a major scheme with a housing association to buy up privately rented houses in multiple occupation in Central St Leonards, improve them, and change them to larger flats aiming at a more settled community.

Our new waste contract negotiated jointly with other East Sussex councils starts in the middle of this year and will bring with it doorstep collection of glass as well as of a wider number of plastics and other recyclates. But whatever the weather forecast for the town there is a dark cloud hanging over the council with the government’s financial settlement for local authorities. While we welcome the prospect of a new Efficiency Support Grant Hastings Borough Council is still facing the largest reduction in its revenue spending power of any council in the south of England.

We will carry on trying to make ourselves as efficient as possible but the budget for 2013 will inevitably see rises in some fees and charges, reductions in some council services and fewer people employed by the council. Inevitably local people will feel the impact of these changes however much we try to shield them.

There will be some major challenges in 2013 but the council leadership remains optimistic and ambitious for the town and its future.