I’m confident 2015 is going to be a particularly significant year for our town. Hastings Pier will rise from the ashes – and I’m really pleased the council’s compulsory purchase of the structure played a big part in the restoration and the coming re-opening. Nearby the old White Rock Baths (where Miss Penny taught me to swim all those years ago) will at last come back into use in 2015 as a major new centre for BMX biking.
The council has further exciting plans for the seafront which we have been consulting local people on. The seafront is our shop window and as it improves so the whole town looks more attractive and appealing to visitors or to those planning to move here or relocate their business here. I am determined we will make progress on the old Bathing Pool site in 2015 and the council will be looking at new ideas to unlock the economic potential of the White Rock and Falaise area.
The Bexhill-Hastings Link Road will open in 2015 and if that significantly reduces traffic on the seafront let’s look at how we can civilise that wide concrete space that separates the town from the sea.
Our open spaces will see significant progress in 2015. In the East a new visitor centre is planned for our treasured Country Park and a new visitor facility and play area are being prepared in the West in the new Combe Valley Countryside Park.
But we are not just about high profile improvements; we want to make sure everyone benefits from the revival of Hastings. The council has been consulting on the introduction of a licensing scheme for all privately rented accommodation in large parts of the town to ensure decent homes for tenants. In 2015 the council also plans to trial running a social lettings agency itself – which should benefit tenants and landlords alike. We will also be launching a second phase of the Coastal Space project with AmicusHorizon in Central St Leonards – buying up, improving and letting as social housing a further 50 flats.
In 2015 we will be retaining the same discount arrangements on council tax for benefit claimants despite the government taking away 10% of the funds for this. We will also be looking at how the activities funded by the life-saving local welfare assistance fund can be continued despite the government ending this special pot of money.
2015 will see the plans coming together for the major national cultural festival to mark 2016 the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Cultural regeneration will continue to be a major feature of our work to continue the town’s upward momentum.
I believe Hastings is at a turning point. The positive national press coverage over the last few months indicates how people around the country are looking at our town differently – as a town that is improving, that is creative and lively, a town really going somewhere. 2015 will see further progress in the renaissance of Hastings.
There is, however, a dark cloud hanging over Hastings Borough Council. We are facing the largest reduction in our spending power of any council in the south east following the government’s funding settlement for local authorities. We face a 6.4% reduction in 2015; Wealden council covering affluent places like Crowborough and Wadhurst will see a 1.4% rise. Difficult decisions will have to be made in this year’s council budget, but we will do everything we can to protect jobs and the council services that local residents value the most.