Quite a dramatic headline but nonetheless a valid one. The Observer building captured my attention when I first moved to Hastings and I remember looking at it with a client who was looking to invest in the town. Whilst he chose to invest elsewhere, it has amazed me that, since that time, there have been a number of successful planning applications but none of them have led to any work being undertaken to bring the building back into use, despite the fact that the building occupies an important part of the townscape. The urban designer in me is appalled at the slowly dwindling opportunity to revitalise this part of the town centre.
The building was designed by a well-known Hastings architect named Henry Ward, who designed the building for the FJ Parsons Printworks. Other buildings that Henry Ward designed, and which are still standing today are the Congregational Church on Robertson Street in Hastings, the Town Hall in Bexhill-on-Sea and the former Plummer Roddis department store on Robertson Street in Hastings, now occupied by Debenhams.
The building was occupied by the Hastings Observer until they vacated in 1985, at which point an application was made for the change of use to a retail store and warehouse. This application was approved but not executed. A similar story followed for more than ten further planning applications, all of which were approved but none of which were followed by works being undertaken. The building has steadily grown more dilapidated such that it now blights the surrounding area.
I have had the pleasure of joining a steering group set-up to campaign to bring the building back into use and firmly subscribe to the aim to utilise the building as a community hub and centre for social and creative innovation. I have no doubt that the primary impediment to development in the past has been the cost to either use the existing structure or demolish and rebuild in an uncertain market but a factor that will not have helped is the successive increase in sales value of the building following each successful planning permission.
Recently, Mel Bonney-Kane from the Hastings Trust set-up an e-petition to have the building listed as a Community Asset. Mel says,
‘This would be the first real step to enabling the community to bring the building into its custodianship, to prevent further speculative acquisition, dilapidation and neglect. This would enable us to develop our plans, and the funding package required, to protect the industrial heritage, renovate the building, and revitalise the building into a centre for social innovation and creativity, a hub for community and economic activity and a catalyst for community resilience.’
I see this as an exciting opportunity to establish a community hub right on the edge of the town centre and add another pearl to the slowly developing string of pearls linking Hastings Old Town, Hastings town centre and St Leonards-on-Sea.
For any who are interested in signing the petition and learning more about why the building should be listed as a Community Asset, please follow the link below.
I would like to thank spacemutt and monk for the images they provided and which I have used in this post.