Hastings and Rother are each receiving £20 million through Levelling-up Partnerships and Hastings is also going to benefit from the Long-term Plan for Towns (the ‘Endowment Fund’), where it will receive £20 million over ten years. These partnerships are part of the Conservative Government’s initiative to decentralise power and work more directly with local partners and communities across the country.
The important aspect of both these regeneration projects is that they are designed to provide bespoke place-based regeneration and importantly, the projects are intended to foster regeneration at the community level, including by developing community infrastructure. These projects are essentially designed to put powers and money into the communities most in need. I have long held – and I know that many local people and organisations agree – that a working together approach locally between businesses, local authorities, health, charities, education, police and so on is the most effective and cost-efficient way to achieve positive change in our local communities.
Throughout the past several weeks, officials from the Department of Levelling-up, Housing and Communities have been meeting up with me, Hastings Borough and Rother District Councils, local organisations, individuals from sectors including health and education, charities and businesses across Hastings and Rother to find out our views of what needs to be done to improve our local economy and outcomes for local residents, particularly those from our more disadvantaged communities. I am sure we will see projects covering skills, transport infrastructure, and culture amongst others, but it is currently housing, as I wrote in my column in September last year, which is key to levelling-up in Hastings and Rye, and I have consistently advocated for more social and affordable housing locally. With over 1,400 households in Hastings alone on the housing waiting list, the lack of affordable housing and the risk of homelessness is now acute. I therefore urged Hastings Borough Council to focus its bid for the Levelling-up Partnership on urgently addressing the shortage of affordable housing, especially for rent. As regards Rother District, I was keen that the eastern end of Rother, including Rye and Camber were not overlooked and I look forward to seeing what projects are included in the Rother list. For both Hastings and Rother District, we must also consider the barriers preventing economic growth and regeneration, including transport and infrastructure - such as the Queensway Gateway - and improving our education offer which best meets the needs of our children and young people, ensuring pathways to both higher education, vocational training and employment.
It is important that the projects included in the levelling-up initiatives for Hastings and Rother are community-led and that local people are at the forefront of decision-making and implementation. This will ensure that the needs and priorities of local residents are taken into account and that projects are tailored to our unique social, economic and cultural characteristics. By empowering local people to take ownership of the levelling-up programme, they are more likely to be more successful and sustainable in the long term.
The Long-Term Plan for Towns fundamentally changes the way politics works, putting local communities in control. It is really exciting because the Government has made a 10-year commitment to funding, involving the creation of a new local decision-making body to start the process of setting out a long-term vision to create a 10-year Town Plan for Hastings. The Government is providing £50,000 this year, and £200,000 the next so that Hastings, facilitated by Hastings Borough Council, can build our local capacity, engage and talk to local people about what we want for and from our town. Hastings already has a Town Deal Board, but I very much hope that sector working groups (representing, for example, the town centre, education, health, culture, manufacturing businesses and so on) are set up and participate in a ‘new’ Town Board; it is important that everyone is represented and not one sector nor one individual dominates.
Guidance stipulates that Town Boards must be run by local people for local people: bringing together residents, businesses and community leaders to devise and agree a shared vision for the future. Working together, we can change our town for the better. It is in our hands to make a difference.