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Bohemia Estate Land Sale – Heather Grief voices concerns

BOHEMIA ESTATE LAND SALE
By Heather Grief

Bohemia Estate Land for Sale

Bohemia Estate Land for Sale

I am concerned about a piece of land, between the Fire Station and Police Station, that Hastings Borough Council has put up for sale.

A friend noticed that a ‘For Sale’ board had appeared between the Fire and Police Stations, and I found the details on the Stiles Harold Williams website, www.shw.co.uk

This gave a suggested price of £395,000, and has a map showing the area for sale (outlined in red, see map). I expected it to be just the two buildings – the Registrar’s and the 1066 Business Centre – with the area immediately surrounding them, used for car parking.

But a much larger area of land is included, stretching to Bohemia Road, and including virtually all the land between the Fire and Police Stations.

SUMMERFIELDS WOODS

I have several concerns about HBC’s sale of this land.

My main concern is that access to the Summerfields Woods, ‘Roman’ Bath, Ice House (both Grade II listed), Walled Garden and other features of Wastel Brisco’s country estate will be made much more difficult. Presently, people can wander around the estate without any hindrance, on foot, and can park both in the Horntye Park car park next to the Ice House, and on the roads in front of the police station and law courts. If the whole area of land up for sale is sold, then access could be severely restricted, and it could become impossible to walk between the Ice House and the features to the south-east of the law courts, as there are no rights of way within the estate. There would also be nowhere for people to park when going to events at the Walled Garden – it is open every Sunday 10-12, weather permitting (the paths become impassable in wet weather).

HERITAGE OPEN DAYS

Each year, the Walled Garden and Ice House are open as part of Heritage Open Days. On Sunday 15th September this year, visitors’ cars filled the area in front of the law courts etc. There is nowhere to park on Bohemia Rd, due to double yellow lines, and nearby residential streets are full of locals’ cars. Many people travel from outside the area to visit places on Heritage Open Days, and have enough problems finding the estate, without then having to try to find somewhere to park elsewhere and find their way back.  People with limited mobility would find this all too much.

HOTEL ?

The Summerfields / Bohemia estate has an interesting and important history, going back to Domesday Book (see my book, ‘Bohemia Farm to Summerfields Estate: a History’, for sale at the History House and Hastings Museum). This long history could be capitalised on, to make the estate a tourist attraction. The 18th / 19th century ‘cream tea’ path could be reinstated, with a suitable refreshments stop (making a nice profit and providing jobs for local people) along the way. Hastings Museum could be involved. A hotel on the site of Bohemia Mansion / the current Registrar’s and 1066 Business Centre, would be a good development, providing jobs for locals, and bringing tourists to the town, and it could capitalise on its position to do activity holidays – the estate is teeming in flora and fauna, and would be good for artistic courses, as well as the botany, ornithology, bug life and human history. Cricket etc coaching would be another possibility, involving Horntye Park and Summerfields Leisure Centre.

However, if blocks of flats / rows of ‘rabbit hutches’ cover the area, the integrity of the estate will be spoiled. I also fear that with increasing financial pressure, it would be the thin end of the wedge.

PATHS

The council compulsorily purchased the 40+ acre estate, then in use as a prep school and grounds, in 1966, to build a civic centre, with the grounds to be a public park – I have heard that several public gardens / playing fields in St. Leonards were sold, to raise the cash needed to buy the estate, on the understanding that the local populace would be compensated for these losses by being able to use the grounds as a public open space. This promise should be kept properly. The Bohemia Walled Garden Association, and the Friends of Summerfields Woods, have been trying to get Hastings Borough Council to put in proper surfaces on paths (laid out by Brisco) around the estate, so that people can access and enjoy the different areas of the estate in all weather conditions – currently, wet weather makes some paths impassable, due to deep mud. These should also be made public rights of way, to ensure public access in the future.

LOCAL PLAN

There is also a democratic issue: there has never been any public discussion or consultation regarding the future use of the area occupied by the Registrar and 1066 Business Centre. The 2004 Local Plan excluded this bit of the estate as not suitable/available for classifying. Now that it is becoming available, there should be discussion of the site’s future use.

All the rest of the estate (that has not had civic / amenity buildings built on it) is, I believe, classified either as amenity land or as playing field. If these local plans are to mean anything, they should be followed. The area of land for sale (inside the red line) includes amenity land. I am especially concerned about the finger of land running south-east from the Business Centre, which is part of Summerfields Woods / access to it, from the road in front of the law courts. This effectively blocks access from Bohemia Rd to Summerfields Woods and the Walled Garden.

I do not have experience of the system for applying to establish public rights of way; I think any of the paths would qualify as having been freely used for over 25 years.

CAMPAIGN

I have written to Amber Rudd MP. I have also contacted Cllr Andrew Cartwright, who replied that due to central government funding cuts, HBC has to sell land wherever it can, and regrets that there is no choice. I feel that if sales are necessary, HBC should be more commercially astute and at the same time get the best result for the future of our town, by giving planning permission to land to be sold (greatly increasing the price that can be obtained), with suitable restrictive conditions imposed on it. Officially, HBC has a policy that any site currently being used in a way that provides jobs should continue to be used to provide jobs, but when I rang Stiles Harold Williams, they suggested a block of flats would be a suitable development for the site. Unfortunately, I am too busy to lead a campaign to go further with this, but I am very concerned at the possible loss of historic and amenity value to the town, for very little (in the scale of local government finances) gain.

 

2 Comments

  1. This sounds like Hastings Borough Council, selling off public land cheap in a very historic area, we need access to this lovely open space.

  2. Hey Folks,
    I was interested in the write-up about Summerfields, it used to be a “Posh” boys school when I was a nipper in the early thirtys. I can
    remember being chased out of the woods more than once. Oh those halcyon days !!
    Still keep up the GOOD work
    Regards “Bohemian Bill”

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