The ongoing saga of the refurbishment of York buildings is a classic example of what happens when a Hastings Borough Council project goes wrong.
Most of us know the buildings well, with Milletts on the ground floor and its attractive Victorian black tiling covering its upper floors. Those upper floors have been empty for some years and the idea was formed that there may be value in the unused space being six 1 bedroom flats. This is where things started to wrong. The smartest idea for the council would have been to sell off those upper floors to a private developer, who would have taken on the risk and expense of renovation, whilst providing the council with a chunky receipt for the property that would have amounted to several hundreds of thousands of pounds. Instead Hastings Borough Council was keen to take on the project themselves…
The original cost of the project was considered very expensive as it came to £757,000 to complete and it looked like an uneconomical use of taxpayer’s money as each flat was going to cost £126,000 to renovate. Things went from bad to worse when the plans came back again a few months later, this time at an inflated cost of £846,000 for the project or £141,000 for each flat. There are two important facts that need highlighting at this point. Firstly, the £846,000 was borrowed money and it is to be paid back over a 40-year period regardless of when the project would be completed and if the flats were occupied and proving an income.Nothing was budgeted for periods where the flats would be empty or in arrears. Secondly, when this project was first unveiled it was highlighted that the main aim of the project was to provide affordable accommodation in the town centre that would be paid from peoples housing benefit so they could live there. When the cost rose to the £846,000 this meant that the project could no longer be rented out at social rates or it would be making a loss. This was disappointing but perhaps the project could be completed, and the taxpayers might see some return on the huge borrowing that had been incurred on the scheme.
Sadly, this was not to be the case. Another year on and the project has come back again with yet another huge increase in its expense.This time the cost of the project is looking like it will cost an astronomical £1,011000, a huge increase what was already a very expensive project. Interestingly the council have been quick to start apportioning blame for the increasing costs, namely at the architect, not the one they have employed to carry out their project but the original architect who was responsible for construction 200 years ago of the grade 2 listed building that is giving the council headaches. This round of the blame game sounds hollow, especially as funds should have budgeted for unexpected difficulty.
Instead of spending a million pounds to renovate 6 flats, the council could have sold the property and made a useful sum of money whilst retaining the rent paying shop beneath. It is interesting to note Hastings Labour’s newfound love of the word “regeneration”.All mistakes and expensive white elephants can now be labelled as such and, in keeping with that theory, the local Labour leadership are trying to dress up this latest disaster as a well thought out scheme that will benefit the town. It won’t. The scheme has cost every household in town nearly £30 each: what have you got for your money?
A million pounds could have gone a long way to providing actual regeneration in the town, the Pier could have been bought from the receivers for a fraction of that amount a few years ago. The Old Bathing Pool site in West St Leonards could have been developed into a fantastic multi use park and community space and, of course, they could have built a set of replacement toilets in Harold Place that Labour hastily demolished.
Councillor Rob Lee