‘Stop former Hastings school site from becoming just another housing estate’

A former school in Hastings is expected to be sold to a property developer, following a meeting this week.

The entrance to the old St Leonards Academy site, Darwell Close. Pictured 27/1/21 SUS-210127-095848001
The entrance to the old St Leonards Academy site, Darwell Close. Pictured 27/1/21 SUS-210127-095848001

On Tuesday (January 26), Cllr Nick Bennett, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for resources, singed off on proposals to sell the St Leonards Academy’s former Darwell Close campus, also known as the former Grove School site.

Details of the sale price and the purchaser are currently confidential, although it is very likely the land is to be sold to a residential property developer as it has outline planning permission for a 210-home development.

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This fact saw some saw opposition to sale from ward councillor Matthew Beaver (Con), who said: “The [planned] development shows the worst of what can happen when the council has one overridding priority and that is to build as many houses as it possibly can regardless of what green spaces it concretes over. 

St Leonards Academy, Darwell Campus pictured in 2013. SUS-210127-095822001

“Local residents, as far as I am aware, all oppose the development itself. There are a number of reasons, including the number of houses being crammed on the site, the devastation to the environment of the area, the fate of the multi-use games areas and the inadequate junction proposed.

“The site is important to many residents in my division and as I have previously stated many would like it just not sold off at all, especially as the eventual outcome is the development of 210 houses.

“But if it is to be – and it sounds like it will be – then Hastings Borough Council and developers need to finally listen to residents concerns before this becomes just another housing estate in the area.” 

Another Hastings councillor, Labour group co-leader Godfrey Daniel, took a differing view however. 

Cllr Daniel said: “I understand where Matthew is coming from. He has a duty to look after his residents and express their views.

“But with my history of planning, I also know that residents tend to oppose 99 per cent of developments near them, so there is no great surprise.

“It is a brownfield site when all is said and done. It might look like a green space, but that is not how it is allocated in terms of planning so I think it reasonable to dispose of it.”

Cllr Beaver’s calls to halt the sale of the land – and the chance of subsequent development as a result – failed to win over Cllr Bennett, however.

Cllr Bennett said: “I can understand but I can’t agree to that. I’ve asked for it to be disposed of because it is surplus to requirement. We can’t just hold land.

 “Also it is a private premises, not land they can use as an amenity. It’s part of the old school field, it is not going to be turned over to us a village green.”

After hearing from Cllr Beaver, Cllr Bennett agreed to the disposal of the land. The meeting then entered a private session as Cllr Bennett considered the confidential finances of the sale process. 

While the site already has outline planning permission, the consent was granted some time ago with a legal agreement signed in June 2018. 

As a result, any reserved matters application would need to be submitted prior to before 21 June 2021 to avoid the time limit on the existing permission. 

The outline consent binds any future developer to providing at least 25 per cent of the site as affordable housing as well as significant financial contributions to local services and infrastructure.

The previous school buildings have already been demolished.