A 10 Point Critique of The Harold Place Restaurant Proposal

For now the proposed restaurant is on hold following the refusal of planning permission, but there is little doubt that a revised proposal will be submitted unless the Council can be persuaded to re-evaluate the opportunities presented by this site.

Now may be the time to consider the project’s viability and contextual fit to its proposed location.

Using a ten-point test, Hastings Urban Room explores whether this new restaurant project demonstrates a convincing “Build Back Better” vision for the regeneration of Hastings town centre.

Test 1: A prudent financial Investment?

Whilst the Council have chosen not to publish a detailed business plan for the project, evidence-led data suggests the UK’s restaurant sector continues to struggle in a very crowded and competitive market. Increasingly challenging pressures, including rising energy costs, staffing costs, food prices and shrinking disposal income of potential customers, make it hard to believe that this project is a sound investment at this time. Perhaps the initial decision to ‘invest’ in this project was taken well before the Covid pandemic and these factors were part of the equation?

What measures have HBC taken to mitigate the project’s financial risk?

Test 2: Cost Benefits and Added Value

Best practice “regeneration” projects are now expected to have demonstrable cost benefits and added value. Might the financial investment in this project be better spent on projects which better meet these conditions? Such as safer town centre walking & cycling, more robust civic scale planting, and enhanced access to the seafront?

What are the cost benefits for this new restaurant, and what added value can the project
bring in meeting civic and local community needs?

Test 3: A refreshed identity for Hastings?

A recent report from HBC states “a key objective is to develop a refreshed identity for Hastings.” It is difficult to see how adding more capacity to the existing restaurant offer helps create a new identity. Rather than a convincing and innovative post -Covid vision, this project looks more like it is based on pre-Covid decision making.

In what way does HBC think a new restaurant can help deliver a refreshed identity for

Test 4: Greening the Town centre.

HBC’s potentially transformative Garden Town concept has flagged up the idea of a greener leafier town centre. Civic scale planting would bring nature and seasonal change into the public realm and mitigate the overwhelming visual dominance of buildings (and traffic) within Hastings comparatively tight Victorian urban fabric.

Why then has HBC chosen not to use this site to kick start the garden town vision?

Test 5: Civic Space and Place-making

Civic-scale place-making options within the town centre (excluding the seafront promenade and Priory Meadow) include Station Plaza, Lacuna Place and Harold Place. Of these “social-hub” settings Harold Place’s burgeoning continental style cafe culture, outdoor seating and weekly open markets is more vibrant and innovative in character; a good match with evidence led research that attractive people-friendly spaces can enhance local identity and place.

In what way does HBC think a new restaurant can enhance place-making in Harold Place?

Test 6: Access and Connectivity (Desire lines):

The seaside is a defining feature of Hastings and a major destination for visitors. Whilst seaside access is well served for vehicles, seamless connectivity remains problematic if say walking & cycling from Hastings Station. Where is the Seafront?, A major desire line for visitors (Station Plaza, Havelock Rd, Harold Place, A259, seafront) remains dominated by urban traffic, with associated problems of safety, connectivity and legibility.

In what way does a new restaurant make this primary desire line more and attractive and
easier to navigate?

Test 7: The Public Realm

Previous urban design studies looking at Hastings town centre have stressed the merits of creating a more supportive public realm. “What if” enhancement guidelines include better way-finding signage, civic-scale tree lined boulevards, integral pocket parks and strategic Greenway links. A contemporary public realm, if blended with existing legacy assets such as the seafront promenade and existing pedestrianisation areas would could give Hastings town centre a more robust and potentially future proof public realm.

In what way does a new restaurant enhance Hastings public realm?

Test 8: A Seafront Threshold

Because of its threshold location Harold Place is a major (civic) gateway to the seafront. Whilst seamless access to the seaside promenade and beach does exist via a pedestrian underpass, sight lines to the seafront are impaired by the barrier effect of the A259 & adverse ground levels. HBC’s Restaurant proposal will shrink Harold Place physically and visually and further reduces the options to enhance visual coherence and legibility.

In what way does this project enhance Harold place as a key threshold to the seafront?

Test 9: Who’s Vision for the town centre?

Whilst the former Castle Ward Forum is defunct, the Hastings Commons Collective, based in Eagle House, are developing a community led vision for the town centre. Key objectives include a lower carbon footprint (more walkable and cycling) and rebalancing the hard/soft urban fabric with more supportive urban greenspace for community health and well-being.

To what extend have HBC collaborated with the HCC to develop a partnership vision that
best meets community and civic needs, and how does a new restaurant help?

Test 10: A Holistic Approach for the Town Centre?

A series of previously commissioned Urban Design studies have stressed the merits of a more holistic approach to regenerating Hastings town centre. UK Urban design studies show piece-meal interventions may have a shorter shelf life than evidence led interventions with a contextual logic and more sustainable and resilient profile.

To what extent does the restaurant project demonstrate a contextual logic?