SeaChange’s latest project is putting yet another of our local green spaces at risk.

For six years, SeaChange’s North Queensway ‘Innovation’ Park has been sitting empty. Having started off eight years ago with a grand plan to create a – frankly ludicrous – 865 jobs, SeaChange has finally accepted that the site is unmarketable.

Don’t mention the jobs

SeaChange had been trying to market the site as empty plots, for local businesses to build their own units on. Having utterly failed to find a single business which was interested, SeaChange have moved on to their next wheeze: get a huge amount of public money to build the units themselves, in the hope that businesses might find this proposition more attractive.

At the South East Local Enterprise Partnership accountability board meeting in October 2020, SeaChange put forward their plan. For a mere £3.5m from the new ‘Getting Building Fund‘, SeaChange would build 4,000m2 of units on North Queensway, creating 75 jobs [p11] in the process. What happened to the other 790 jobs we were promised is a mystery.

Marline Valley
‘Indistinguishable to…ancient woodland’

In the business case, SeaChange tells us [p4] that they don’t anticipate any problems with the planning application because ‘it builds on previous consents’ (for a car showroom which may or may not ever be built). However, it fails to mention that Natural England expressed concerns about the previous application, particularly as it related to the drainage of the site.

North Queensway is right next to Marline Valley nature reserve. Before SeaChange came along and cleared the site in March 2014, it was covered in woodland which was described [p23] as:

indistinguishable in ecological character to adjoining off-site woodland areas located to the west and north that are designated as both ancient woodland and SSSI.

This meant nothing to SeaChange, who turned the site into a wasteland.

North Queensway, March 2014
Marline Valley threatened

Now, however, there’s a new threat – to the nature reserve itself. Marline Valley is owned by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) but has been leased to Sussex Wildlife Trust since the 1980s. HBC describes the nature reserve thus:

Marline Wood is well-known for the diverse community of rare liverworts and mosses. These can be found growing alongside the gill stream and on sandstone outcrops within the wood. The humid gill woodlands support a unique community of rare ferns and lower plants as well as populations of broad-leaved and violet helleborines.The woodlands support breeding willow tit, firecrest, nightingale, and hawfinch. Insects such as white admiral and purple hairstreak can also be seen.In summer the meadows are carpeted in common spotted orchids, Dyer’s greenweed and yellow rattle and many other wild flowers. Many different butterfly species can be seen including grizzled skippers and green hairstreaks.

Marline Valley
‘Considerable concerns’ and ‘significant risk’

In November 2020, SeaChange put in an application to HBC for a scoping test in regard to North Queensway. A scoping test is a request for the planning authority to provide the applicant with information about what needs to be included in the Environmental Impact Assessment for the application.

As part of this process, HBC was required to contact Natural England about their views. And what Natural England said is potentially very bad news for SeaChange. In its response to HBC, Natural England says:

Natural England has considerable concerns regarding this application. We have providedsubstantive advice in numerous applications regarding the complex hydrogeological impact pathways that exist between the Queensway North site and the adjacent Marline Valley Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The interest features of the SSSI include bryophytes which rely on the continuation of the existing hydrological regime (the quality and quantity of water flowing from the application site to the SSSI). The development of Queensway North is a significant risk to the SSSI’s interest features as the developments disrupt the hydrological regime by removing and altering existing permeable areas and introducing pollution risks. [emphasis added]

Larger plot ‘should be omitted from development’

And as if that weren’t bad enough, the letter goes on to say:

In addition to advising on the impact of developing Queensway North to the SSSI we have consistently highlighted that the area covered by Development Plot 2.1 should be omitted from development as this is closest to the SSSI and contains permeable sandstone outcrops taking water directly to the SSSI. [emphasis added]

In the proposed plan of the site, we can see that development plot 2.1 is by far the bigger of the two plots:

In fact, it covers 2300m2, well over half the total proposed area. Without plot 2.1, it’s very likely the whole development will be unviable. This possibility is referenced by SeaChange in its business plan (p21) for the site:

Whilst either plot could in theory be delivered in isolation, any reduced option would have a much lesser role in responding to the need for modern suitable premises or to COVID-19 recovery. Similarly, investment in a recued [sic] scheme would significantly diminish the returns to SCS that it expects from its investment in the project and so a reduced project option has been discounted. [emphasis added]

The ‘investment in the project’ that SeaChange is referencing is £1m, which it is required to come up with in order to get the £3.5m in funding from SELEP. Let us not forget, however, that every penny SeaChange has started off as public money, which has been taken from the public purse and given to an unaccountable private company. Clearly, saving an SSSI is of less importance to SeaChange than profiting from its ‘investment’.

Natural England frustrated

Read the latest advice given to HBC by Natural England in regard to this application, and you will start to hear a real frustration that the advice given to SeaChange over the years about North Queensway has been ignored:

Of great concern are the proposals to develop in the north west plot. This has outcrops of sandstone and we had advised that development avoided this area. It is a matter of great concern that our clear advice is not being followed with the latest proposals. [emphasis added]

SeaChange has not yet submitted a planning application for North Queensway, but will undoubtedly seek to find a way to get round Natural England’s concerns. Hastings Borough Council’s planning committee previously gave the green light to the complete destruction of Hollington Valley nature reserve, more concerned as it was about saving motorists a few minutes than saving one of our precious green spaces. Will it be any different this time?