Update 15 March: Hastings Borough Councillor Paul Barnett has also resigned from the SeaChange board as of this date.

“I’ve had enough.” These were the words [minute 30:03] of Councillor Kevin Dixon, the representative for Rother District Council on SeaChange’s board since 2019. Announcing his resignation, Cllr Dixon (the Liberal Democrat member for South Battle and Telham) gave a stinging speech criticising SeaChange’s practices and citing the ‘reputational damage’ of continued association with SeaChange.

“Reputational damage”

Cllr Dixon said [19:31]:

Having been on the [SeaChange] board for over two years, I have felt that the reputational damage to myself and to the council of being associated with SeaChange is just too great.

And it wasn’t just reputational damage that Cllr Dixon was concerned about. He also spoke about the lack of progress and the difficulties of working with SeaChange [19:40]:

Lack of progress on key projects and the constant disagreements with the three local authorities mean that in my opinion the company is not achieving its aim.

Always someone else’s fault

Cllr Dixon went on to detail issues with various SeaChange projects, including the Queensway Gateway road, the North Queensway business park, the North East Bexhill Gateway road and the Bexhill Enterprise Park North. In each case, he said [20:50], SeaChange claimed that the issues were someone else’s fault but never the fault of SeaChange:

Many of the projects listed on the agenda when I first joined the board are still outstanding today. The most damaging is the Hastings Queensway Gateway Road which is years behind schedule. It does affect Rother and is now a much reduced scheme to what was originally proposed.

However according to SeaChange the cause of these delays is East Sussex County Council and National Highways, not SeaChange. The North Queensway Business Park, the funding of £3.5m was lost due to Hastings Borough Council not deciding the application in time, according to SeaChange.

The North East Bexhill Gateway Road still has not been adopted by the county and the North Bexhill Access Road was only adopted by the county last week. This has been causing issues with housebuilding in North East Bexhill and is the fault of course of East Sussex County Council and the housebuilders, according to SeaChange.

The Bexhill Enterprise Park North has been a continual battle with developers, SeaChange, Rother District Council officers and our planning committee with the result of a large and unnecessary cost to Rother and a scheme much changed from what Rother wants and what the planning committee decided.

Undemocractic nature of SeaChange board

He also pointed out [20:00] the undemocratic nature of the SeaChange board, whereby the three local authorities (Rother District Council, Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council) who each have a representative on the board together have just 19.9% of the voting rights – the same as the single education representative (who in fact resigned from the board in 2020).

By contrast, the five businesses from the ‘business association’ (Hastings, Bexhill and East Sussex Business Association Ltd – an ‘association’ not open to local businesses to join and which appears to have been created for the sole purpose of providing pliable members for the SeaChange board) together hold 50% of the vote.

SeaChange “in constant conflict” with councils

At Seachangewatch, we have heard many rumours about the difficulties of working with SeaChange, and in particular with chief executive John Shaw (and have some experience of our own in this regard). Cllr Dixon didn’t mince his words on this subject [22:07]:

Surely, Mr Chairman, the concept of a regeneration company of which three councils are constituent members should mean that the company works in tandem with those authorities. The reality is that SeaChange is in constant conflict with all three authorities and the regeneration aims and objectives of all parties are severely compromised as a result.

No councillor to sit on the board

Rother’s chief executive had proposed another councillor to replace Cllr Dixon on the SeaChange board. However, Cllr Dixon put forward an amendment in which he proposed that Rother should retain membership of SeaChange, but not have a representative on the board, “until such time as that person is able to represent the best interests of the company without compromising the values of the council. The reputation and the work of the council deserves better.” [22:53]

Cllr Dixon’s amendment was put to the vote and was passed unanimously [33:08]. So for the time being, at least, Rother District Council will not have a representative on the board of SeaChange.

Will Hastings Borough Council follow suit?

Just a day later and there were mutterings that Hastings Borough Council may make the same decision. In the March 8 overview and scrutiny committee meeting, Councillor Paul Barnett, the HBC representative on the SeaChange board, said [57:23]:

I do understand that the councillor who represented Rother council has resigned from the board now and I’m considering whether Hastings should do the same.

Time to pull the plug on SeaChange

This is stunning stuff. The key ‘regeneration’ company for East Sussex has proved itself to be so inadequate to the task, and so difficult to work with, that one local council has decided unanimously that it is better not to have representation on the SeaChange board than to risk the reputational damage of being associated with the company. Another council looks very likely to follow suit. Surely it is far past time that the plug was pulled, SeaChange dissolved, and the ‘regeneration’ of roads and business parks was consigned to the bin where it belongs.