This set of Q&A is made up of questions asked by supporters and community members since the first meeting held on 24 Sept 2018 to discuss the proposal to of community led regeneration of the Observer Building. We will add more questions and answers from community members as the project develops. If you have a question, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is behind the redevelopment of the Observer Building?
The project to renovate Observer Building (OB) to create a vibrant mixed use community hub is being driven by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures, local neighbourhood developer and creator of Rock House (adjacent to the OB). We have also had the help of a few fantastic and committed local people working alongside us or acting as champions for the cause. We’re always open to more people participating so do get in touch if you have an idea for the building or want to do something to help the project along. Going forward there will need to be a groundswell of community support to make the project a success.
White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures is made up of 3 equal shareholding partners:
Creates vibrant communities by bringing redundant space into productive, affordable workspaces for start up and small businesses
Coaches neighbourhood groups to achieve positive change in their local areas. Influences nationally to make local change easier. Reinvests profits in Hastings
Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust is a locally owned and controlled initiative to safeguard genuinely affordable live and work space across Hastings and St Leonards.
More broadly, a collaborative DIY regeneration effort in the White Rock neighbourhood is cultivating the Hastings Commons, an ecosystem of connected buildings and tenants with shared values and purpose. This locally-rooted, evolving community aims to create secure homes and work spaces where creativity can thrive, boosting local participation and economic growth, promoting inclusion and diversity and encouraging grassroots enterprise. Other organisations involved in this work are:
What are you planning?
Our plans are still evolving, but we know we want to provide long-term, capped rent housing and workspace and a vibrant leisure destination, working with multiple partners and creating opportunities for local people through the building’s redevelopment.
Forecasting a ten-year transformation, we have identified short-term meanwhile uses, medium and long-term development plans. The initial proposed uses for the site include:
- leisure use on the basement, mezzanine and ground floors
- work pods and office use on the first floor
- capped rent flats on the second and third floor
- a roof garden and common room with a bar looking out to sea on the fourth floor (once the roof is removed).
We completed the purchase of the Observer Building on 13 February 2019, for the negotiated price of £1.15 million.
The purchase has been funded by:
- Ecology Building Society lent us £1.2 million for the purchase as a mortgage secured on Rock House
- Big Issue Invest lent us £150k, amortised over 15 years, to be refinanced between May 2020 and Feb 2022.
- Sean Lask of Castlestone Investments has lent £200k to be refinanced in May 2020
- Hastings Borough Council have granted us £5k to contribute to the interest repayments on the loans
Our plan going forward is to refinance these loans with a series of grants and social investments to bring the building into stable, productive use by the community and reduce interest on loan repayment terms.
Over 10 years, we will deliver a phased, community-rooted redevelopment of the building to create ongoing revenue to meet the repayment terms on loans we take out.
You can see more information about our funders here.
What are the risks?
This is a high-risk venture. We have to fundraise and raise investment throughout the project, meaning progress is dependent on the success of several funding applications. We also need to generate enough income through rentals to pay the interest on the loans we used for the purchase (up to £6000 pcm) to progress.
WRNV has taken on the liability for this, having worked in depth with social lenders and professional advisors to understand and mitigate these risks. Ultimately, the success of the building rides on the building being economically productive from the word go, and this will take a community wide effort.
What does the current planning permission allow and what are the plans to build more floors on the roof?
The planning consent gives permission to build two more floors. We currently have no plans to build above the fourth floor. Our present plan is to remove the faulty roof and invest in creating a roof bar and terrace/garden for the public to enjoy the panoramic views of the town.
We want the Observer Building to be kept sustainably open for the community’s use and thriving going forward, and we have borrowed money from social investment banks to do so.
Who will have access to the roof terrace?
Everyone – we want everyone to be able to enjoy it!
Do you plan to restore the Cambridge Road frontage?
Yes, we intend to restore the heritage frontage of the building as part of the full external concrete repairs package when the funding becomes available to do so. 34 year of neglect has led to some irreparable damage on the front of the building, for example of some tiles are cracked and can’t be replaced to look perfect. However, we will make the building safe and restore the front as closely to its original image as possible.
How much disruption and mess will the renovation work create for neighbours?
Building works will always be limited to weekdays and 8-5pm. We will do whatever we can to limit the noise. Please visit the information for neighbours page for more information and contact details if you have any concerns.
How will access be managed during the building works and once operational?
During the building works, the contractors will access the building through a combination of the Alley, the Cambridge Road entrance and the Prospect Place entrance. Hastings Building Service are committed to minimising the disruption of this and will be as efficient with deliveries as possible.
When the building is operational, the main entrance will be via Cambridge Road. There will be people working on the first floor who may use the Prospect Place entrance and perhaps tenants on the leisure floor. We have listened to the feedback of neighbours and are looking into CCTV for this entrance to avoid loitering at night.
These plans are developing as we go for access so please get in touch if you have ideas or comments.
What is the timescale for completion of the project?
We estimate the building willm take 8 years to get to ‘steady state’ i.e. to have all renovation work completed and to pay for itself. We aim to get the first anchor tenants (floor 1 workspace and alley level floors) moved in by Summer 2020.
We are aiming to start work on the housing in 2021 but this will depend on successfully securing the planning permission and funding.
SECURELY CAPPED RENTS
What do we mean by capped rents?
White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures caps its rents because it wants to create spaces in Hastings Town Centre where people can afford to live and work in the face of rising rents and low local wages.
The rents are set at a percentage of the average income in Hastings and capped in perpetuity so they only rise with inflation, while market rents increase without regulation. Based on research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, WRNV and Heart of Hastings both use the concept of ‘Living Rents’ that are set at one-third of median local income.
Capped rents exist to lock in affordability forever, allowing those who need affordable space to continue to thrive in the town centre.
Rock House Capped Rents are not affordable for me, what is your plan for creating long-term affordable rents?
We have received some feedback that Rock House capped rents are higher than some people are able to afford at present.
However, while private rents sky rocket in the town centre, our rents start out as a fair percentage of the median income for Hastings and are capped in perpetuity. This means they stay stable over time and only rise with inflation. The affordability is locked in long term because our rents effectively become cheaper over time in comparison to the market.
Heart of Hastings and Rock House both reserve some flats for Local Housing Allowance rates, which is something we may consider for the Observer Building too.
What would the rent be?
For information about rents on specific spaces, please email email@example.com.
Why can’t you offer free space to community groups?
When Rock House first opened, there were community members / businesses who used the space at the beginning for cheap rent or for free but unfortunately were never able to generate enough income for their ideas to pay the full rent. They couldn’t stay paying nothing or discounted rents in the place of tenants who could pay the full capped rent – the building has to pay for itself. Even so, the building acted as incubation space for these local creatives and enterprises and we hope that the OB do this too through meanwhile use.
RENTING WORK SPACE
When can I rent work space in the Observer Building?
Some spaces in the OB should be ready for longer-term tenants from summer 2020.
At the moment we are taking expressions of interest from individual tenants (companies/individuals) – you just need to fill out this form.
How are workspace tenants selected?
We select our workspace tenants based on the criteria laid out here.
The process for selection is:
- Express and interest
- Attend an optional viewing once the works are near completion (Beth and Sarah will invite)
- Submit an application form – we assess based on need, local connection, enthusiasm for our ethos and willingness to contribute
- First filter of applications by WRNV team
- Invited to panel interview with an existing OB / RH tenant, a WRNV director and a local community leader from our Independent Advisory Group
- We will let you know if you’ve been successful and begin working with you towards moving in
How much is the rent?
All rents are securely capped and only rise with inflation. Rents vary depending on the type of space and use. The rents which we have already set are available on the Space Available page – this includes the first and second floors. We are working with our Independent Advisory Board to set the rents for the leisure floors at the moment and will publish those soon. Rents include water and wifi but not electricity, but WRNV buy energy in bulk so it is very affordable
Rents do not include business rates but you may be exempt as a small business. Service charge is estimated at £61 per m2 to ensure the building’s sustainability in the early stages of the redevelopment. The service charge will eventually begin to vary based on the cost of running the building and the spend will be scrutinised by a committee made up of OB tenants.
How good is the wifi connection?
We’re proud to say that we have the fastest wifi connection in Hastings, provided by our tenant Tech Box – https://www.technologybox.co.uk/
The broadband speed at Rock House is currently 300Mbps. Between the Observer and Rock House, the buildings will have an “uncontended” 300Mbps upload and download. It takes about 1-2 hours to upload 100GB at the moment.
How much interest have you had for tenancies?
We have had over 120 expressions of interest so far for tenancies for work space, artist studios and leisure space of all kinds (food and drink, visitors attractions, health and fitness facilities, family activities). We won’t be able to accommodate everyone but we’re pleased that what we’re offering is of value to the town. We’re still taking expressions of interest.
RENTING A FLAT
When will the residential flats be ready?
We plan to build up to 16 capped rent flats on the second and third floors. We estimate that the building works will beginning on these in 2021, due to the extensive grant fundraising required to pay for it.
This means the housing element of the OB is likely not to be ready until late 2021. At the moment we are not taking expressions of interest for residential tenants, but we will advertise heavily and email our mailing list contacts well in advance of this to invite applications.
In the meantime, our partner charity Heart of Hastings CLT also offer affordable housing. You can sign up for their mailing list here: https://www.heartofhastings.org.uk/
Would you become a social housing provider?
Heart of Hastings CLT has looked into this previously but being a registered provider (the new name for housing associations) has as many challenges as benefits.
How does this vison fit into the housing/ homelessness crisis?
We recognise there is a massive housing crisis in Hastings. Hastings Council is not building any homes, the social housing waiting list is huge, people are at risk of homelessness because of high rents. The OB would not solve the whole problem, but it would allow us to provide a number of high quality, genuinely stable and affordable homes and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
THE WIDER NEIGHBOURHOOD
What is the ‘ecosystem’ of buildings in White Rock?
Through the positive changes at Rock House, an ‘ecosystem’ of connected buildings and organisations is organically developing in White Rock. Each of the buildings is distinct and run by different organisations, but they have shared value and purpose in their commitment to DIY regeneration, affordable space, collaborative opportunities, local economic growth and productive use of otherwise wasted buildings.
The current buildings (see map below) include:
- The Observer Building (completing purchase on 13th Feb, due for development by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures)
- Rock House (also owned and developed by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures)
- The Caves down the alley behind Claremont (recently purchased by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures for development)
- 39 Cambridge (community owned and developed by Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust)
- 12 Claremont (due for development by Heart of Hastings CLT and Project Artworks in a joint venture)
What are the caves?
White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures has also bought the caves that run alongside the Observer Building and in the alley way. At the moment we think they could be used partly for more effective waste management for all the businesses backing onto the alley, the OB included. We are in consultation with Hastings Borough Council about this.
There may be ways to put them to other community uses, perhaps for small businesses– ideas welcome!
What is your approach to environmental sustainability?
Recycling the underused space in the Observer Building offers (4000 square metres over seven storeys), rather than building something from scratch, is an explicitly sustainable act in itself.
That said, we are committed to doing everything we can, within the constraints of the building and the budget, to promote the sustainability of the OB, both during renovation and once operational.
To comply with modern building regulations, developers generally are compelled to take an environmentally sustainable approach. Environmental sustainability is being discussed as part of the mechanical and electrical (M&E) package for the renovations. We hope that we’ll go further than the minimum requirements where funding allows, so we’re exploring energy efficiency, waste management and sustainable uses, for example the roof garden, harvesting rain water and installing solar panels.
Do you have any concerns about the lack of parking in the neighbourhood?
There is car parking available in the area (on street and Priory Street). The council are working to improve public transport in the area, including a new tram along the seafront.
At Rock House, we encourage our tenants to walk to work and cycle by providing bike storage on site. We will continue to do this at the Observer Building.
How are you working with partners?
We work in partnership on a regular basis in White Rock. Our regular partners include Heart of Hastings and Living Rents, as well as Project Artworks who will be entering a joint venture with Heart of Hastings to develop 12 Claremont.
White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures itself is a partnership organisation, made up of Jericho Road Solutions, Power to Change and Meanwhile Space. There is more information on this on page 1 of this document.
We try to procure locally wherever possible and are currently working with a team of local professionals (architects, engineers, building contractors) to get the initial works off the ground.
Are the council supportive?
Yes – the Regeneration Team at Hastings Borough Council have been particularly helpful by granting us £5k to contribute to the interest on the loans we took out for the purchase. They have met with us on several occasions and we are in continual discussion about how we can work together to further the Observer Building project.
Some individual councillors are very supportive and the leader of the council has expressed support for the building to come into community use and provide affordable housing. Some of the funding for the residential floors could come from the government’s Community Housing Fund.
We are also likely to be in receipt of some funding from East Sussex County Council in the coming months from their Stalled Sites Fund.