Bunhill: Bouncers fly in the Battle of Hastings

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The Independent Online
IN 1066 William the Conqueror stepped ashore at Hastings, immortalising the year in English history. Nothing much happened in the town for the next nine centuries. Then property developers from Boots arrived, looking to build a shopping centre on the cricket ground in the middle of the Sussex town.

As Sellar and Yeatman, the authors of 1066 And All That, might have put it, this was a Bad Thing because:

(1) The seven-acre ground was the only large green space in the centre of the town and was held in trust for the sport and recreation of local people.

(2) Struggling local shopkeepers did not want the extra competition.

(3) WG Grace once played there.

However, Roger Carrier, chief executive of the local council, was ambitious. Hastings had become tatty, losing shoppers to Tunbridge Wells and Eastbourne. He wanted to make it Top Town again. An earlier attempt to build on the sacred turf had failed when the developer, Speyhawk, went bust.

So the council welcomed Boots. It believed opponents of the scheme were, like the Cavaliers in the Civil War, Wromantic but Wrong. The Roundheads at Boots, with their plan for 55 shops and a five-storey car park, might be Repulsive, but they were Right. The cricketers could move to another ground on the outskirts of town.

The row got more and more bitter. The shopkeepers, also known as the Hastings and St Leonards Chamber of Commerce, said the project would be 'disastrous for Hastings', creating a 'half- empty town and a half-empty shopping centre'. Carrier accused them of 'naivety and narrow-mindedness'.

Hastings Alternative, the ginger group, attacked Carrier for being 'hysterical, arrogant and insulting'. Dora Dobson, its chairman, accused him of trying to bulldoze the project through by holding a council meeting to approve it in August, when many people are on holiday.

This was hotly denied by Carrier: 'We never have a recess in August. That's typical of the kind of nonsense these people utter.'

Graeme Mounsey, chairman of the trustees, then bowled a googly, warning that the cricketers wouldn't be budging at all unless the council offered more generous compensation.

The council's planning and highways committee meets in public this Thursday to approve the project. It promises to be a lively affair. I suspect peace won't be breaking out in Hastings quite yet.

(Photograph omitted)