Nearly three years ago, then-Chancellor George Osborne and Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd visited Havelock Place, the then-uncompleted SeaChange project in Hastings town centre. According to SeaChange’s website, George Osborne said:
“Today, I’ve seen first-hand the regeneration taking place in Hastings and the positive effect it’s having on the local economy. Government support, through such schemes as the Growing Places Fund, has boosted projects like Havelock Place, providing much needed finance to get important developments going.”
Growing Places Fund
The project cost £7m, according to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), which has funded so many SeaChange projects. This money came from the government’s ‘Growing Places’ fund, which is for ‘supporting key infrastructure projects designed to unlock wider economic growth, create jobs and build houses in England’. The money given to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) is not a loan; it’s an ‘unringfenced grant’. However, LEPs can choose to use the money for projects on either a grant or a loan basis. It’s not clear on what basis Seachange received the money for this project.
Queensbury House: still there
According to the 2011 planning application for Havelock Place, it was intended that in order to make space for the new development, SeaChange would demolish not only the Victorian terrace at the top of Havelock Road, but also Queensbury House, the not-very-beautiful 1960s office block at the very top of the road, on the junction with Priory Street. They would replace the whole lot with offices. The planning application includes drawings of the proposed development:
However, Queensbury House is still standing, and the offices that were finally built were very much smaller than originally planned. Why this decision was made is not clear – we can only assume that SeaChange realised that they were unlikely to be able to let such a massive area.
How many jobs?
The offices could, according to SeaChange’s report, ‘accommodate up to 350 employees’ (this is interesting wording: SeaChange used to refer to ‘creating jobs’: now we get no such promises). However, SELEP was more optimistic; we’ve been unable to locate the business case for the project but a reference to it in a SELEP document states that Havelock Place will ‘create…440 jobs.’
16% occupied at the start….
A few months later, in March 2015, Havelock Place was finished. SeaChange put a news article on its website, declaring the offices ‘ready to occupy’. The article said that one occupier had already been found, a radiology company called Medica Group (according to Hastings Borough Council’s Development Management Plan Examination, Medica has created only 12 jobs). It also said that the building had a total area of 24,192sq ft, and that 20,372sq ft was still available. A little maths tells us that Medica was therefore occupying some 16% of the available space.
And two years on?
Two years on from the announcement that the offices had been opened, a report to SELEP’s ‘accountability board’ states that:
‘[Havelock Place] is currently 16% let with over 20 enquiries recieved [sic] since opening.’
In other words, two years on from the big opening, SeaChange appears not to have found one single new tenant. And in terms of spinning the unspinnable, claiming that there have been ‘over 20’ enquiries in two years – that is, less than one per month, with none translating into an actual occupier – is pretty impressive.
Never let it be said, however, that SeaChange CEO John Shaw isn’t doing his best. In September 2016, SeaChange put out the news that ‘in a pioneering move to address the Brexit market’ they were introducing flexible leases, with companies able to give three months’ notice to leave at any time. John Shaw explained that:
“Companies are telling us they still want to invest and grow following the EU referendum, but they feel the economic road ahead will be less certain for some time. So we’ve introduced new leases which means they can have the quality of new premises they want along with an extremely high level of flexibility to react to market conditions as they unfold.”
Since the offer was made, seven months ago, SeaChange appear to have found no new tenants. Maybe swanky new offices at high rents, however flexible the leases, are not the kind of ‘regeneration’ that Hastings needs.