Hastings Castle lottery bid is in ruins

Hastings Castle. 24/5/11
Hastings Castle. 24/5/11

A MULTI-million pound bid to revamp Hastings’s historic castle has been kiboshed by the Lottery.

Cash-strapped Hastings Borough Council had asked the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a bumper £2.9million to breathe new life into the attraction.

Among the mooted improvements were a new visitor centre, better facilities for staff, a new ticket office, replacement toilets and a new entrance over a bridge from Ladies Parlour. But the Observer can reveal that the bid failed to win over a panel of expert judges, who instead decided to award the cash to schemes elsewhere in the UK.

Among those projects which did get the cash were HMS Alliance in Gosport, Hampshire, which was given £3.4million, and Wakefield Cathedral in West Yorkshire, which is now £1.58million better off.

The HLF recognised the castle’s historic importance, but was unimpressed by the details of the plans - which the council has been working on for almost a decade.

Carole Souter, chief executive of HLF, told the Observer: “Hastings Castle is a much-loved and hugely significant local landmark and we applaud the council’s aspirations to renovate and open up the site.

“However, we had concerns about the viability of the project and due to the competitive nature of this round of funding were unable to support it.”

The news has come as a major blow to the local authority, which had hoped to use a spruced up castle as a centre-point for the town’s cultural regeneration.

Council leader Jeremy Birch was understandably downbeat but vowed not to give up. He said: “A lot of work had gone into our bid, which I thought was very strong.”

“HLF has offered us a debrief and we will obviously learn from that, and then rework and resubmit the bid, doing our best to make it even stronger.

“Hastings Castle is a unique link with our Norman heritage, and I remain optimistic that we will attract the funding to improve this very historic site.”

This week’s decision has raised eyebrows locally, particularly coming just weeks after the same body agreed in principle to the fund multi-million pound renovation of Hastings Pier.

One dissenting voice was that of local historian Geoff Hutchison, who said: “A lot of people might only think of it as being a pile of old rocks but it is one of the only real links this town has to the battle.

“The castle is one of only two Norman built buidlings we have left in Hastings and this is hugely important to the area and this news is very disappointing.”

And it was a senitment echoed by fellow historian Steve Peak, who lives near the castle on the West Hill.

Mr Peak said: “The castle has suffered many years of under investment. It is a building of international importance and the first stone castle built after the Norman invasion.

“People come from all over the world to visit Hastings for its history and we need a better castle.

“The very least the council can do now is improve the pathway and entrance and put up some signs or a trail from the town centre.

“I come across people all the time who are lost looking for the entrance.”