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Gentrification in Hastings? – What the census tells us.

Note: This is a summary of a full report. The full report can be read here:

"The large increases in house prices and changes in the housing market alongside changes in key demographics would indicate that gentrification has occurred". &" with the housing crisis deepening it likely here to stay and may even strengthen in the coming years".

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In the last census, 2011, Hastings could be described as a traditional seaside town suffering from high levels of deprivation. Some parts of the town could be characterised as being made up of a large number of HMOs, whose residents were more likely to live in deprivation. This deprivation often would cover more than one social area, such as health, education and access to services. Areas high in deprivation would have relatively affordable house prices, with rent prices also being low for the South East area. The local economy was dominated by seasonal work and industries that are more precarious, low-skilled and undervalued. Therefore, people would reside in low-income working-class jobs and would work long hours for little pay, and as a result, would more likely be renters rather than owners of property. Additionally, such areas would often be described as lacking diversity, with there being a limited BAME and LGBT population.


When the last census was published few would have argued that these underline trends would change in a notable way. Yet, within the last five years, there has been increasing debate that the town is being transformed due to Gentrification, with town meetings even being hosted to discuss how best to deal with these changes. Those arguing that gentrification has occurred argue the housing crisis that has developed in our cities forced new arrivals into the town. Wealthy city areas within the South East, such as Brighton and London, have simply become unaffordable to many, creating an exodus. Further, the pandemic has caused many to reconsider their quality of life, with people reconsidering where they wanted to live being part of this trend. This flow of people has to arrive at a final destination and Hastings has been argued to be one of these locations. Specifically, such campaigners have argued that the arrival of new individuals with wealth has pushed out long-term residents who lived in areas that have historically suffered from high deprivation levels. These areas are argued to be deprived localities in the southern central parts of the town, particularly the wards of Central St Leonards and Central Hastings. Within these areas, areas located along the coastline and near the high street are often thought of as having been most impacted by gentrification.


Yet, is Hastings really changing in such dramatic terms? What is the evidence that Gentrification is occurring? Is Gentrification widespread in the town or limited to the select areas new arrivals have chosen to relocate to? This article provides insights into this question by using the census to analyse the socio-economic changes in the Hastings population. It finds that there are signs Gentrification has occurred, but this is isolated to certain areas within the town.


Evidence found in the housing market structure:


Size of housing:


If gentrification was to have occurred then one sign would be the reduction of HMO and one-bedroom housing units as these smaller flats would have been renovated and converted into larger apartment units in order to appeal to the new audiences arriving into the town. Vitally, Figure 1 shows that this has occurred, with the areas most thought of as being gentrified, southern parts of the town, displaying the largest decreases in the number of housing units that only have one bedroom, with such areas also displaying the increases in the number of housing units that have two or more bedrooms.


For example, Central St Leonards witnessed a 5.5% increase in the proportion of housing units with two or more bedrooms and also saw a decrease in the number of one-bedroom housing units of 5%. As the level of house building across the town and country has been relatively low, this change is most probably not because of new buildings changing the housing market. Instead, this trend does support the theory that housing has been adapted to cater for new arrivals who demand a different market. It would indicate that larger HMOs have made way for single housing units or larger apartments. Whilst the number of one-bedroom flats has decreased in these central areas, more units have not been made available elsewhere, putting pressure on the rental market. This trend has coincided with rapidly rising rental prices, particularly for the one-bedroom rental market, which then has knock effects on the wider market. From this, the council have recorded dramatic increases in the number of residents requiring help with housing costs, with more than 1,000 people requiring such support for the first time in the council’s history. This has increased the yearly housing support budget from £0.7m to over £5.6m, putting the council’s budget under severe pressure.


Therefore, whilst it is hard to prove that an influx of new people has been responsible for this change in the housing market it can be noted that the arrival of new people has coincided with dramatic changes in the type of housing available, indicating gentrification trends.


Ownership:

A core theme of gentrification is that property buyers from wealthier areas seek to move into newly desirable cheaper areas. Therefore, if gentrification has occurred Hastings will have seen increases in the proportion of properties that are owned outright by the people living in them.


Due to the housing crisis, most areas across the country have seen a decrease in property ownership. Hastings has been no exception, with there being an average decrease in ownership of 3% across the town. Whilst most areas have reflected this decline in ownership, there have been isolated pockets where ownership has increased. Again, these outliers tend to have featured in the parts of the Borough most thought to have been affected by new arrivals, the southern central parts of the Borough. Ownership in Central St Leonards and Central Hastings, Bohemia and Braybrooke all have seen increases in ownership of over 1%. Elsewhere, other areas have seen quite large drops in ownership, with Ashdown, Conquest, and Silverhill witnessing 4% or more decreases in ownership, see Figure 1. Most new housebuilding has been private developments, meaning new builds have unlikely affected this trend. Further, these areas have witnessed a rise in people renting, indicating that ownership is being replaced by a growing private rental sector. Yet, in the southern central parts of the town, the rental sector is shrinking and ownership has grown. This would all indicate that new arrivals are buying property and that this is pushing out residents that do not own property into the edges of the Borough, where they are mostly seeking to rent at more affordable prices.

Figure 1: Change in the number of properties that only have one bedroom, the number of properties that have two or more bedrooms and the proportion of housing that is owned.


Changing Deprivation and Economics:


Deprivation:


One common criticism from the anti-gentrification camp is that although Gentrification may decrease deprivation and social problems, this is largely because it relocates those suffering from multiple deprivation out of the area. Therefore, the town is improved by relocating people rather than dealing with the underline social problems that affect society.


Regardless of an individual’s viewpoint on the effects of gentrification, if gentrification has occurred we should see a decrease in the proportion of residents living in multiple deprivation and an increase of households not registering any deprivation. According to the census, this particular sign of gentrification is there and is strongest in the areas most argued to have been exposed to the gentrification phenomenon. Figure 2 shows Central St Leonards, Gensing and Castle have all seen a strong increase in the proportion of residents being identified as not living in a deprived household. Central St Leonards and Gensing have both seen an increase of 10% of households not registering any deprivation. The average for Hastings was only a 4.8% increase, again indicating that the areas most argued to have been gentrified are bucking the overall trends, possibly due to the influx of new people being concentrated within these areas.


Further, the number of households showing as experiencing multiple deprivation (defined as two or more measures of deprivation), also displays signs of displacement. Whilst multiple deprivation households declined in the last decade, with the average across Hastings seeing a -7% decrease, some areas saw significantly greater declines. Again, Central St Leonards, Gensing, Castle and Tresell, all saw declines above the average, with Central St Leonards, Gensing and Castle witnessing declines of more than 10%, see Figure 2.


This would again support the side that argues Hastings has been gentrified as it indicates that newer arrivals who are less likely to experience deprivation are moving into the borough and that within select areas this may be pushing longer-term residents across the town or out of the town completely.


Economy, Changing Workforce:

If more affluent individuals have moved into the area then you would expect to see individuals with higher incomes moving into the town. This can be tested by examining the proportion of those working in middle-class and professional occupations who have moved into the locality. This is because these jobs tend to pay more and tend to provide more secure employment.


Looking at Figure 2 it can be argued there is evidence that these types of workers have moved into the area. Across the borough, there has been an average increase of 3.7% in middle-class professional workers. The central areas of the town have again displayed higher than average increases, with Central St Leonards, Castle and Braybrooke displaying 5% increases of individuals working in professional-level occupations. This again would indicate there has been an insertion of new people into the town who fit the profile the gentrification thesis would predict. Across the borough there has been a decline of 3.8% of individuals registered as working in manual and lower-skilled jobs, typically described as working-class jobs. Again, there have been bigger declines within the central parts of the town, with Central St Leonards and Castle wards displaying over a 5% decrease of such voters. Again, this would fit the gentrification theory, which would argue that longer-term working-class residents with a low income were being displaced by wealthier new arrivals.


Another sign that more affluence has arrived in the town can be seen with the rise in the proportion of people who have obtained higher levels of qualifications, which are needed to access higher-paying professional occupations. The average increase across Hastings in the proportion of residents who have obtained a university-level education (or equivalent) was 7%. However, in the centre of the borough, it was significantly over this, with central St Leonards being a particular hot spot (seeing a 13% increase). In Central Hastings (Castle) and Gensing, there was also over a 10% increase in the proportion of residents who had obtained a university-level education. This would again indicate a shift in the population that may have arisen through more affluent professionals moving in from more expensive urban areas, supporting the claim that certain parts of the town have been gentrified.


Changing levels of disposable income and economic activity:

Another sign that there has been demographic change is through the proportion of residents who are defined as economically active, thus able to contribute to local economic growth. Figure 2 suggests that this is occurring and particularly so within the central parts of town. For instance, the proportion of residents in Gensing defined as economically active has risen by 12% and in Central St Leonards and Central Hastings it has risen by 7%. These figures are also backed up by developments on the high street where whilst most high streets have declined shopping areas within the central parts of the town have improved. The increase of creative independent businesses has improved footfall and breathed new life into the high street. This visible increase in economic activity, and residents who are able to be economically active, has improved the local economy. Whilst the debate will rage on if longer-term residents can benefit from and participate in this improved economy, one thing is for sure, this is again another sign that gentrification has occurred within the Hastings borough in recent years.

Figure 2: Change in the proportion of residents living in households expiring no deprivation, multiple deprivation, working in professional occupations and people defined as being "economically active".


Demographics: Age and diversity:


One of the most common changes brought by gentrification is a change in the demographics of the population. The population is often argued to become more diverse as people love in from more diverse urban areas of the country. The greater diversity moving in tends to be older as these people could afford cheaper property prices that existed before the late 90s.


Age:


If the gentrification theory is correct, then areas affected by such trends should see a decrease in younger people as such people tend to not own property and, therefore, are the ones most likely to be pushed out by new arrivals buying previously rented accommodation.

This change occurred within the centre of the borough, with central St Leonards, Central Hastings and Braybrooke and Bohemia seeing a decrease in the proportion of residents falling within younger age brackets, see Figure 3. Interestingly, across Hastings and St Leonards the proportion of the population aged from 25-34 has increased by half a percent, representing a slight increase of younger people living within the town than compared to a decade ago.

As Britain has an ageing population every ward is on average getting older. Yet, interestingly some of the biggest increases in the proportion of older residents have occurred within areas that saw large decreases within the 25-34 demographic. For instance, some of the biggest increases in older people arose in the Central St Leonards and Bohemia area, see Figure 3. For instance, Central St Leonards displayed a 3.1% increase in the proportion of residents defined as older, with the Bohemia, Braybrooke and Central Hastings localities also displaying over a 3% increase. The increase in these demographics would suggest an increase of individuals coming to the end of their careers, or who have already retired, are coming into the area. This influx of new residents would have an impact on local housing and would require previous residents to move out of the area so they can move in, again signifying a process of gentrification.


BAME:

With the alleged increase in the DFL population, there should have been a rise in the BAME population as London has a disproportionately high BAME population. Across Hastings, there was an average increase of around 1% in the BAME population. However, figure five demonstrates that the areas most associated with gentrification in Hastings have seen the biggest demographic shifts. Central St Leonards and Central Hastings displayed a well above-average increase, with Central St Leonards seeing the largest increase in the BAME population, a 2.5% increase, see Figure 3. Therefore, this would again indicate that a London-based flow of people has arrived in the town in the last ten years, again signalling that gentrification may have occurred within the central parts of the Hastings Borough in recent years.


LGBT:

Another sign that diversity is increasing can be seen in the proportion of the LGBT population. Whilst these figures have only been recorded in the latest wave of the census, the spread of the LGBT population can still be compared to see where diversity is greatest in the town. Interestingly, the proportion of the LGBT population is clearly greatest within the central parts of the town, with this group having much greater visibility in these areas than a decade ago. Figure 3 outlines that Central St Leonards and Central Hastings by far have the biggest LGBT populations, with roughly 8% of the population identifying as LGBT. Again, the areas on the extreme ends of these

Whilst it is not possible to compare the growth of this demographic to 2011 figures, it can be argued that there has been a growth in this population due to the group’s greater presence. For example, there have been regular Hastings pride events held for the first time within the last decade

As some of the people who have been pushing for this group’s greater role in the town are new to the area this would indicate new arrivals are changing the town, again possibly signalling gentrification.


Figure 3: Change in the proportion of residents defined as young and old. Change in the BAME population and the distribution of the LGBT population.


Conclusion - is gentrification driving these trends?


Overall, the census indicates that gentrification has occurred within specific parts of the Hastings Borough. Comparing changes in key socio-economic demographics, it is clear that areas of the town have gone through considerable cultural change. Central parts of the town show that younger residents who are more likely to rent are less prevalent and likely have been replaced by older newcomers who own property. Less qualified individuals who were more likely to work in lower-income occupations and experienced deprivation have also been pushed out. Again, the people moving appear to be more able to afford property in more affluent areas and therefore are able to make a surplus when buying a new property in Hastings. This is evidenced by these people tending to be higher-educated people who work in middle-class professional occupations that provide a more disposable income. This means that these people will be less likely to be living in a household experiencing one of the four main deprivation measures, which can also partly help to explain why levels of household deprivation have decreased sharply within the central coastal parts of the borough. This also can help to explain the increase in economic activity in the high streets within these parts of the town.


Vitally, the argument that these trends have been driven by changes in the housing market is supported by both census and property market data. The census showed that the areas that are most thought to have been gentrified, the southern central parts of the town, have witnessed a sharp decline in the number of one-bedroom properties whilst seeing an increase in households with multiple bedrooms. This has restricted housing options for those seeking one-bedroom units and has pushed up rental prices for the rest of the market. From this, an increased need for housing support developed and likely has deepened the housing crisis the local area faces. The increase in rental prices has been accompanied by large increases in property prices within a very short period of time. Since 2017, some of the areas in the town that have seen the largest increase in property prices have been the areas that have displayed the largest signs of Gentrification. In particular, Central St Leonards, Central Hastings, Tressell and Braybrooke have seen property prices increase by an estimated 50% within a short 5-year period.

Figure 4 - Change in House prices per ward since 2017 in the Hastings Borough

Therefore, as the large increases in house prices and changes in the housing market have coincided with strong changes in key demographics over the last decade, this would indicate that gentrification has occurred. Yet, it must be noted that this is limited within very specific parts of the borough and that large levels of deprivation remain throughout the town. Finally, with the housing crisis deepening from the cost of living problems, it is likely that this trend will continue as people will be increasingly forced out of the parts of the town that are witnessing a rapid rise in property and rental prices. With their being limited capacity to build new affordable units in the southern central parts of the town, people priced out will either move further into town or out of town altogether, likely being replaced by those who can afford these higher prices, meaning the gentrification trends seen in this blog are likely here to stay and may even strengthen in the coming years.


Note: This is a summary of a full report on gentrification in Hastings. The full report can be read here:


Research conducted by James Prentice and Chris Connelley, Published on 19/08/2023.


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