Crowborough Town Council have postponed making a decision about how much Council Tax to charge next year, to enable them to consider whether they want to raise more money to buy Pine Grove.
The day after a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Wealden District Council was passed, the Town Council considered what they should do about buying the former council offices and their response to the feelings raised at the Public Meeting on Monday.
Crowborough Councillors agreed to look at the business case for buying Pine Grove and running it as a Enterprise Hub. It is estimated once the 60 units in the Hub were fully let, the facility might make a profit of £100-£200,000 per year – and this money would be used to pay the interest on a loan.
However in meantime, money would need to be raised to buy and convert the building. It is not known how much money Wealden District Council want for the lease – the building was put on the market with a guide price of £1.7 million – and Wealden have an offer on the table from Bouygues UK. Conversion costs could be around £1 million.
Councillor Quentin Burch who has had previous experience in developing business plans, agreed to take the lead and hold urgent talks with Wealden District Council about buying the building. At the meeting, he said giving the pressing timescale – any business plan would need to be ‘quick and dirty’. Councillors have just over three weeks to make their minds-up what to do.
Representative of the Crowborough Committee Association were present at the meeting. They have been working on purchasing Pine Grove for sometime now and have been in talks with a potential operator Basepoint who run Business Centres in Newhaven and Crawley. Councillors Birch and Cowie have already visited the Centre at the harbour in Newhaven.
There was some discussion about how much money would be needed, how big the loan repayments would be and how much Council Tax might need to be increased by. The CCA agreed to meet with Councillor Burch and other Councillors on Friday evening to share their financial calculations and market research.
If the Council do go ahead with the purchase of the building, before making such a massive financial investment, they want the residents of Crowborough to have a vote.
Parish Poll or Referendum
There was then a discussion about the logistics of holding a parish poll or referendum. It has been a longtime since any parish or town council in Wealden had held such a public vote – and rough estimates for the cost of doing so are in the region of £20,000.
Sale of the Old Community Hall
The meeting also agreed to give the Town Clerk authority to look into selling old Community Hall for housing. This might would generate some much needed cash to pay off the some of the existing £1.4 million loan the Council took-out to help for the construction of the Community Centre, or raise money towards the refurbishment of Pine Grove.
With the 7 km exclusion zone around the Ashdown Forest being in place, it has not been sensible to sell the old hall in Park Road until now, but with the housing development off Walshes Road having been granted planning permission in October, the associated green space (or SANGS) gives the green light for other development in Crowborough.
A Council Tax increase of 1.9% or £2.44 for next year (for an average Band D property) had been recommended. But depending on how much money the Council choose to borrow to buy Pine Grove, will determined whether they have to put Council Tax up by considerably more in 2014/15.
The clock is ticking … Councillors don’t have very long to make some big and bold decisions.
Crowborough Town Council have until Friday 6th February to tell Wealden District Council how much Council Tax to collect in Crowborough in 2015/16.
They’ll now be an Extraordinary meeting of the Council on Thursday 5th February (the evening before the Council Tax deadline) to consider many inter-related issues:
- the business case for buying Pine Grove
- how much money might be needed to buy the lease and convert the building
- how much money the council would need to borrow
- how much Council Tax to charge in 2015/16
- how much it will cost to hold a parish poll or referendum
- when the poll can be held and what format it will take, and
- what question to ask electors.
Have Your Say
Are you prepared to accept an increase in your Council Tax to allow Crowborough Town Council to buy Wealden District Council’s former offices in Crowborough? What are your reflections on the Parish Meeting on Monday night and the way forward. Add your comments below, or say what you think on Twitter (
#CrowPineGrove) or Facebook.