Wealden District Council has finally agreed to sell their former offices on Pine Grove in Crowborough to the Town Council, so the building can be converted into an Enterprise Hub.
The Town Council submitted a bid to buy the building and associated staff and visitor car park (Lot 2, shown in red on the map below) in February. Initially the bid was subject to things like public consultation, securing a loan and a satisfactory structural survey.
As part of the agreement the Town Council also wanted WDC to also transfer the freeholds for the Crowborough Community Centre and Bluebell Wood to them as part of the deal. Now it seems a compromise has been reached between the two parties, but with caveats about the transfer of the other forementioned freeholds and additional planning consent.
As yet the price Crowborough Town Council have agreed to pay is still undisclosed, and is likely to remain so until the sale is complete.
At a special council meeting, closed to the public on Monday, Town Councillors discussed the terms of the agreement between the parties.
The whole Pine Grove site (which is part owned by Wealden District Council and East Sussex County Council) has been split into two lots for sale purposes, with a total guide price of £6.7 million. The old sale brochure explained that Lot 1 (£5 million, shown in green on the map) is the Beaconwood building, which used to be occupied by Social Services as well as the Registration Office before it moved to Hookstead on Goldsmiths Avenue. Also part of Lot 1, is the ‘temporary’ long stay car park, which is surrounded by woodland. Lot 1 is earmarked for housing in the Local Plan.
The Crowborough Community Centre is ‘sandwiched’ by Lots 1 and 2.
Town Councillors want to convert Pine Grove into an Enterprise Hub. Small and medium-sized businesses will be able to rent offices or workshop units on flexible terms. A similar suite of managed office units operated by Basepoint has recently opened in Haywards Heath. The one in Haywards Heath was built in partnership with Mid Sussex District Council and West Sussex County Council.
Part of the second floor is leased to East Sussex County Council and is used for Crowborough’s Library. Under the scheme the library will remain in the building.
At the same time as finalising the legal agreement, planning consultants are being appointed to help secure D1 planning consent for part of the building. To enable a variety of different types of businesses to be able to operate from the Enterprise Hub, permission to use Pine Grove for business, financial and professional services including light industrial (Classes B1 and A2) was approved in February. A request for Class D1 which includes many ‘public’ services was removed a few weeks before the planning committee’s hearing because of the absense of any studies about how much additional traffic might be generated from the public visiting the building. There was concern leaving a request for D1 status might have jeopardised the entire planning application. But Town Councillors feel that D1 Class, which includes use for crêches, museums and public halls is really needed to maximise the full marketing potential of the building, particularly the atrium and former council chambers (beneath the library), so they can be used as exhibition spaces or as a public hall.
Both parties are working to exchange contracts by 30th November and they aim to complete the sale by the end of January 2016. There are two main caveats to the sale. Firstly, the Town Council obtaining D1 planning permission for elements of the building and secondly that the freehold of the Crowborough Community Centre and Bluebell Wood is transferred to the Town Council no later than the sale or development of Lot 1 (Beaconwood and the ‘temporary’ Mead House car park, shown in green).
Councillor Roy Galley, Wealden Cabinet member for Economic Development said:
This sale represents the best value for Wealden District Council and the people of Crowborough. We look forward to continue to work with the Town Council to complete the deal.
The Town Council’s approach was endorsed by residents in a public consultation help during March and April. In May the Public Works Loans Board approved an application for a £2.65 million loan required to buy and convert the building. Initially interest on the loan will be paid from an increased Council Tax, but once the Enterprise is up and running it will start to generate a profit to service the loan.
The Town Council will have to decide what structural changes are required to the building; tender for a contractor to carry-out the work and decide whether to appoint an operator, like Basepoint, to market the units and run the Enterprise Hub on a day-to-day basis on their behalf. Members of the Town Council hope the Enterprise Centre might be open for business by late Summer 2016.