A planning application has been submitted for a business and enterprise centre at the former council offices at Pine Grove in Crowborough.
Despite not having “preferred bidder” status nor the necessary funds, the Crowborough Community Association (CCA) continues to vigorously fight-on to realise its ambition, with the backing of residents, the business community and elected representatives for the town.
Key to their scheme is using the former council building to provide flexible, managed workspaces, studios and offices for business start-ups and small local enterprises.
The planning application was submitted by the Crowborough Community Hub CIC (Community Interest Company) – a social enterprise – set-up by the CCA, and the scheme has the backing of Crowborough and District Chamber of Commerce and Basepoint Business Centres.
At the beginning of October, Wealden District Council (WDC) announced that it intended to sell the building to Bouygues UK, subject to negotiations and a successful contract being agreed. Bouygues intend to build 80 extra care apartments, which will be run by a housing association. The retirement complex will have independent flats, communal facilities and an on-site care team. The scheme has the backing of East Sussex County Council, who say there is a need for this type of accommodation in the North of the county.
The CCA do not propose any changes to the existing Council Chamber on the ground floor, the meeting space would be bookable by community organisations and the public, as was the case when the building was occupied by WDC. No changes to the County Council Library on the first floor are proposed.
If their plan succeeds, the intention is Basepoint Business Centres Ltd will run the facilities. Basepoint is wholly owned by a charitable trust – The ACT Foundation – and provides managed and serviced offices and meeting rooms at over 30 locations in the UK. Any profits will be used by the Trust within the communities it serves.
In a letter of support, Crowborough Chamber of Commerce wrote that it is:
…vital that every opportunity is taken to make efficient use of existing employment sites and premises especially as demand is currently exceeding supply of available office space in the town. The former Council offices at Pine Grove have remained vacant since the Council relocated to Hailsham some two years ago and the Chamber strongly supports proposals which would bring them back into active employment use to the benefit of the economic well-being of the Crowborough and surrounding area.
In a supporting document, Vicky Joynes, Basepoint’s Head of Business Development, wrote that Crowborough was in the “perfect strategic location” between the organisation’s current centres in Newhaven and Crawley to meet demand in the central part of Sussex. Newhaven and Crawley are currently 100% occupied. She anticipated an operating surplus in a 60-unit Crowborough Centre within two years.
In the letter, Vicky Joynes added:
We note that Wealden’s Core Strategy, which was formally adopted in March 2014, identifies the site for commercial use and I am pleased to say that Basepoint could operate it without planning approval for change of use. However, it seemed prudent to support this modest application for more categories than B1 in case other businesses, such as financial services consultants and alternative therapy practitioners came forward as they have in other centres.
You can view and formerly comment on the planning application on Wealden District Council’s website (you must first accept the disclaimer – Application Number: WD/2014/2422/F): www.planning.wealden.gov.uk.
The CCA have organised a meeting on Monday 12th January at 7.30pm at the Community Centre, for residents to find-out more about their fight to oppose the sale to Bouygues UK or any other developer.