Wealden District Council have announced the preferred option for their former offices at Pine Grove is a retirement housing scheme.
The proposed 80 Extra Care apartments will be similar to the scheme at Margaret House in Uckfield, where residents live independently in assisted living accommodation, but with care staff on site and communal faculties. The developer is a private company Bouygues UK, but the scheme has the backing of East Sussex County Council.
As previously reported on CrowboroughLife, Crowborough Community Association wanted to convert the former offices into an Enterprise Hub. The CCA say they are shocked about Wealden District Council’s decision, they argue it conflicts with the Wealden Local Plan and say they are determined to fight on.
Announcing Wealden District Council’s decision, Councillor Roy Galley, Cabinet member for Economic Redevelopment and Regeneration, said:
The Extra Care proposal will provide much needed extra care facilities for elderly people in the north of the District.
Similar extra care facilities – which allow the elderly greater independence while still receiving a certain level of care – are provided in Uckfield and shortly in Hailsham, and are a vital part of social provision for our ageing communities.
As well as the new jobs created by the extra care scheme, there is the opportunity to include further community facilities for the town and we welcome the opportunity to discuss this with the Crowborough Community Association, Crowborough Town Council and others. There will also be a new public library for the town, in keeping with our commitment to East Sussex County Council’s Library service.
Crowborough Community Association wanted to convert the building into an Enterprise Hub, with 60 business units in the former office space, creating around 150 jobs. They planned to use the council chamber and atrium for community use. They were hoping WDC would make them ‘preferred bidder’, as it would boost the CCA’s capacity to raise funds to buy the building and the cost of converting it.
Wealden District Council said in view of the lack of firm evidence about the 150 jobs that a business hub at Pine Grove could create, an Extra Care facility is a better option both for long terms jobs and for the future social needs of Crowborough and the north of Wealden. They added the CCA has been given every chance to progress their proposal and produce a competitive bid. Unfortunately they have been unable to do so and WDC have therefore correctly and appropriately progressed the Extra Care proposal to meet their duty to obtain best consideration for the benefit of taxpayers across Wealden as a whole.
Cllr Galley, Cabinet member for Economic Redevelopment and Regeneration, added:
No firm evidence has been provided by the CCA that their business centre proposal would provide 150 additional permanent jobs. The CCA proposal has been carefully considered, but it depends on substantial grant support which to date has not been forthcoming.
The extra care scheme is needed, will provide new jobs, benefit the local community and, at a time of continuing austerity, provide value for money for the Wealden tax payer.
Responding to the news, Chantal Wilson, Crowborough Community Association Chairman said:
We are astonished to hear of this proposal. The Pine Grove site is designated for business and community use in the town and local plan and we are going to make sure that any development meets those criteria. The District Council cannot simply change its own planning laws and dump this idea on Crowborough without consulting the Town Council, the business community or us.
The CCA has submitted its own proposals for the future use of the Pine Grove offices to secure the financial future of the Centre and Crowborough’s investment in it and to provide local employment lost when Wealden moved to Hailsham. The CCA also wishes to ensure that existing car parking and library are preserved and that the Community Centre is protected. We know that all these things are what the people of Crowborough want and the CCA will work with other key organisations in the town to achieve them. The CCA will now be endeavouring to gather more information.
The Crowborough Community Centre are encouraging people to attend their Annual General Meeting on Tuesday 21st October to hear move about the proposals. It is being held at the Crowborough Community Centre and starts at 7.30pm.
Sale of Pine Grove
As well as the former Wealden Council Offices being up for sale, so is Beaconwood (the old Registration Office) and Mead House (previous used by Social Services), as well as the top car park in the wooded area off Mill Lane.
The Pine Grove site was offered for sale earlier this year, in two lots with a total guide price of £6.7 million (Lot 1- £5 million, and Lot 2 – £1.7 million). It is understood five bids were received in total, including one from Crowborough Community Association. The Extra Care scheme relates to Lot 2, the sale (Wealden Council Offices). No details have been revealed about the sale of Lot 1 as yet.
Car Parking and Library
The CCA say the proposal would swallow at least 125 car parking spaces around Pine Grove, threaten the future of the town’s library and seriously compromise the £3.2 million Community Centre, opened just two years ago, which is now the established social and cultural centre of Crowborough.
Wealden District Council say the car parking spaces which the CCA claim are being “swallowed up” were linked to Pine Grove office use and has not been part of the town’s public car parking provision.
The CCA have also told CrowboroughLife, the Pine Grove offices are currently ‘zoned’ for businesses use in the Local Plan, which sets out the planning framework for the Wealden district up to 2027.
CCA Director and Wealden District Councillor for Crowborough East, David Larkin said:
The county’s proposal would be a shocking waste of resources in knocking down a relatively new building, which will have to be demolished to make way for the new flats, and will deprive the local economy of around 150 permanent jobs. As the local plan confirms, no other suitable employment land has been identified within the Crowborough area and, in any case, Wealden and the County Council cannot simply turn land designated for business use – into additional residential land outside the local plan at a whim.
The CCA say if the Extra Care facility is ‘much needed’, provision would have been made in the adopted Local Plan. They also express concern for library, which will need to be relocated if the Extra Care apartments get the go-ahead. Crowborough Library is now the sole occupant of the building. East Sussex County Council have a 999 year lease to use the 1st Floor, south wing of the building for the Library at a peppercorn rent. The CCA have told CrowboroughLife under the terms of the lease, WDC must pay ESCC nearly £300,000 to close the currently library. The CCA are worried about where the new library would be built, and with current cutbacks, whether there be a lengthy delay in a new one being constructed.
The CCA say their priority is to protect the facilities Crowborough, namely the Community Centre and Library. They say Wealden District Councils proposals have not been discussed with the CCA, Town Council, Chamber of Commerce or anybody else in Crowborough – there has been no consultation and yet WDC are negotiating with these developers as preferred bidders.
Need for Extra Care Facility
In response to criticisms raised by the CCA, Wealden District Council told CrowboroughLife the need for an Extra Care scheme in Crowborough has been clearly identified by ESCC and is in keeping with Wealden District Council’s Older Persons Housing and Support Strategy 2008-28. Detailed information about such requirements would not be included at the Local Plan stage. Wealden DC said as well as the Extra Care facility, Crowborough will also be getting a new library, and library services will be maintained during any transition use. The Extra Care proposal also offers the opportunity for further community facilities on the Pine Grove site.
Crowborough Town Councillor Michael Cooke commented:
If Wealden and the County think they can get away with this, then they have underestimated the determination of the people of Crowborough. The future of Pine Grove is clearly stated in the town’s visioning document, supported by Wealden, and I will be doing all I can to make sure they follow that course.
Recent changes in Permitted Development rights means existing office use can be changed to residential without the need for full planning approval. The Extra Care scheme will have to comply with the Habitat Regulation assessment applicable to the 7 km protection zone. However WDC said they are confident that an Extra Care planning application will demonstrate that this is the case.
Th private firm behind the Extra Care scheme, Bouygues UK, have declined to comment at this stage.