Update: Following the expiry at the beginning of May of the six month moratorium under the Community Right to Bid process, a contract has been exchanged with Abbey Developments for the sale of the Mead House / Beaconwood site, subject to planning permission.
Directors of Crowborough Community Association (CCA) had a meeting with Cllrs Bob Standley and Roy Galley, the Leader of Wealden District Council and Portfolio Holder for Economic Development to raise concerns about the potential loss of car-parking spaces in Crowborough town centre.
The CCA has now arranged to meet representatives of Abbey Developments to discuss its plans. The CCA’s ‘red lines’ are: no net loss of public parking spaces on the Community Centre side of Pine Grove; an adequate buffer between any housing development and the Community Centre; and a separate road entrance to the housing area.
Chantal Wilson, chairman of CCA said:
It appears there is a plan to build some 80 homes on the Mead House site that includes the boarded-up Beaconwood council buildings, Mead House car park and woodland owned by East Sussex County Council that lies behind Mead House car park.
It’s not just about the Community Centre. It would be complete folly to lose nearly 90 car parking spaces in the area when, even now, Mead House car park is frequently filled by Community Centre and library users. Within a few months, there will even more pressure on parking spaces when the Town Council’s imaginative Enterprise Centre and Community Hub opens for business in the former Wealden District Council offices at Pine Grove. We have heard that the building may also house other local services.
Wealden District Council and Abbey Developments should know that the community of Crowborough will fight tooth and nail to preserve free public parking in the area. Wealden has to abide by its own planning recommendations for the area and we will be holding them to account.
Wealden District Council and East Sussex County Council intends to sell the Mead House and Beaconwood site at Pine Grove for housing despite a strategic planning inspector’s report last year that said the area should be reserved for business and community use.
In 2013 Crowborough Community Association (CCA) used powers in the Localism Act to register Beaconwood (Social Services), the former Registry Office and the Mead House car park as Assets of Community Value. Now Wealden District Council have notified the CCA and the Town Council of their intention to dispose of the asset.
Chairman of the CCA, Chantal Wilson, said:
Crowborough Community Association will be vigorously opposing the sale of the Mead House car park and Beaconwood, particularly the loss of the car park to residential.
The car park is essential to the continued vibrancy of Crowborough town centre and to the Community Centre. There are an increasing number of occasions when the Mead House car park is totally full. Once the business hub comes on stream, the pressure will be even greater.
Crowborough is going from strength to strength and I am surprised and disappointed that Wealden is prepared to undermine Crowborough’s success by reducing car parking, which I believe it is not doing anywhere else.
Under the Community Right to Buy Scheme there is an initial ‘window’ of six weeks during which time any formally constituted community group can tell the Council that they wish to make a bid to buy the site. If they do so, then a protected period (‘moratorium’) of six months is activated. During this time the owner may not sell the site to a commercial developer.
The scheme is something of a misnomer, as in fact it creates no such right to buy. The owners are free to sell to whomever they wish to at the end of any moratorium period. The owners however do not have to sell to the highest bidder and can take into account other considerations.
Wealden District Council have said ‘the site will be developed to provide much needed housing for Crowborough.’
The sale includes the woodland behind Mead House car park, bordered by Mill Lane. East Sussex County Council owns this land and it is believed that East Sussex and Wealden councils have made the housing proposal jointly.
The closest neighbours to this land are Crowborough Community Centre and the former Wealden District Council offices at Pine Grove, which Crowborough Town Council has bought to transform into an enterprise hub.
In February last year, after reviewing planning documents on behalf of the Government, Planning Inspector Mike Fox wrote to Wealden District Council:
I am not persuaded that there is an overriding case for such a large proportion of the site to be developed for housing on this important town centre site; I consider that at least part of the site should be reserved for both office floorspace and/or community facilities, as well as for car parking.
As a result the Leader of Wealden District Council asked his fellow Councillors to withdraw the Strategic Sites to ‘avoid becoming bogged down in changes suggested by a Planning Inspector’ and instead press-ahead with a new Wealden Local Plan.
Crowborough Town Councillor David Larkin, who is also a director of the Crowborough Community Association, said:
The CCA Board will be considering this further at their meeting on 5th December. The CCA remain committed to protecting the Community Centre from encroaching residential development on the site and to supporting the Town Council and Chamber of Commerce position that there should be no net loss of car parking in Crowborough, particularly now that the Enterprise Centre is going ahead and the Crowborough supermarkets, beginning with Lidl, are now wishing to restrict their car parks to their customers only.
Click for more information on the Community Right To Bid policy and details of community assets (inc pubs, recreaction areas and community halls) that have been registered in the district.