A plan to establish a rural business hub in Crowborough, at the former offices of Wealden District Council, has taken a significant step forward with the award of a grant of up to £10,000 to pay for a feasibility study.
The Crowborough Community Association (CCA) want to turn Pine Grove into business units, which can be used by both established and start-up companies, community groups and charities.
The CCA say this is an important phase in the process of turning the former Wealden District Council offices at Pine Grove, which already houses Crowborough’s library, into a rural business development hub.
The funding has been secured from the Social Investment Business Group, which works with the Locality network of community-led organisations. If they can show a hub can be established on a sound financial footing, the CCA, through a Community Interest Company it has formed, will seek funding for a comprehensive study and grants to make it happen. With the first stage now secure, the CCA will be eligible to apply for a full feasibility grant, of up to £100,000, to prepare detailed plans to take over Pine Grove for the community.
In November, the Crowborough Community Association used the powers in recent government legislation to get Wealden District Council to register their former offices in Pine Grove, the adjacent car parks and the Bluebell Wood as ‘assets of community value’.
Under the Localism Act 2011, once a building or land are registered, community groups have six months to prepare a bid to buy it. This protected period expires on 7th May, after which time the Wealden District Council is again free to sell the Pine Grove site to whomever they choose.
CCA Chairman, Chantal Wilson, said:
We are thrilled at the news from SIB. Many people have worked very hard to achieve this result. We now have to deliver this study quickly but to a high standard so that we can move on to the next stage.
Local artist John Killens has produced the vision of how Pine Grove might look in the future with a vibrant farmers’ market taking place in the atrium from which there would be access to the library and business units.
What do you want to see at Pine Grove, complete the CCA’s survey:
Chris Lawson, partner in Lawson Commercial, has already looked at the Pine Grove site, said
I think there is a wonderful marketing opportunity to really build up the hub idea in conjunction with the new community centre. If you make it something really rather special that people want to come to, market it as a business incubator facility with a couple of extra commerical lettings for the larger pieces of space, that could work very well.
You have somewhere between 10 and 12 rooms on the ground floor for smaller businesses. With the market continuing to improve and likely to do so for the next 18 months or so up to the General Election, it is ideal time to pursue this objective.
Wealden District Council have said they support plans to set up a hub at its former Pine Grove offices as its preferred option. However speaking at Cabinet in December, Councillor Roy Galley, responsible for economic development and regeneration, made it clear that the process could not go on indefinitely.
The building is a public asset, and if a Civic Hub use is not feasible, we have a duty to realise this asset on behalf of the people of Wealden, which will safeguard public finances, and enable new mixed development opportunities to take place in the north of the District.