Crowborough Town Council are asking residents if they support their plans to buy Wealden District Council’s former offices in Pine Grove.
Crowborough Town Council have made an offer to Wealden District Council to buy the Pine Grove offices and car park, the Bluebell Wood and the transfer of the freehold of the Crowborough Community Centre. The Town Council want to convert the offices into an Enterprise Hub.
In order to finance the purchase the Council will need to borrow funds. At an Extra-ordinary Council Meeting on 5th February, Councillors agreed to apply for a loan of £2.65 million from the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB). The PWLB is a statutory body under the auspices of the Treasury to lend money to local authorities at concessionary rates.
The repayments for a 20 year loan from the PWLB will be in the region of £171,000 each year. In order to make the repayments, Crowborough Town Council’s portion of the Council Tax has been increased by £23 from 2015/16 for an average Band D property. Bands range from A (lowest) to H (highest), and are based on property values in 1991. Band A households will pay two thirds the amount and Band H – twice as much.
In order to be accepted for the loan, the Town Council will need to demonstrate there is support from the residents of Crowborough for the project.
The actual offer price the Town Council has made has not been revealed as this is deemed to be commercially sensitive, as there is another bid on the table from Bouygues UK. The developer want to demolish Pine Grove and build Extra Care appartments on the site. Councillor Burch said at the Parish Conference last week, that the Town Council’s bid was adjusted to take off the share Crowborough tax payers paid towards the construction of Pine Grove originally.
The Council might not have to take-out a loan for the full cost of buying and converting the building, as they may be able to apply for grants towards the costs of creating the Hub or may be able to sell other assets, such as the old Community Hall in Park Road.
When most of the 60 units in the Enterprise Hub have been let to businesses, the Hub will start to generate a profit which could, after loan repayments have been made, be spent on other community projects or used to reduce Council Tax bills in the future.
In 2011/12 the Council borrowed £1.4 million from the PWLB to put towards the cost of building the Crowborough Community Centre. To service the interest payments, the Town Council increased their part of the Council Tax bill 4-years ago by 13.7%.
How Crowborough’s Council Tax Compares
There are over 10,000 parishes (including town councils) in England. In 2014/15 the average Council Tax charge for a parish was £52.
Crowborough Town Council is in the top 1% and currently has the 79th highest precept in England. In Wealden District only two parishes currently pay more Council Tax than Crowborough – Forest Row at £133 and Uckfield at £144. But next year Crowborough Town Council’s portion of the the total Council Tax bill will go up to £152 (for an average Band D property).
Forms asking you to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and give your comments on the scheme to buy Pine Grove will be delivered this week by Royal Mail. Residents have until Wednesday 8th April to complete and return the form.
If you need more information before you vote, there will be drop-in sessions around the town later this month. Councillors will talk about the proposal and answer your questions. They will take place as follows:
- Saturday 21st March, 10-12am at St Michael’s Church Hall, Jarvis Brook TN6 2EG
- Wednesday 25th March, 2-4pm at the Town Hall, The Broadway, TN6 1DA
- Friday 27th March, 2-4pm at the Whitehill Centre, Whitehill Road, TN6 1NT
- Saturday 28th March, 10-12am at St Richard’s Church Hall, Fermor Road, TN6 3AP
In order to be valid, you must enter your name and address on the consultation form. This will be checked against the electoral roll. As there is only space for one person’s details on the form, additional copies can be picked-up at the drop-in sessions or at the Town Hall. You can also photocopy the form or alternatively you can complete the consultation online via the Town Council’s website: www.crowboroughtowncouncil.gov.uk.
For further background information click on the following link to read previous articles about the sale of Pine Grove.