Crowborough Town Council has agreed to continue with the project to convert the former District Council offices at Pine Grove into an Enterprise Centre.
An extraordinary meeting was called following an assessment of work required to renovate the building and convert it to provide managed offices and flexible workspaces for small businesses and organisations. The Library will remain part of the building and the Town Council have agreed, in principle, to move from the current Town Hall on The Broadway into the Pine Grove building.
MacConvilles, a leading firm of chartered quantity surveyors and architectural consultants, were appointed to make an appraisal. At the meeting on 29th August, councillors received confidential papers detailing the cost of the work required. Councillor George Moss, who leads the Town Council’s working group, urged his fellow councillors to adopt a comprehensive refurbishment plan that would include new windows and roof lights.
Pine Grove was purchased from Wealden District Council at a cost of £999,998. The offer to buy Pine Grove was also conditional upon the transfer of the freehold of the Crowborough Community Centre and the freehold of the Bluebell Wood.
The Town Council secured £2.65 million in funding for the project from the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB). They have now also been awarded a grant and loan from East Sussex County Council, but the meeting considered how to meet an identified shortfall needed to complete the necessary refurbishment.
To date the Town Council has borrow £1.1 million from the PWLB, which has been used to pay for the purchase of the building and consultancy, legal expenses and other associated fees. They have an agreement for another £1.55 million which will be used to pay for the building works.
From the East Sussex Business Incubator Fund, the Town Council have been awarded a grant of £250,000 plus a loan of £250,00, making a total of £500,000.
Councillors reaffirmed their decision to proceed with Basepoint as the operator of the Enterprise Hub and agreed to meet the “four-figure” shortfall for the building work from funds the Council holds in reserve.
Following a public consultation, in February 2015 the Town Council agreed to increase its part of the Council Tax by 16 per cent in order to repay the loans and interest charges (read more here).
It was hoped that the Enterprise Hub would be opened this Autumn, however it now looks like after the refurbishment work the Enterprise Hub will not be operational until Summer 2018.
Before the meeting got underway, Councillors heard questions and statements from members of the public, including the President of the Crowborough and District Chamber of Commerce, and the Chairman of Crowborough Community Association. They both urged the Town Council to proceed with the Pine Grove project as soon as practically possible and stressed the importance of the Enterprise Hub to business growth in the area and to the future prosperity of Crowborough in general.
At the Town Conference in April, Jeremy Woolger, Chamber President, expressed frustration at the lack of information regarding progress. He said Crowborough residents had a right to know what was going-on. The public and press have been excluded from listening to many of the Council’s discussions because of reasons of “commercial sensitivity”.
After the meeting, Mrs Wilson, Chairman of the Community Association said:
We are so pleased that the council decided to discuss the project in public at last. I would like to thank the Mayor for making this possible. I appreciate that it made the discussion awkward but open democracy matters to council tax payers, especially when projects of great importance to the town are being discussed.
We are really looking forward to having the hub up and running next door to Crowborough Community Centre. With businesses and community working alongside each other, there will be benefits for all involved.