Observer: Time for Plan B over Uckfield town centre regeneration

Our Saturday independent columnist takes a lengthy look at the woes of British high streets and what that might mean for Uckfield town centre regeneration.

 

A wholesale reconstruction of Uckfield town centre with new roads, shops and facilities is either the stuff of dreams, or nightmares . . . depending on your point of view.

It seemed at one time to herald a bright new future for Uckfield but surely the only decision that can now be made is to make the most of what we have got.

Uckfield Town Council, as a major landowner in the centre of the town (think the Civic Centre, the Source, Luxford Field), is a member of a tripartite group along with Wealden District Council (the Luxford car parks) and East Sussex County Council (Holy Cross school).

Private property

As the primary landowners, these councils, working in concert, had the real estate to make this redevelopment happen; even though some private property would probably have had to have been acquired.

However, what the councils didn’t have were shops willing to commit to take units; the biggest failing being the lack of an “anchor” tenant.

More than 12 months ago, the councils decided to wait and see how the economy looked in the middle of 2018.

Poor prospects

As this deadline approaches, there can surely be but one verdict on high street shopping in Britain – the prospects are poorer than they were a year ago for many traditional businesses.

More and more big name shops are getting into difficulties, divesting themselves of leases and closing premises.

Others are reporting good sales online but depressed, or falling sales, in the physical bricks and mortar.

Even the chain casual dining restaurants are feeling the pinch.

Knock it on the head

It makes the prospect of a major redevelopment in Uckfield, I would suggest, very remote indeed.

Therefore, Uckfield Town Council, Wealden District Council and East Sussex County Council should convene a meeting of the town centre regeneration group at an early date and knock this scheme on the head.

It has cast what has become a dark cloud over the town centre, in many ways.

Play area ‘blighted’

You only have to look at how the Luxford Field play area has been run down because the town council was reluctant to spend money (rightly so) on new kit which would be removed in any redevelopment.

Then, there is the question of the properties just south of the old post office where a new look is mooted but concerns remain that any redevelopment would affect this area.

The question the councils should be asking now is:

  • What can we do with what we have got?
  • How can we make shopping better?
  • How can we make Uckfield High Street more attractive and appealing?

Wealden District Council, which snapped up a shopping centre in Hailsham before Christmas, might have the solutions, if it was prepared to put that sort of money into Uckfield.

Of course, it would need to justify such an investment and believe that it could get a good return on its money.

Supermarket

You would also be justified about asking whether Uckfield is going to get a new supermarket?

As far as I know, no-one really ever said who the anchor tenant of this new “mall” would be.

One imagined a supermarket, bearing in mind how busy Tesco gets within its relatively confined quarters, especially at peak times.

High streets always changing

It is worth looking back at a bit of Uckfield history because it confirms that a town’s shopping scene is a moveable feast.

I have been to the exhibition in Bridge Cottage (open until April 7) and thoroughly recommend it.

It demonstrates that shops come and go but I was interested to note that even in the 1930s there was an anchor customer (Woolies) for the building of Uckfield’s Central Parade.

The plan caused uproar, as you can read in this story on UckfieldNews from earlier in the week.

Also of interest is to reflect on is this story from 2016 when former Chamber of Commerce president Peter Gale reflected on changes in Uckfield over 50 years.

Background reading

Why Luxford Field play area has not been upgraded

Why shops’ landlord is reluctant to upgrade area

Why the town centre regenerartion plans were put on hold

External links

From The Guardian

The casual dining crunch

From The Mirror

Britain’s high streets becoming ghost towns

From The Guardian

How to bring a high street back from the dead

See also:

Walk of Witness in Uckfield

Easter bonnets at Manor Primary School 

New Uckfield Chamber president says strong business voice is important

Find local businesses in our Uckfield Directory

How to advertise on UckfieldNews.com

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