Updated on Saturday, January 28: Plans to redevelop land in the heart of Uckfield have been put on hold due to lack of interest from major supermarkets and retailers.
Uckfield Town Centre Regeneration Joint Committee has not given up hope of circumstances changing in the future and has decided to meet again in the summer of 2018 to reconsider the viability of the project.
Their decision was made at a meeting in the Council Chamber at Uckfield Civic Centre yesterday when they considered a report outlined in a story carried by Uckfield News on January 20, see below.
From our story on January 20: In addition to the lack of interest from major supermarkets and retailers it has been revealed that Holy Cross School will be staying put on its town centre site for the time being – the county council’s major capital projects manager has advised that the council would not be supportive of any scheme that required a ‘cash’ input.
Meetings of the Uckfield Town Centre Regeneration Joint Committee – made up of Uckfield Town, Wealden District and East Sussex County Councillors – are likely to be suspended.
Regeneration joint committee
All this news is carried in a report to the regeneration committee which is due to meet next Friday, January 27.
The committee is recommended to ask Wealden, through the director of planning policy and economic development, to keep the potential to redevelop and regenerate Uckfield town centre under review.
Further, it is recommended to hold in abeyance any further joint committee meetings until the prospects for the viability of the project improve.
The report says a major retail store expressed tentative interest in a small food-only store in Uckfield but had reservations about competing with an existing store in town.
Also the company wanted to enter into a lease rather than become actively involved in the redevelopment process and, given the size of the store suggested, this would not have supported wider project requirements.
Discount food store chain
A discount food store chain also indicated interest in locating a store in Uckfield but this would be in the form of a stand-alone store which again would not meet the project’s wider objectives.
The wider objectives are described in the report as:
“To enable the sensitive redevelopment and expansion of Uckfield town centre, including additional net retail floor space of around 10,000 square metres and increased public and recreational space, as part of a comprehensive scheme of improvement which will increase the attractiveness of Uckfield by creating a vibrant and inclusive town centre.”
The report says: “At present, given the state of the current property market, it is difficult to see how a town centre scheme without the key inputs previously envisaged from stakeholders such as one of the ‘big four’ supermarkets stacks up financially.
“ESCC appreciate that further market intelligence work is ongoing and that this may derive alternate solutions that lead to a viable business proposition. However until or unless this can be clearly demonstrated ESCC needs to concentrate on and prioritise the need to deliver its statutory obligations in areas such as ensuring the provision of sufficient high quality school places.”
The report says the option for use of the current Holy Cross School site is therefore ‘not viable’ in the short term and will be subject to further consideration by the county council when the need for primary school places to serve the new Welbeck development – at Ridgewood where 1,000 homes are planned – arises.
It adds that latest projections, based on Wealden Local Plan housing numbers provided by Wealden District Council to the county council in late 2016, indicate this is unlikely to be before the mid-2020s.
The report says that the inclusion of residential units in any reinvestment project would have made it more attractive and viable for developers, but Uckfield’s proximity to the protected Ashdown Forest means that very limited additional residential development in Uckfield as a whole is provided for.
The report concludes: “Given the lack of significant expansion plans by the major supermarkets and retailers and their consequent lack of interest in the town centre reinvestment project; given the very limited potential for any residential development as part of the project; and given the position regarding Holy Cross School … it is concluded that there are no viable options for progressing the project at this time.”
Another report to the regeneration committee says that work is due to begin later this year on a separate project to improve the bus station. This follows on from improvements being completed in the High Street.