Are you with us Uckfield, or not? That was the question posed by the chairman of the town’s regeneration joint committee when it met last week to discuss major redevelopment of the town centre.
Newly elected chairman of the committee, Wealden district councillor Roy Galley, said “If you are not with us do we want to go ahead with this in the face of opposition?”
Cllr Galley said that given the opposition there was to High Street improvements, and the exchange of views there, the committee needed to be ‘hard-headed’ on what it was doing.
He said it was important that two issues were separated, the High Street improvements and the longer term regeneration and in this case he was talking about the longer term vision.
“Do you want to improve Uckfield High Street in a fairly dramatic way in the long term?
“Do we accept the retail offering is changing and likely not to come back to what it was 20 years ago?”
Cllr Galley said the committee needed to take into account the impact of internet shopping and a number of other factors such as the new residents coming into Uckfield.
“We perhaps need to improve the shopping experience but if you are not with us Uckfield on taking this forward, on what would be a fairly dramatic exercise, if you are not with us do we want to go ahead with this in the face of opposition.”
He added: “I do need to emphasise if we do go ahead with the regeneration programme it is going to be disruptive. “We can’t do it with a magic wand.”
Cllr Galley said there would be lots of building works and lots of consequences and people would have to accept that.
The next step for the joint committee in moving forward is to:
- Obtain community views on draft characteristics, objectives and key deliverables of the project.
- Commission independent expert advice on the market position and opportunities along with obtaining advice on property development aspects of the project.
- Investigate the potential for a more significant element of residential development to be included in the proposals.
- Undertake work to identify potential funding sources to support the early stages of the project.
- Finalise the work to determine the best vehicle to enable the public sector partners to proceed through and beyond the procurement stage.
The regeneration joint committee postponed the procurement process in March to find ways of making the project more attractive to potential development partners.
Issues to be addressed included the complicated nature of the project, with a number of landowners involved, and the need to deliver much of the public sector works in the initial phase of the project.
Lawyers advised that this would have an impact on the number and type of organisations that would be interested.
To address this they suggested it would be beneficial if upfront public sector funding could be found to release the public sector land and so ‘unlock’ the site.
There would also be advantages if an element of housing could be included, “either in the town centre or elsewhere in the town”, which could then all be included in a joint venture arrangement with a private sector partner.
Informal discussions have taken place with developers which indicate that the project would present a potential developer with significant financial implications likely to affect the financial viability of the scheme, unless the public sector partners first fund the release of the major portions of the land holding, eg by releasing the school land early.
Options discussed included the early relocation of the school and playing field and the fire station and relocating the allotments a little further along Bell Farm Road.
“An alternative would be a scaled down project with the fire station remaining, the allotments being moved to allow access and the exclusion of the current residential plots.
“Additionally it was suggested that it may be appropriate to proceed in two or more stages resulting in less of a risk financially and providing a greater degree of flexibility on final outcomes.”
It was also felt there would be a need to attract at least one or two well-known High Street brands while still retaining and attracting independent shops and businesses.
The draft proposals for characteristics of a town centre redevelopment “that would be good for Uckfield” – and that will be consulted on – are a development that:
- Retains the town’s character to avoid it becoming a ‘clone town’
- Includes an attractive open plaza to provide social and entertainment opportunities
- Retains Luxford Field in its entirety, but improved to provide better social, sporting and recreational facilities
- Includes an alternative or enlarged large food store
- Retains a variety of independent businesses and attracts new independent businesses into the town centre
- Focusses on creating a local identity by including quality food shops selling local produce
- Includes a number of places to eat and drink to create an entertaining ‘cafe culture’ feel to the area around the plaza and facing Luxford Field
- If possible, includes a strong residential/retail mix
- Includes good open access to the High Street
- Allows existing retailers to be given first refusal on new units
- Includes both Holy Cross Schooo, and if necessary the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service premises reprovisioned elsewhere in the town.
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