Plans to redevelop land in the heart of Uckfield have been brought forward as they are considered to be viable now the economic climate is improving.
Local authorities own the lion’s share of the land which is in the vicinity of Luxford Field and car park, Holy Cross Primary School, Uckfield Fire Station and allotments.
Uckfield Town Council, Wealden District Council and East Sussex County Council and the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, which each own different parcels, have been working together for years to decide the best way of redeveloping it.
A masterplan is in place and now the town, district and county councils are strengthening their ties in order to deliver improvements.
They are proposing to form a joint committee with delegated powers to ensure progress without any unnecessary delays.
The joint committee will oversee the project, utilising the land owned by the councils for the improvements and carrying out a procurement exercise to identify a development partner.
Uckfield town councillor and chairman of the current town centre steering group, Cllr Mick Harker, said the project was expected to move quickly now and in six months time – following a tender process – it should be clear which developer they would go with.
Cllr Harker “This is a great step forward for the partners, for the project and for Uckfield. It will enable us to maintain the momentum of delivering a redeveloped town centre in line with the masterplan.”
Cllr Harker told UckfieldNews.com that the aim was to resolve a number of issues in the town centre including a lack of grocery provision.
He said the Tesco store was heavily overtraded and it had always been accepted that another grocer could come into the town and maybe some other retail shops.
“It is all about combining that provision in a way which can be connected to the High Street.”
The masterplan envisages a town square or space where people can meet. That could be outside the Civic Centre or in some other part of the site. Perhaps the farmers’ market could meet there but a community element would be required along with the provision of retail space.
There would still be a Luxford Field but it might be reconfigured. Parking would have to be provided too to support High Street shops.
Cllr Harker said there was a lot of interest in the redevelopment scheme with supermarkets Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and Aldi all wanting a presence in Uckfield. There was a possibility that there would be two supermarkets side-by-side.
He said the steering committee recognised that other owners of land holdings would have to be considered, including Tesco, the biggest, and the owners of the white rails shops, set back from the High Street, which could be affected as the redeveloped area is linked with the High Street.
Cllr Harker said: “The climate does appear to be right so that we can make it happen. I’m not saying redevelopment will be without pain. A scheme in the middle of town will be disruptive but hopefully we will get something that makes Uckfield fit for the coming period ahead.”
Cllr Harker added there would be many consultations as the project progressed to keep people informed and to seek feedback on proposals.
Cllr Roy Galley, of Wealden Council, said: “The Uckfield masterplan has given us a clear indication of how local people wish to see the town centre improved. Through the joint committee we can start the whole process of delivering the plan, which will provide an important economic boost to the town and the surrounding area.”
Cllr Rupert Simmons, of East Sussex County Council said highways work already planned for the town centre over the next 18 months, and the redevelopment of the town centre would help with the delivery of the masterplan and stimulate much-needed growth in Uckfield.
Over the coming month, the individual public sector partners will seek approval from their councils to set up the joint commmittee.
The aim is for the first meeting of the new Uckfield Town Centre Regeneration Joint Committee to be in June.
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