Crowborough ‘hub’ comes at a price

Pine Grove, Crowborough
Pine Grove, Crowborough

Just three weeks after people in Crowborough called for a vote of no confidence in Wealden District Council, it has now been agreed that they can have a say in the future of former council offices at Pine Grove.

Crowborough town councillors have voted to poll residents for their views on the viability of a town council purchase of the site. But to do so, they will need a £2.65 million loan... which could only be funded if the town’s proportion of council tax can rise.

A loan would come from the Public Loans Board and grants would also be sought.

The issue has been mired in controversy ever since the audience at a lively public meeting vigorously pooh-poohed Wealden’s plan to allow a developer to use the site to create an extra care facility for older people.

Their aim was roundly dismissed by members of the Crowborough Community Association (CCA) which has campaigned for the building and the site itself to be retained for public use. The Community Association’s bid received backing from the town council itself, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and residents, Hundreds have written to the CCA pledging their support.

The aim would be to use it as a community hub, open for business and public use. It could be converted into an enterprise centre housing small business units and financial and professional service offices.

Wealden District Council’s planning offices have indicated they would support a business use for Pine Grove.

A Wealden spokesman had previously said the district supported the development of the community centre and even provided the land. But they pointed out under the Community Right to Bid the CCA was given a six month moratorium – ending last May – to put a bid together, but they had not previously been able to raise the necessary funds. As a result the council had proposed to replace the offices with a new-build extra care facilility.

Now officers point out the ‘hub’ scheme could win approval and change of use would not require planning permission. Proposed change of use from council offices to an enterprise centre ‘could be an appropriate re-use of this existing vacant building’ they point out. The scheme is recommended for approval by planners. The CCA believes Wealden’s original extra care scheme ‘would seriously prejudice the town’s brand new £3.5 million community centre which shares the site and claim that the land is, in any case, designated for business use.’