No supermarket in the frame for Uckfield scheme

Luxford Field, Uckfield, car park
Luxford Field, Uckfield, car park

Lack of interest from supermarket groups in building a new store in Uckfield may bring about a drastic change in the future shape of the town.

Phase Two of the Uckfield Town Centre Masterplan is being ‘reviewed’ by the Joint Committee responsible for bringing it about.

A Wealden District Council spokesman said: “The review will allow it to take account of changes in the national retail climate since the Phase Two procurement process began.”

Council director advising the committee, Nigel Hannam, said: “It is important we proceed in a way which reflects the current market and enter into an arrangement which is strong and relevant to the current retail climate. We need to get the best deal for the town. It is clear the retail market has changed considerably in the last 12 months and the original financial model has changed. This committee has decided to learn from the process and review the options now open to it. We believe we can achieve a more satisfactory conclusion by making what we have to offer more attractive to a wider range of potential development partners.” The statement implies there is no retail partner in the frame.

Last year committee chairman Cllr Mick Harker said a procurement process was underway to identify a partner - namely a major retailer. At the time he said the aim was to resolve issues in the the town centre including the lack of grocery provision. He explained the Tesco store - adjacent to Luxford Field - was ‘heavily overtraded’ and accepted another grocer and retail shops could come into the town. There had been interest in redevelopment from Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda and Aldi - and there could even have been two new supermarkets ready to trade.

If that scheme had moved ahead smoothly, then Luxford Field would have been reconfigured.

The scheme had formerly stalled as the recession bit, but from 2014 the the road ahead had appeared clear. But Mr Hannam’s comments indicate that people now shop differently, possibly preferring to move between different shops, and the major supermarket groups have also cut back their expansion plans substantially.

Mr Hannam said the decision to hold fire does not affect the High Street highways improvement scheme, Phase One of the project. The review of High Street changes will be completed in May, taking into account what could be a game-changing vote in favour of retaining on-street parking.