Hastings Green Party says North Queensway business park bid threatens Marline Valley nature reserve

Hastings Green Party (HGP) is calling for the borough council to refuse permission to build a new business park.

Sea Change’s planning application for a new business park at North Queensway has already attracted almost 200 objections, including from Green party councillor Julia Hilton.

HGP said Sea Change received a £1.5m loan from the government’s Growing Places Fund in 2012 for infrastructure on the site, pledging to create 865 jobs.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

It added that Sea Change used the loan to build a short road at North Queensway, and added it was unable to attract any companies to build premises on the site.

Protestors demonstrating against the North Queensway business park proposals by Sea Change. Picture from Hastings Green Party SUS-210714-105018001

In October 2020, SeaChange was granted a further £3.5m in funding from the government’s Getting Building Fund, to be used for ‘shovel-ready’ projects which could be completed within 18 months.

HGP claimed several other Sea Change projects have gone over budget, were late, or have not created the jobs promised.

It said the Queensway Gateway Road was granted planning permission in 2014, yet may not be finished until August 2023, nine years after being granted permission.

Cllr Hilton, borough councillor for Old Hastings ward and county councillor for Old Hastings and Tressell, said: “Since Sea Change Sussex was set up over a decade ago, there has been absolutely no scrutiny of the company.

“It has utterly failed on its own terms by repeatedly failing to deliver on its projects.

“Hastings Green Party is very concerned about the current planning application for a business park at North Queensway, which threatens Marline Valley nature reserve, will cause a net loss of biodiversity, and - in that the units will be heated with gas, and there is no practical way of getting to the site apart from driving - goes contrary to the council’s climate change plan.

“It is well past time that our local councils took a long hard look at this company, rather than simply approving every project without question.”

A Sea Change spokesman said: “Our North Queensway Innovation Park scheme would provide much-needed premises to help businesses grow, support local jobs and boost the area’s economy.

“We know the scheme is opposed by some anti-development protestors, but we’ve brought it forward on a site identified for business use in the Local Plan to address the lack of suitable local industrial accommodation, which has reached crisis point.

“The recent Room to Grow 2 report commissioned by East Sussex County Council highlights that existing industrial properties are at near-100 per cent occupancy and there is an acute lack of sites available for development.

“It would be hugely detrimental to jobs for the town if employers are forced to relocate outside the area because of this.

“In drawing up our proposals, we’ve taken concerns about the neighbouring Marline Valley carefully into account. We’ve conducted detailed site surveys and monitored the SSSI for several years to ensure we have a design that would have a negligible, if any, impact on the valley.

“More generally, we have a track record of developing high-quality business premises in Hastings, Eastbourne and Bexhill which are now full or almost full. And High Weald House, our new office development in Bexhill, is already 30 per cent occupied, despite all the disruption of Covid-19.

“Contrary to the Green Party’s misinformed claims, the Queensway Gateway road remains on track to be built for considerably less than the £15 million budget awarded, thanks to the use of locally-sourced, recycled natural materials.

“While the road’s progress has been delayed, in large part because protestors challenged its original planning permission via a judicial review, it should soon be ready to open to traffic.

“We’re intending to finalise a link through to the A21 with a short programme of works. Provided we get the necessary approvals from East Sussex County Council and Highways England, we will start work on this in early September and should finish in early November this year.

“When it comes to supervision of our projects, we have representatives from the three local councils, the local business community and the voluntary and education sector on our board. We also receive close scrutiny from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) where public funds are involved.

“Throughout all our work, our highest priorities remain business growth and jobs for people in the Hastings and Bexhill area.”

A joint statement from East Sussex County Council, Hastings Borough Council and Rother District Council said: “East Sussex County Council, Hastings Borough Council and Rother District Council work with several private and public sector partners, including Sea Change Sussex, to deliver projects which support sustainable economic growth in the county and boost the local economy by encouraging businesses growth and generating jobs.

“There are a range of capital funded projects being delivered by Sea Change Sussex, which are subject to close monitoring and evaluation, and as with any capital project there are complexities which influence the delivery timescales. At the last meeting of the Sea Change Board it was agreed that an Audit committee would be established to provide additional scrutiny and assurance.

“A number of these projects are yet to be completed or are at the early stages of occupation, and therefore the benefits, such as the jobs, will be realised over a 10- to 15-year period after construction or occupation. In addition, the market will influence who occupies new employment space and the jobs that occupation brings.”