Decision due on redeveloping garden centre site near Hailsham

Proposals to build housing in place of a garden centre in Lower Dicker are set to go before Wealden planners this week. 

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 11:12 am

On Thursday (October 7), Wealden District Council’s planning committee south is due to consider an application to demolish the Blackbrooks Garden Centre in Eastbourne Road and build up to 45 homes in its place.

The application is for outline approval, with all matters apart from the site’s access arrangements to be reserved for a later application.

While the site falls outside of the development boundary for Lower Dicker, planning officers say the council’s lack of a five year housing land supply would tilt the balance in favour of approval. 

Entrance to the garden centre site (Photo from Google Maps Street VIew)

In a report to be considered by the committee, a council planning officer said: “Whilst the development is in conflict with policies … which restricts development in the countryside, material considerations which weigh heavily in favour of the development are the housing need and that the council is unable to substantiate a five year supply of deliverable housing land.

“The proposal would assist in the provision of housing and meet the need for affordable housing and self-build plots. This is a highly significant material consideration and carries substantial weight in the context of the National Planning Policy Framework.”

While recommended for approval by planning officers, the scheme has seen objections raised by a number of local residents. Objectors concerns cover a wide range of issues, including environmental impact and loss of employment. 

Objections have also been raised by Wealden District Council’s economic development team due to the loss of the garden centre. 

Proposed site layout

However, developers argue the current centre — which changed hands in 2019 — would require significant investment in order to bring it up to scratch. The cost of this investment would outstrip the value of the site, developers say. 

In a statement submitted as part of the application, a spokesman for the developer said: “Having reviewed the condition of the building and what would be required to upgrade the centre, the applicant has been advised an investment of at least £1.25 million would be required … a sum which is equivalent or more than the existing value of the site and which would represent a high-risk investment, especially in the current climate.

“Furthermore, the constrained location bordering a number of residential properties, also limits further expansion plans. 

“Since the start of the covid-19 crisis, the businesses and its multi-centre stores have been placed under significant pressure, through limitations on customer capacity, covid-19 safeguards and competition from online competitors who have lower overheads.

“The retail sector is likely to be increasingly uncertain over future years following the change to customer behaviour in light of the covid-19 crisis.”

Some words of caution were also raised by East Sussex Highways due to the site’s relatively poor access to local goods and services.

However, highways officers concluded that these concerns would not be sufficient grounds for objection on its own and instead suggested mitigations to be included in a legal agreement between developers and the council.

These included: new footpaths into the site; works to create a new access point at the site’s junction with the A22; and a financial contribution towards an additional bus service between Uckfield and Eastbourne.

Other conditions expected to be included in the legal agreement would be a requirement for the developer to provide open space and a play area on site and to ensure 35 per cent of the finished site be made up of affordable housing.

For further information on the proposals see application reference WD/2021/0999/MAO on the Wealden District Council website.