On Wednesday (January 19), Wealden District Council’s audit, finance and governance committee heard a brief public update on the current state of Hailsham Aspires project, before entering into a private session to hear more details.
When first announced in January 2019, the project was described by the council as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’, which would regenerate Hailsham town centre and the council-owned Vicarage Field Shopping Centre.
The project, then expected to cost around £100m, was to include: a new and improved shopping centre; a multi-storey car park; new council offices; a new leisure centre; and up to 280 apartments and townhouses aimed at younger buyers.
According to meeting papers, however, it became apparent last summer that the project’s emerging masterplan (which had been consulted on between January and March last year) “did not produce the full range of benefits needed for the project sponsor board to approve the scheme.”
The papers say a large part of this was due to concerns around the financial viability of the project and its impact on the council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).
As a result, the project’s sponsor board agreed in July that a more modest approach should be taken, dumping plans for new council offices but retaining the other elements of the scheme.
This decision would also mean the development would be limited to land owned by WDC, rather than the wider multi-partner site first proposed.
As part of this, it was hoped WDC may be able to acquire some third-party land to develop as part of the project. This included land owned by Hailsham Town Council.
But at a meeting in November, Hailsham Town Council confirmed it was not to put forward its land at this stage of the project.
At the same meeting, the town council also declined to make either the Maurice Thornton Playing Field or the James West Centre available for a relocated Hailsham Bowls Club.
This is significant as the bowls club is located on land which was being considered for both the housing and leisure centre elements of the project.
While the bowls club sits on land owned by WDC, the club has a long lease and would need to agree to relocate for this part of the project to go ahead in its current form.
According to council papers, the town council decisions will have ‘implications’ for the approach agreed by the project’s sponsor board in July, meaning new options will need to be considered.
These new options are expected to be presented to the project’s sponsor board next Wednesday (January 26th).
A Wealden District Council spokesman said: “Hailsham Aspires is going ahead and while Wealden District Council is continuing to refine the details for the project, the council is committed to delivering a new leisure centre, combined GP practices and a revitalised town centre.
“As part of its normal process, the audit, finance and governance committee this week discussed a number of commercial projects including the Hailsham Aspires project and the project board is still considering a number of options.
“With high streets under pressure it is also important that Hailsham Aspires delivers the right balance of retail and residential accommodation to attract more footfall into Hailsham.
“It is disappointing Hailsham Town Council has taken the decision it has regarding its land and the bowls club but the council is progressing the project on land in its ownership and also maintaining a dialogue with other neighbouring landowners to ensure we deliver the best possible regeneration project for the town and the district.”