‘Yes’ vote but money needed for Crowborough hub

Pine Grove, Crowborough
Pine Grove, Crowborough

Members of Wealden District Council’s planning committee have approved an application by the Crowborough Community Association to change the use of former council offices in Pine Grove to an enterprise centre for the town.

After a lively debate in Wealden’s Hailsham council chamber, committee members unanimously agreed the scheme. Their decision was welcomed by Community Association members, many of whom had travelled down to Hailsham by coach to attend the meeting.

The decision follows months of concern which culminated in a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Wealden District Council taken at a meeting earlier this month. But association members say there’s still a long way to go before their dream of a town hub can become reality.

The council had previously granted ‘preferred bidder’ status to development firm Bouygues, which had put forward a proposal to construct an extra care centre on the site. Residents asked council leader Bob Standley why that decision had been taken.

He said the next move is for Wealden to consider a bid from Crowborough Town Council to buy the offices. At present that offer was subject to consultation and the council’s ability to secure enough money to progress the scheme. Wealden’s view had been that council taxpayers should not be expected to prop up a proposal that could not be adequately funded.

Cllr David Larkin said the rival bid from Bouygues is still subject to the firm obtaining planning consent - because a specific application for a building or area of land has been formally approved, does not mean other proposals cannot also be granted permission.

The aim to convert the building is now subject to funds being made available. Members of Crowborough Town Council plan to write to households and hold a public consultation to find out whether people are prepared to pay increased council taxes for the scheme to go ahead. Costs have been estimated at about £2.65million. A loan could come from the Public Loans Board and applications made for grants, but still a substantial amount of money must be found within the town.