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No through road: earliest opening for the Queensway Gateway Road is now November.

Sea Change projects under pressure at Selep

Sea Change Sussex finds itself under pressure at Selep, its major funder, where the accountability board has set challenging demands on three of its current projects, and raised the prospect of withdrawing funding for two of them. Nick Terdre reports.

The accountability board of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (Selep) – Sea Change Sussex’s main channel of access to government funds – has imposed challenging demands and deadlines on its three major current projects: Queensway Gateway Road, North Queensway Innovation Park and Bexhill Enterprise Park North.

A report on Queensway Gateway to the board’s September meeting by an officer of East Sussex County Council, which is co-sponsor of the project with Sea Change, and the Selep capital programme manager, revealed further slippage in the delivery of the temporary solution, which involves  linking Queensway Gateway via Whitworth Road to Junction Road and installing traffic lights where Junction Road meets the A21. This could allow traffic to flow in late November, according to the report – in July the board was given a suggested start date of “early autumn.”

Sea Change is now awaiting the issue of the necessary traffic regulation order by ESCC. “The Council has completed its consultation for the order and we understand the process of putting it in place is moving forward,” it told HOT in early October.

National Highways, as Highways England has just renamed itself, had also just signed off the road safety audit for connecting Queensway Gateway with the A21. “This should now enable the remaining highways agreements to be completed,” Sea Change said.

Meanwhile the permanent scheme, which calls for Queensway Gateway to be connected to Sedlescombe Road North, the A21, via a roundabout, remains stalled as negotiations with landowners of sites between Whitworth Road and the A21 have failed to reach agreements.

ESCC has said its preference is for these negotiations to be brought to a successful conclusion, but if that proves impossible, it will contemplate seeking a CPO – compulsory purchase order. In this case “…the construction start and completion could be delayed further by anywhere between 6 and 18 months from an earliest start date of early 2022,” the report stated.

CPO complications

However, the CPO option is seemingly not straightforward. “Due to unforeseen circumstances experienced by Sea Change Sussex in relation to the land negotiations, East Sussex County Council is re-evaluating the options available for consideration of a Compulsory Purchase Order,” the report notes. The council has been in discussions with an independent expert to consider whether there is a case for a CPO among the options for completing the project, the report revealed.

Sea Change has already spent the £10m grant from the government’s Local Growth Fund (LGF) for this project and has committed to covering the outstanding £2m from its own funds. If it is not possible to deliver the “final connection,” the report noted that steps might be taken to recover the grant from ESCC. The project is described as “subject to a significant deliverability risk.” Sea Change told HOT that the funding needed to complete the project was available.

There was no new news in an update given to Selep’s Strategic board at its 1 October meeting. A further update will be provided to the accountability board at its next meeting on 19 November.

Bexhill Enterprise Park North

Like Queensway Gateway, the Bexhill Enterprise Park North project is classed by Selep as high-risk. Here delays have been caused by Rother District Council planning committee’s refusal of planning permission which was overturned on appeal in April.

Sea Change is responsible for the enabling works – preparing the site and infrastructure on which its partner Westcott Leach is to build industrial units – which Selep has agreed in principle to fund through a £1.94m LGF grant. This will only be released when a “third party grant agreement” has been negotiated between Sea Change and ESCC, which is responsible for delivering the funding on Selep’s behalf.

So far the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement, and if they fail to do so by the time of the next accountability board meeting on 19 November, the board has decided that the funding offer should be withdrawn.

The grant was due to be spent by end September but a six-month extension recommended by the accountability board was endorsed by the Strategic board at last week’s meeting. A further condition is that contractual commitments with the
construction contractor must be in place by 31 October.

Sea Change said it was waiting for a response from ESCC to its proposed way forward and was hopeful the grant agreement would be concluded within the set timescale.

The company has undertaken initial enabling works “as there’s such an acute need in the county for new industrial premises,” it said. In contrast to what was reported to the accountability board, the contractor has not been stood down. “Sea Change is funding these works itself in anticipation of receiving the grant awarded for the project by SELEP.”

High Weald House, part of the Bexhill Enterprise Park development (photo: Sea Change Sussex website).

North Queensway Innovation Park

Sea Change is also in danger of losing its £3.5m grant from the government’s Getting Building Fund for the proposed development of its North Queensway site if by the time of the accountability board’s November meeting it has not secured planning permission for its application, HS/FA/21/00327, and come to a third party grant agreement with ESCC.

The report noted that the 10-month construction period indicated in the project milestones accompanying the application for the Selep grant meant that there was already insufficient time for the project to be delivered by the deadline of 31 March 2022 but held out the possibility of an extension of up to six months.

Rather than follow the advice of Hastings Borough Council’s planners to engage with Natural England and reach agreement with it on how best to safeguard the ecology of the Marline Woods and Site of Special Scientific Interest which flank the site, Sea Change argued in its application that its previous contacts with Natural England had been sufficient for it to draw up an acceptable plan.

However Natural England did not agree – in fact it responded that it had not even been presented with enough information to properly assess the plan and requested more. In August Sea Change confirmed to HOT that it was working to provide further information. By early October no further information had been published on the planning department’s website.

The earliest the planning committee can consider the application is 14 October. A further meeting is scheduled for 10 November. The application has now attracted more than 200 objections.

The estimated cost of the North Queensway project is £4.5m, leaving Sea Change to raise £1.1m from other sources.

(The site, originally known as the North Queensway Innovation Park, is also referred to as the North Queensway Business Park or Commercial Park, while the summary of decisions of the Selep accountability board refer to it as the Fast-Track Business Solutions for the Hastings Manufacturing Sector project.)

 

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Posted 11:25 Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021 In: Home Ground

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. DAR

    You buy the land first THEN start building a road. Simple, you’d think. Seachange should have been wound up years ago.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Oct 7, 2021 @ 10:17

  2. bernardmg

    The record of Seachange has been less than impressive for years, and it’s no surprise the worm has turned. Thanks for an excellent article.

    Comment by bernardmg — Thursday, Oct 7, 2021 @ 09:20

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