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The plots on the North Queensway Innovation Park on which Sea Change is applying to build industrial units (from Planning Statement, HS/FA/21/00327).

Innovation park plan should be refused, says Greens’ Hilton

The Green Party’s Cllr Julia Hilton has added her voice to the many objections lodged against Sea Change Sussex’s plan to develop the North Queensway Innovation Park, complaining of the council’s lack of scrutiny of the company. Meanwhile Sea Change envisages having the Queensway Gateway road in operation by November, and has been granted funding for the Bexhill Enterprise Park North. Nick Terdre reports.

Cllr Julia Hilton, who became the Green Party’s first councillor on Hastings Borough Council at the May elections, said the party was very concerned at Sea Change Sussex’s plan to develop the North Queensway Innovation Park (NQIP) which, she said, “ 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.”

The party called on the council to refuse planning permission for the project, which has attracted more than 170 objections, including from Hilton – up from around 70 in late June – as well as a petition.

The councillor also complained of the lack of scrutiny of the company by HBC in the decade since it was set up. “It has utterly failed on its own terms by repeatedly failing to deliver on its projects, yet there is total silence from the three councils – Hastings, Rother and East Sussex – that sit on its board.”

A criticism often aimed at Sea Change is that it enjoys the use of public funds but has no public accountability. In 2013 HBC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee proposed that the company should provide an annual account of its activities and a performance report but no action has been taken to implement this decision.

Jobs

In its statement the Green Party raises the question of the number of jobs claimed by Sea Change for the NQIP project. In 2012 its original plan received a loan of £1.5m from the government’s Growing Places Fund for a scheme which it said would create 865 jobs. This relied on companies signing up to build their own premises on the park, but none did. The current plan, which has been awarded a £3.5m grant from the government’s Getting Building Fund and involves Sea Change building industrial units for other companies to occupy, is claimed to create 75 jobs.

When asked about this discrepancy, a Sea Change spokesman told HOT: “The figure of 76 jobs supported relates to the direct employment supported by the scheme submitted for planning consent (i.e. the number of workers that could be physically accommodated in the proposed buildings based on accepted density figures), the scheme itself covering a portion of the NQIP site.

“Previous higher figures related to the whole site, and were also calculated based on a different economic model (prevailing at the time) which considered the broader economic impact including indirect jobs in the wider supply chain.”

The North Queensway site as it is today.

These loans and grants were dispensed by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (Selep), which is currently investigating complaints brought against Sea Change which, HOT understands, also allege its failure to deliver projects as promised.

Prior to Sea Change filing its NQIP application (HS/FA/21/00327), the HBC planning department advised that it should “engage with Natural England’s national hydrology expert” to ensure their proposal satisfied the many concerns expressed by the ecology watchdog. In the application Sea Change revealed that it had not done so.

Natural England “may need to object”

In its response to the application NE says it requires further information on seven issues relating to Sea Change’s proposed strategy for mitigating potential significant effects on the Marline Valley Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest, adding “Without this information, Natural England may need to object to the proposal.

It reiterates what it has said on previous occasions: “It is therefore with considerable concern that Natural England notes that our advice has not been reflected within the scheme’s design.”

“Several other Sea Change projects have gone over budget, are late, or have not created the jobs promised,” the Green Party said. It cited the Queensway Gateway road project, which was granted planning permission in 2014 but may not be finished until August 2023.

“The cost of the project has risen by 100%, with £2m of the extra funding needed being taken from the walking and cycling budget for Hastings and Bexhill,” it said.

Queensway Gateway road update

That date refers to the original plan. As this is currently impossible to implement, Sea Change’s client, East Sussex County Council, last year gave permission for a temporary solution linking the new road to the A21 via Junction Road. In March the company suggested it might be operational by August.

The Sea Change spokesman told HOT that it was seeking approval for an eight-week programme of works from ESCC and Highways England, and that it also needed a  Traffic Regulation Order from ESCC to close Junction Road, which should take two to four months.

“This should enable us to start work on the link in early September and complete it in early November this year,” he said.

“So the road’s opening date is now in the hands of the regulatory authorities, and we’re sure all local road users would encourage them to act swiftly so they can benefit from use of the new road.”

Bexhill Enterprise Park funding

Meanwhile Sea Change reports that Selep has confirmed funding for the Bexhill Enterprise Park North industrial scheme, which was granted permission on appeal after Rother District Council planning committee turned down the application.

“Sea Change Sussex will undertake initial enabling works – comprising development of an access road and utilities – before developer Westcott Leach begins developing 84,000 sq feet of light industrial floorspace on the site. The scheme should be capable of supporting up to 500 jobs,” the spokesman said.

 

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Posted 23:19 Sunday, Jul 18, 2021 In: Home Ground

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