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North Queensway Innovation Park: after six years, still no takers for the opportunities offered by Sea Change Sussex.

Public funds for Sea Change to develop empty business park

Sea Change Sussex has been allocated £3.5m of public funds to finance a fresh attempt to develop the vacant North Queensway Innovation Park, but its plans have been criticised for posing danger to the local ecology. Nick Terdre reports.

Sea Change Sussex plans to build 4,000 sq metres of industrial units on two plots of the undeveloped North Queensway Innovation Park in north-west Hastings. It has secured a £3.5m grant to cover construction costs from the government’s Getting Building Fund through the auspices of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (Selep).

Total project cost is £4.5m, according to Selep, with the balance to be provided from Sea Change’s own funds.

In its grant application in September the economic development company said it was confident of receiving planning permission from Hastings Borough Council in October; it envisaged starting construction in January and completing it next October. However, in February it was still embroiled with the planning department in the preparatory steps towards submitting a planning application.

According to Seachangewatch, which monitors Sea Change’s activities, the project puts at risk the adjacent Marline Valley nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It cites Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, which in a comment to the planning department expressed “considerable concerns” that the run-off from the project into the SSSI could damage fragile habitats.

“Great concern”

In response to past applications NE has commented extensively on how it considers the risks to the SSSI should be handled. As regards the current proposal it wrote, “It is a matter of great concern that our clear advice is not being followed with the latest proposals.” It repeats its call that any development on the site should incorporate a Suds – sustainable urban drainage system.

“This is a critical point for these schemes. We would therefore welcome an updated scheme that utilised Suds in particular as this matter is so important for the SSSI.”

The two plots which Sea Change proposes to develop. Omitting plot 2.1, as suggested by Natural England, would significantly diminish returns, the company said (image: Sea Change application to Selep).

NE also reiterated its past recommendation that the larger of the two plots, which is located closer to the SSSI, should be removed from the application. Sea Change is resistant to the idea – in its Selep application it argued that such a reduced project “would significantly diminish the returns to [Sea Change] that it expects from its investment in the project and so a reduced project option has been discounted.”

Full EIA required

The company’s attempts to reduce the scope of the environmental impact assessment required as part of its new planning application on the grounds that much of the work had already been performed in connection with its original application to develop the site in 2012 have proved in vain.

In a decision issued in early February, the planning department ruled that in addition to the issues which Sea Change proposed to cover, “…all other environmental issues should still be included within the Environmental Statement(emphasis in original).

It further recommended that NE’s comments should be duly noted and that “the applicant engage with Natural England’s national hydrology expert to ensure a proposal for development comes forward that satisfies their concerns.”

Sea Change confirmed that a planning application has yet to be submitted. “Before submitting a planning application, we’ve been going through an initial phase of consultation with various authorities,” a spokesman told HOT.

“And from detailed survey work, we’re fully confident we can avoid any negative impact on the local environment. This is a cleared development site and environmental matters have been addressed on previous planning applications for it.”

Sea Change has been marketing the NQIP since 2014 “with little progress made on securing private investors,” it admitted to Selep. The new project would “create modern premises to support local businesses and job creation and provide a much-needed boost to the area’s economy,” the spokesman told HOT. “The scheme builds on Hastings’ strong manufacturing base and is designed to help local companies to expand and start up, taking advantage of the area’s skilled workforce.

“Important initiative”

“We trust our scheme will be recognised as an important initiative to boost local businesses and jobs and help the town’s post-COVID recovery.”

The Getting Building Fund, which aims to “drive economic growth, create new jobs and support green recovery”, is intended to finance shovel-ready projects and must be spent by 31 March 2022, according to Selep. Meeting that deadline is looking difficult for Sea Change, though the spokesman said a new timetable had been drawn up.

In 2012 NQIP was promoted as having the potential to create 865 jobs, though Sea Change’s job creation projections have become less ambitious over time. The current project is said to create 85 jobs, summing the execution phase and estimated  employment assuming the units are occupied.

Marline Valley, which could suffer irreparable damage if the project goes ahead, according to Seachangewatch (photo: Seachangewatch).

Seachangewatch is sceptical that the scheme will succeed, and of its chances of averting ecological damage. “SeaChange has failed for six years to find tenants for North Queensway, and now has got another £3.5m of public money for a project which could do irreparable harm to Marline Valley,” said coordinator Andrea Needham.

“I trust that HBC’s planning committee will turn down this destructive plan. Further, I hope that HBC will start to demand transparency and accountability from SeaChange, a company which over and over again has shown that it should not be trusted with public money.”

No through road: parked cars clog up Whitworth Road which is now connected to the Queensway Gateway Road.

Queensway Gateway Road still not open

Sea Change’s coming application will also include a request for the renewal of the planning permission granted in late 2017 to build two units in NQIP. These remain unbuilt – one of the prospective tenants has withdrawn, the other is proving an obstacle to another of the company’s projects, the Queensway Gateway Road which received the go-ahead in January 2016.

The route runs through Bartlett’s Seat car showroom which is located between Whitworth Road and Sedlescombe Road North, the A21. On Sea Change’s behalf East Sussex County Council is attempting to acquire the land occupied by the car showroom by means of a compulsory purchase order.

In the meantime a temporary solution is being implemented by connecting the QGR via Whitworth Road to Junction Road, the short link between Sedlescombe Road North and The Ridge. The QGR is supposed to open in this form in early 2021, but in mid February had not done so.

Map showing the temporary and permanent routes for the QGR (source: Sea Change)

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted 19:43 Saturday, Feb 13, 2021 In: Home Ground

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