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The North Queensway Innovation Park in late June.

Sea Change’s North Queensway plans prompt many objections

Sea Change Sussex has filed its application to build industrial units on the site of the undeveloped North Queensway Innovation Park, prompting the submission of some 70 objections and a petition. Meanwhile Rother District Council faces a hefty bill after the company won its appeal against the refusal of an application for the Bexhill Enterprise Park. Nick Terdre reports.

Sea Change Sussex has submitted plans for development of the North Queensway Innovation Park, involving the construction of 4,010 sq metres of light industrial units and 490 sq m of “bespoke space” for a local employer, as well as seeking the renewal of planning permission to build a car showroom.

The application (HS/FA/21/00327) represents the economic development company’s attempt to revive what is so far a failed scheme – planning permission was originally granted in 2013 for the provision of infrastructure and utilities and a road junction to provide access onto the site from Queensway. With this in place, it was expected that occupiers would come forward to build their own premises.

None has, and apart from the access road no infrastructure has been developed, so Sea Change now proposes building its own, as it says, “speculative” industrial units on two separate plots.

Last year Sea Change was allocated a grant of £3.5m from the government’s Getting Building Fund for “shovel-ready projects” towards the cost of the £4.5m project – the remainder is to be provided by the company. The grant was dispensed by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (Selep) which was assured by Sea Change in September that it was confident of receiving planning permission from Hastings Borough Council in October and would complete construction next October.

In the event the application was only submitted in April. The grant is due to be spent by end March 2022, or otherwise has to be repaid, so if the project requires a construction time of 12 months, the deadline looks unlikely to be achieved.

Objections and petitions

Meanwhile the application has attracted plenty of criticism, including, at the last count, 78 objections and an e-petition launched by Seachangewatch, which maintains a critical eye on Sea Change’s activities, and signed by 43 residents. Due to the short period allowed by HBC for signing the petition, a second one has been launched.

However a Sea Change spokesman defended the project. “There’s a high demand for ready-made industrial units of this type,” a spokesman told HOT. “A recent report by Locate East Sussex highlights a severe shortfall of such premises – and says it would expect units at North Queensway to be ‘massively oversubscribed, given pent-up demand’. This is certainly reflected in the number of occupier enquiries we’ve already received about the scheme.

“We’re confident this is a scheme that would have a huge positive effect on local businesses, jobs and the local economy, and we hope it will be recognised as a vital initiative to help Hastings bounce back from the pandemic…

“We know the scheme has been opposed by a small group of anti-development protestors – who’ve raised objections to numerous employment and regeneration schemes across the town. But we’ve already carefully considered the issues they’ve highlighted and addressed these within our application.”

In the run-up to the application, Sea Change unsuccessfully tried to persuade the HBC planning department that a cut-down environmental statement would be sufficient; it was also told to address the “considerable concerns” expressed by Natural England about the potential impacts on the adjacent Marline Valley nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, which, the government’s watchdog for the natural environment said, had been ignored by Sea Change. The agency’s response to the application is therefore awaited with great interest on all sides.

Orchid in Marline Valley (photo: Seachangewatch).

The planning department specifically requested that “the applicant engage with Natural England’s national hydrology expert to ensure a proposal for development comes forward that satisfies their concerns.”

This appears not to have happened – the application states that, “Numerous discussions were held with Natural England and the Local Planning Authority ecologist as part of the 2012 Application and subsequent Reserved Matter Applications, but no specific consultation has been undertaken in relation to the current Application.”

The Sea Change spokesman told HOT: “Prior to the detailed development of the scheme, Natural England raised some concerns about the potential impact on the hydrology of the Marline Valley SSSI. We’ve taken these comments fully into account, alongside detailed hydrological survey and engineering design work, to bring forward proposals that will have a negligible impact on the Marline Valley, if any at all.”

Fragile habitats at risk

Among Natural England’s concerns is the damage to fragile habitats in the adjacent Marline Valley nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) that run-off from the development could cause. It called on the plot closest to the SSSI to be removed from the development, but Sea Change refused the recommendation, arguing that such a move would significantly diminish its return from the investment.

Seachangewatch also notes that the ecology report for the application estimates the development will cause a 25% reduction in biodiversity, but “gives no indication how that will be compensated for. This is in contravention of HBC policy HN8 – development should result in no net loss of biodiversity.”

The report suggests that “meaningful compensation” will be provided “in the form of new wildlife friendly soft landscaping within the development plots.” It admits that “additional compensation will be required to deliver a net gain,” but while stating that “options for additional compensation are currently being considered,” it gives no idea what these might be.

The lack of a travel plan is pointed out by Seachangewatch, though the transport assessment says it is normal practice to provide this as a condition of approval. It notes that, “The site is considered sustainable in transport terms by the local planning authority,” and that “Many amenities are within walking distance of the site. Staff of the proposed development will be able to access shopping, health and community facilities, and education facilities, all within 1.6km of the site.”

No footpaths along Ingleside (view from Church Wood Drive end).

This they will do via a footpath running between the innovation park and Enviro 21, another uncompleted Sea Change project, and crossing Queensway (no pedestrian crossing, however) to Napier Road, which has a pavement on one side. However, to arrive at Tesco and the nearest bus stop, pedestrians then have to walk the best part of 500 metres along Ingleside which has no footpath.

Queensway Gateway Road

Permission to construct a car showroom was originally sought to provide a new location for the Bartlett SEAT showroom on Whitworth Road, which stands on the route along which Sea Change  plans to build the final link of the Queensway Gateway Road, to connect it to the A21.

In the event Bartlett declined to relocate to the North Queensway site and both sides are still far from reaching  agreement on an alternative solution, HOT understands.

Meanwhile even a date for the opening of the planned temporary link of the Queensway Gateway Road remains uncertain. The earliest date Sea Change has given to Selep is August, but work has first to be done on the junction with the A21, including the installation of traffic lights, for which agreements with Highways England are required.

An update on the project was due to be given to Selep’s Strategic Board on 25 June. During the meeting it emerged that a report about the company had been received by several members of the board, which the committee decided should be treated as a complaint and investigated in line with its procedures, as reported in the video record of the meeting (about 14 minutes in).

Rother refusal overturned on appeal

Sea Change and its partner Westcott Leach won their appeal in April against the refusal by Rother District Council to approve detailed plans for the Bexhill Enterprise Park North development, according to Sea Change the “most significant business development area in the county.”

Refusal was recommended by the planning department on the grounds that the proposal failed to meet the standards and requirements laid down by the council’s relevant supplementary planning document and other planning policies.

The planning inspector’s decision is likely to cost the council some £200,000 in covering the appellants’ costs, HOT has been told. This project – which involves Sea Change providing the site and infrastructure and Westcott Leach the industrial units – has been allocated a Local Growth Fund grant of £1.94m by Selep.

This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 28 June and on 1 July 2021.

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Posted 09:38 Saturday, Jun 26, 2021 In: Home Ground

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. DAR

    Sea Change – dodgy and incompetent.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Jul 1, 2021 @ 13:52

  2. Nigel Inwood

    As others have pointed out, some leading Labour councillors are directors of Sea Change Sussex, a property development business. It describes itself as:

    ‘the not-for-profit economic development company for the county. We’re working to expand the area’s economy and generate jobs by attracting successful employers and enabling local firms to grow’.

    Not for profit?

    https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/07632595/officers?fbclid=IwAR089wVs69etuufvuLn7Ri2f5vdi39ntmOyw9Et8tYz4rweLdrLfsnjrH4M

    Comment by Nigel Inwood — Monday, Jun 28, 2021 @ 12:36

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