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Selep’s accountability board meeting last week. ESCC leader Keith Glazier is second from right.

Selep withdraws Sea Change’s North Queensway grant

Sea Change Sussex’s plans for the North Queensway Innovation Park suffered a serious setback last week when the South East Local Enterprise Partnership withdrew its £3.5m grant offer. A firm start date for the Queensway Gateway Road is still unavailable but work on the Bexhill Enterprise Park North has resumed following the release of funds. Nick Terdre reports.

The accountability board of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) last week cancelled a £3.5m grant from the government’s Getting Building Fund for Sea Change Sussex’s plan to build industrial units on its North Queensway Innovation Park.

East Sussex County Council, the accountable body for the project, will have to return £804,365 of the grant which has already been disbursed to it.

The decision was taken as the project – presented as Fast-Track Business Solutions for the Hastings Manufacturing Sector – had failed to meet conditions set at the board’s September meeting, having achieved neither planning permission from Hastings Borough Council nor a third-party grant agreement with ESCC.

Sea Change Sussex’s proposal for building industrial units on the so far undeveloped North Queensway Innovation Park.

“Our North Queensway industrial scheme would have delivered much-needed new premises for the area’s manufacturing businesses, so it’s disappointing that the complexity of the site and delays beyond our control have meant we’ve ‘timed out’ on eligibility for the Getting Building Fund (GBF) from SELEP,” Sea Change told HOT. “This would have been a great boost to the local business community.”

“We remain committed to finding ways to meet the needs of the business community across East Sussex, and will reflect on the situation and consider our options for the site over the weeks to come.”

One delay which would appear to have been within Sea Change’s control was its failure to engage with Natural England over its concerns about the effects of the project on the ecology of the adjacent Marline Valley. The agency had complained that there was too little detail in the planning application, HS/FA/21/00327, on how damage would be mitigated for it to comment. A revised environmental statement has still not been posted on HBC’s website and the case was not ready to be taken before the planning committee at its meeting on 10 November.

Protest rally against the Sea Change’s North Queensway plans in August.

Decision welcomed

News of the grant withdrawal was welcomed by Seachangewatch, which is critical of Sea Change’s use of public funds. “We are delighted that the funding for this ill-fated project has been withdrawn,” co-ordinator Andrea Needham said. “It threatened to cause irreparable harm to Marline Valley, and constituted a vast misuse of public funds, given that SeaChange has been trying to market this site for many years with no success.

“We are calling on the South East Local Enterprise Partnership to call time on this fiasco, and to state that it will not offer any more funding in the future for this destructive project.”

However, future efforts to secure funding for the North Queensway project cannot be ruled out, as ESCC leader Keith Glazier, who sits on the accountability board, made clear when he told the meeting: “Our preference would be for more time to be given, but we recognise that if the Board is minded to remove the project from the programme at this time that it be retained as a GBF prioritised pipeline project so that it could be considered with all others for funding, again, should any further funding be allocated to the programme.”

Prior to the meeting Glazier was sent an email letter organised by Seachangewatch and signed by 131 people calling on him to support the withdrawal of funding as the board’s decisions had not been met.

The GBF grant covered most but not all of the project cost – the balance of £1m was due to be met by Sea Change. However, the board learnt last week that the project cost had risen by a further £1.9m to a total £6.4m due to “increased materials costs and adverse site conditions.”

Sea Change, which is already committed to covering the outstanding £2m cost of completing the Queensway Gateway Road, proposed setting up a private sector joint venture partnership to secure the additional funds.

BEP funds released

Meanwhile funding of £1.94m from the government’s Local Growth Fund capital programme has been released for Sea Change’s Bexhill Enterprise Park North project. This followed the conclusion of a third-party grant agreement between Sea Change and ESCC and the existence of a construction contract, which were also made conditions for the monies to be released at the board’s September meeting.

Here the economic development company is building an access road to the site where its partner Westcott Leach will build industrial units amounting to 84,000 sq ft of light industrial floorspace. The scheme has the potential to support up to 500 jobs, according to Sea Change, which aims to finish its work by spring next year.

Work under way on the Bexhill Enterprise Park North access road following the release of funds (photo: Sea Change Sussex).

No firm date for Queensway Gateway Road

However, there is still no firm date for the Queensway Gateway Road, which was originally due to be operating by 2016, to be opened. Work is currently concentrated on implementing a temporary solution involving a link via Whitworth Road into Junction Road and the installation of traffic lights at the junction of Junction Road and the A21.

A redesign of this connection  is under way which has received partial approval from Highways England. Full approval for the design and associated plans “should be forthcoming” in early 2022 from Highways England and ESCC, according to an update to the board.

But construction of the final works depends on a so-called Section 278 legal agreement between Sea Change, ESCC and Highways England which is not expected to be completed until early spring. Delivery of the signalised connection is then expected to take another six-eight weeks.

Before the road can be opened to traffic, a traffic regulation order is also required to prohibit parking in Whitworth Road. Although Sea Change originally applied for this in March 2020, it could not be progressed at the time and the company now needs to update its application before it can be drafted and put out to public consultation. No time-scale is given for this order being finalised and actionable, but “it does have the potential to impact on the timing of the opening of the new road…”

Meanwhile, due to the lack of progress in negotiations for acquisition of the land required for the original route, the report raises the possibility of the temporary solution becoming permanent, which would require a Change Request to be brought to the board. A clear timeline for this eventuality will be presented to the board when a further update is provided to its next meeting in February.

Image: Sea Change Sussex

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Posted 13:07 Friday, Nov 26, 2021 In: Home Ground

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