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Yet More Plans For Burgess Hill Town Centre - But There's A Potential Sticking Point

8th September 2013
By Peter Chapman

The district's town centres were the main issue for debate at Tuesday's meeting of the Scrutiny Committee for Planning and Economic Development at the District Council.

Unlike the printed press, Burgess Hill Uncovered actually attended the meeting to get a better understanding of the state of play.

A brief history of plans for the Martlets:
Long time readers of Burgess Hill Uncovered will know that NewRiver Retail - owners of the Martlets - have presented many plans for the centre over the past few years.

These ranged from:

  • Putting a supermarket in Cyprus Road car park
  • A supermarket in the Martlets
  • Relocating the small shops to Cyprus Road car park
  • Relocating the small shops to Waitrose car park
  • Moving Lidl and putting a supermarket in its place
  • A kiosk for the central square outside Lidl
  • Putting a cinema above a supermarket
  • Building an underground car park and developing over the multistorey car park
  • Relocating the public library to Church Walk and putting a big shop in its place.
  • Building a 60-room hotel
  • Knocking down the office block behind the Martlets Heights

From the proposals they set out late last year, their timetable had them submitting a final development plan by June 2013. You can completely dismiss all of that now.



A New Proposal:
At Tuesdays meeting yet another new proposal was put forward. You can download the full document here or read the highlights below...

Phase 1

  • Alterations to the Iceland unit including extension into service yard and subdivision.
  • Residential conversion of office tower including the re-facade of theenvelope.
  • Refurbishment of the podium level, Heights building, which includes the additional conversion of the first floor to residential, upgrade for gym on mezzanine level and amalgamations of units on the ground floor and improvements to the public realm on to the car park. This option also includes the refurbishment of the elevations.

Phase 2

  • Existing canopies will be removed and the facades re-clad. The fenestrations of the upper parts of the buildings would be redesigned to give a more contemporary feel,
  • Shop fronts would be enlarged and refurbished to provide a better retailimage/environment.
  • Introduce small portable retail units as used in Market Square covered centre to increase the draw to the Martlets part of the centre.
  • Improvements to the public realm and resurfacing.

Phase 2a

  • This is phase 2 with the installation of covered glazed roof, fire strategy improvements and glazed entrance screens and doors.

Phase 3
Phase 3 Development may proceed in 3 ways as follows:

  • Cinema - 30,000 sq ft with car parking underneath with restaurants on to Church Walk. (Lidl and Argos left in situ)
  • Food store and Cinema scheme leaving Lidl in situ.
  • Food store and Cinema option - food store with a gross internal area of 55,000 sq ft (25,000 sq ft retail sales) on ground floor with 30,000 sq ft cinema over. Restaurant units onto Church Walk with reconfiguration of retail units.


When will the application go in?
NewRiver Retail expect to put in a planning application in the Summer of 2014 for Phases 1 and 2 and an outline plan for Phase 3.

A delay of another year at least. You'd not expect work to start until 2015 and it's looking like just cosmetic changes. Will we have a town centre left to redevelop by then?


What our councilors think
Cllrs Ian Simpson, Andrew Barrett-Miles and Denis Jones were all very critical of New River Retail. In fact, councillors from all across the district were very concerned with the lack of activity in Burgess Hill.

It was conceded that our town centre is suffering the most compared to Haywards Heath and East Grinstead.

Councillors said it was a shame that NewRiver Retail are the lease holder and not the council's developer as they could have replaced them by now and actually seen some progress in Burgess Hill.

Council officers weakly tried to allay the fears of councillors who think nothing will happen, most were still left unconvinced.


The Sticking Point And What Should The Council Do?
NewRiver Retail have said 'like all our investment decisions, we will not proceed unless we can generate the right level of commercial return'

Is this with an outlook on where bricks and mortar retail is headed long-term or is there something more immediate that will make them spring into action?

The thoughts of many councillors at Tuesday's meeting (which are also shared by your reporter) is that NewRiver Retail could be looking for a very favourable renegotiation of the head lease at the Martlets or even an acquisition of land. Cheaper payments to the council will mean more profit for NewRiver and a reason to redevelop.

A browse through some documents online shows that the council will need to make up a loss of funding from central government of some £5 million over the next 5 years. Getting a smaller return from the Martlets would not be in the council's interests.

So what should the council do? Hold firm to protect their own income and risk killing off the Martlets which could have a knock-on effect to the rest of the town centre OR do they renegotiate the lease to more favourable terms for NewRiver Retail which could see us get a redevelopment but most likey at the cost of higher council tax bills.

It's good to share, so let people know what could be happening to our town centre.

Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
What would you do if you were the decision maker?
Even if it doesn't hinge on getting a favourable deal, can you see the Martlets actually getting a full redevelopment or essentially just a lick of paint at best?

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