Town Centre Re-development
Re-development of East Grinstead Town Centre
For many years MSDC have been promising to oversee a redevelopment of the very tatty Queens Walk in the Town Centre and the Queens Road Car Park - the latter MSDC inherited from the old East Grinstead Urban District Council (UDC) around 1973.
MSDC history of failed schemes
Various proposals have come and gone and on one occasion MSDC even apparently tried to force Martells to sell their land under a compulsory purchase order (CPO) in an attempt to deliver a scheme. We are told that this unsuccessful CPO attempt was very costly to taxpayers. It is understood that this costly failure to secure a CPO largely led to the MSDC policy to avoid CPOs.
Costly Thornfield Joint Venture
Almost a decade ago MSDC formed a joint venture partnership with a developer called Thornfield. MSDC produced a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) that they said set out the development principles for the redevelopment. It was subject to a public consultation but this was timed to coincide with MSDC's attempts to impose mass-development on the Town through their East Grinstead Area Action Plan in what looked like a classic case of a "good opportunity to bury bad news".
MSDC secured little support for the Thornfield scheme as it provided very little detail. For example, the consultation provided very little idea of what the design of the scheme would look like, an important matter considering the promient position next to the Conservation Area, but objections that the designs shown looked generic and would be more appropriate for a town centre such as Crawley or Reading were dismissed by MSDC on the grounds that the proposals were merely illustrative. Nonetheless MSDC did adopt the SPD.
It was desigend to allow MSDC to approve the scheme that their joint venture company thought would be most profitable. MSDC faced a clear conflict of interest.
The scheme was abandoned when Thornfield collapsed during the 2008/2009 financial crisis. Thornfield demanded recompense for a land deal that had formed part of the contract between MSDC and Thornfield. The late Cllr Paddy Henry worked diligently to expose the details with some success. The information he obtained suggested that the unsuccesful scheme had effectively cost MSDC taxpayers between £600K and £1m although the MSDC Leadership has never corrected this estimate or admitted the true figure.
The current Leadership have adopted a different approach, deciding to work with developers, Frontiers, working for Martells. Details have not been made public and it seems that MSDC and Martells do not consider the Town's residents are entitled to any say in the matter.
Even though it appears unlikely that the latest scheme could deliver anything like the Thornfield scheme, it seems that the Leadership at Haywards Heath intend to use the 2006 consultation to avoid any public consultation this time. Whether or not this is lawful is a matter of opinion but the MSDC Leadership are presumably counting on nobody being prepared to make a legal challenge.
According to the papers for the 04 June 2014 meeting of the Planning Scrutiny Committee, MSDC have largely agreed their secret deal but Frontiers cannot finance the project until an agreement is signed for an 'anchor' store to underpin the viability of the development. There has been much speculation as to which national store Frontiers hope to sign, but the on-going delays suggest that it remains purely an ambition.
The Leadership at Haywards Heath have previously made it known that their primary goal is to maximise the asset value of the land they inherited from East Grinstead UDC, including maximising the car park revenue.
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