On a cold Tuesday morning in January, BHBPA members made history when a record 61 turned up for the event at the Hickstead Hotel last Tuesday.
On arrival at 7.20 I was soon joined by Roy Stannard and then by the speaker, Sally Blomfield. However, by 7.50 there were still very few in attendance. By 8.10 it was crowded in the Conservatory Room as they turned up in droves, eager no doubt to hear what the Economic and Planning Leader had to say about huge changes coming to Burgess Hill.
The gathering swelled to almost fill the large Courtyard Suite, and after the networking breakfast members took their seats to hear the presentation from MSDC. The information about the future of Burgess Hill has been around for some years now, and Sally explained that these matters are not easy to solve, nor quick to mature into actual change on the ground. She has herself only been in the post for less than a year, and has had to grapple with changes which are enormous and will take 20 years or so to come fully to fruition.
We are talking about the largest building project in the South East, comprising 35 projects, a huge undertaking. There will be 5000 new houses which will require new Primary schools and a new Secondary school in an area called the Northern Arc.
The town centre will see a £65 million investment, with 14,500 sq m of retail space and including a 10 screen cinema and a 63 bed hotel, as well as 142 new homes and a new library. Cineworld, Next and Nandos are confirmed as coming to town, and there will be space for lots of independent shops as well. As you will have noticed, the retail ‘leakage’ is significant in Burgess Hill. And finally, the Gasholder in Leylands Road has gone, to be replaced by a Lidl store.
As for the business community, it was noted that there has been much residential encroachment on the Victoria BP, and now more land west of the town is being allocated to business. ‘The Hub’ building is expected to start before Easter, with five phases of large units followed by one phase of smaller units for businesses. Unfortunately there is not much space available for freehold purchasing, which will be disappointing for those wanting to expand and own their land.
A large Science & Technology Park will also be developed out west of the town. This, we were told is still an aspiration but it is a strategy priority for higher science and technology jobs. There will also be investment in leisure facilities, £21 million to make the A2300 a dual carriageway and improve the Hickstead junction with the A23 and a £10.9 million sum to invest in a sustainable transport scheme for the town.
Ably assisted by Councillor Jonathan Ash-Edwards and newly appointed planner Mark Healy, Sally spoke clearly and logically about the hopes and difficulties of pushing through a scheme of this magnitude.
There were plenty of questions from concerned members at the end, and these were answered honestly and directly, so that people were left with a feeling of hope that there will be change for the better in Burgess Hill and some promise for the business community as well. It is essential that the business community survives and prospers and that we reverse the trend of people leaving the town for work and to shop in Crawley and Brighton. On speaking to lots of people who stayed around to chat long after the presentation had ended it was clear that there was a very positive mood about the place.
Let’s hope for a smooth programme from now on so that the town benefits from changes for the better and a business community which is thriving and a successful source of employment.
Our thanks go to Kevin, the Manager, to Kelly and all the staff for hosting the event for the BHBPA. I feel sure that those who came along would have been much more aware afterwards of what the future holds for Burgess Hill.