If you’re as outraged about this as we are, please sign the letter to Councillor Keith Glazier by 17 November!
We reported recently that SeaChange’s plans for a new business park at North Queensway were at risk because SeaChange had failed to meet the deadline of November 19 for securing planning permission.
Now it looks as if SeaChange may have found a way around this, and that the funding may still be available.
Project due to be completed by October but not yet started
The £3.5m funding comes from the government’s Getting Building Fund (administered by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership), for projects which are ‘shovel ready’ and can be completed within 18 months. SeaChange claimed that the controversial business park would be started in January 2021 and completed by October 2021.
Funding to be withdrawn if no planning permission by November
The months went by and nothing happened. SeaChange put in a planning application (nine months later than they said they would) but month after month, the application failed to appear on the planning committee agenda. SELEP made a decision (p113) at its September meeting that unless planning permission was secured by its next meeting on November 19, the funding would be withdrawn and allocated to another project.
In order for planning permission to be secured by November 19, the application would have to be heard at the planning committee meeting on November 8. However, the application was not on the agenda and opponents of the new business park – those of us who prefer to protect the fragile environment of Marline Valley, rather than the profits of SeaChange – drew a sigh of relief, thinking that for now, at least, the project was going nowhere.
Conditions not met, funding to be withdrawn?
Not so fast, though. In the agenda pack for its November 19 meeting, SELEP restates (p113) its decision to withdraw funding if planning permission is not secured by November 19. It also asks the members of the board (p107) to choose an option: to agree that the project has met the funding conditions, and therefore can retain funding; or that it has not met the conditions, and therefore funding should be removed.
You might think it’s very clear that there is only one option the board could choose: SeaChange has absolutely not met the condition that planning permission should be secured by November 19.
Or have the goalposts moved?
But scroll down the document to page 145 and you find this:
If the planning application is not considered on 10 November 2021, it is expected to be heard at the meeting on 8 December….SeaChange is required to give ‘written confirmation that all planning requirements will be met by 31 December 2021.
So on the one hand, we have an unequivocal decision that if planning permission isn’t granted by November 19, funding will be withdrawn. And on the other hand, we appear to have some moved goalposts, where SeaChange will still get funding provided it gets planning permission by 31 December’.
‘No scope for slippage’
Projects have to be completed by September 2022 at the very latest: allowing this project to continue would mean that SeaChange had ten months to get the whole business park built. As SELEP itself says (p131), this timetable ‘appears to be ambitious’ and ‘offers no scope for slippage as a result of any further delays’.
Almost £2m cost increase
Furthermore, we learn in the document (p145) that the cost of the project has risen by 42% since the business case was submitted, from £4.5m to £6.4m. If that’s not a reason for pulling the plug before any more money is wasted, it’s hard to know what would be.
If there’s one thing we know about SeaChange Sussex, it is that they are almost completely incapable of bringing projects in on time or on budget. If SELEP allows SeaChange to continue with this damaging project, it will not only be setting a very poor precedent, it will be taking an enormous risk.