The letter below was sent to Keith Glazier, leader of East Sussex County Council, on 17 November. It was signed by 131 people, mostly from Hastings and St Leonards but also from other parts of East Sussex.
Councillor Glazier sits on the South East Local Enterprise Partnership accountability board, which will be making a decision on 19 November about whether to withdraw funding for SeaChange’s North Queensway business park.
Dear Councillor Glazier
At the SELEP accountability board meeting on 19 November, you will be asked to make a decision about whether or not to withdraw the funding for SeaChange Sussex’s North Queensway business park. We ask you to withdraw the funding.
You were part of the accountability board meeting on 10 September which made the unequivocal decision that unless planning permission for the project was secured by 19 November, funding would be withdrawn and allocated to another project (p14).
In order for planning permission to be secured by 19 November, the project would have to have been on the Hastings Borough Council planning committee agenda for 10 November. It was not on the agenda, and therefore there is no possibility of planning permission being secured by 19 November, as there are no further planning committee meetings before this date.
The agenda pack for the 19 November accountability board meeting restates this decision, and asks the board to choose from two options (p106): to continue the funding (if the conditions have been met); or to withdraw it (if the conditions have not been met).
As the conditions have clearly not been met, the only option open to the board would appear to be to withdraw funding.
However, we note with concern that appendix B (p145) in the agenda pack (p145) suggests that funding can continue provided planning permission is secured by 31 December, which would allow the application to be heard by Hastings council planning committee on 8 December.
This goes directly contrary to the decision you were part of at the September meeting. In addition, we note that if funding were to continue, the project would have to be completed by September 2022 at the latest – a timetable which SELEP itself says (p131)(https://www.southeastlep.com/app/uploads/2020/10/Agenda-Pack-19.11.21-1.pdf p131) ‘appears to be ambitious’ and ‘offers no scope for slippage as a result of any further delays’.
As you will be aware, SeaChange Sussex has a strong history of delayed projects, with the Queensway Gateway road currently five years late and still unfinished. The chances of the company being able to complete this major project in ten months would appear to be remote.
Furthermore, we note that the project has increased in cost by £1.9m (p145) since the business case was presented to SELEP in October 2020. This is an increase of 42%, which SeaChange proposes to fund through a ‘joint venture partnership’. This would increase the risk even further; there would a strong possibility that SeaChange might start the project, then be unable to find other businesses to enter into a joint venture, and end up with a half-finished project with no funding, which would have to be bailed out by East Sussex County Council.
The planned business park is right next to Marline Valley nature reserve and SSSI, and will inevitably impact on it. Natural England has expressed ‘considerable concerns’ over the plans because of the risk of runoff during construction or operation polluting the fragile habitats of Marline Valley. It has asked SeaChange to agree not to build on the plot nearest to the reserve; SeaChange has refused. At a time when it is critical that we protect our precious green spaces, this project is completely inappropriate.
We are calling on you to call time on this damaging project and to follow up on the decision you made in September to withdraw funding if planning permission had not been secured by 19 November. To do otherwise would be utterly undemocratic and unaccountable and would set a very poor precedent for future projects looking for funding from SELEP.