Rye Town Council at its meeting on Monday, September 7 was alerted by Rother district councillors of Bexhill’s intention to press on with the redevelopment of the Rye Hire complex at Cyprus place.
Some councillors were aware of the recent agreement of the business plan of the new Rother “arms length” housing agency, Alliance Homes (Rother) Ltd. This sets out a plan for 1,000 homes by 2035, with only about 350 planned as affordable units across Rother District according to the small print in their supporting documents to cabinet last week. A number of sites are identified mainly owned by Rother District.
What ignited Rye Town Council was the prospect of the loss of a long standing business, Rye Hire, in its accessible location. After some brief but heated exchanges the Rother district councillors were invited to convey back to Bexhill the opinion of Rye Town Council. Mayor Rebekah Gilbert asked for a letter to be sent to the senior executives and councillors at Rother District Council (RDC) stating: “Although the availability of affordable accommodation in Rye needs to be expanded as a matter of priority, the town council opposes any initiative that would result in Rye Hire vacating the Cyprus Place site. This business has traded successfully for over 25 years, providing valuable services – and employment – to Rye and its surrounding parishes” Also a number of staff members are reserve firefighters and thus add hugely to the community.
As always, there is a lot of background to such sudden announcements. The Rye Hire site was originally the Rye Borough Depot before RDC inherited the Borough’s assets in the 1970s. In 2013 the review of land across Rye identified the Cyprus Place site as one for future development. In 2014, the neighbourhood planners were required to assess all land across Rye (Parish) with potential for future development. The site assessment from that time sits on the Rother neighbourhood plan website. The former depot in Cyprus Place was listed for future development, but because of the long lease (then 10 years) was not allocated formally in the neighbourhood plan but left as a “windfall” for the future. At that time we knew that the owners of the land, RDC, could decide to develop once the Rye Hire tenancy had expired. Jumping forward to 2020, one of the recent big initiatives in Bexhill has been the establishment of Alliance Homes (Rother) Ltd. This has an extensive business plan covering its finances and intentions, one of which is the development of the Cyprus Place land.
For the record, the 2014 site assessment highlights several points about the site. We noted the former industrial nature of the land and the possible need for any decontamination; the need for a site specific flood risk assessment and importantly, when the time came, the opportunity to improve the character of the site to fit better with the surrounding residential properties. Our estimation, confirmed by Rother, was for around seven dwellings with some small retail / commercial opportunity more in keeping with the locality. Since then parking has become an increasingly contentious issue and the design of any development there would have be carefully considered. It is noted that Rother has raised the potential from seven to 20 dwellings!
On a wider point, as neighbourhood planners, we have raised before the question of how best to achieve more “affordable housing” (council houses in old language) for local people in Rye. One of the factors is the growing number of second homes (probably around 400). This was a key plank of the neighbourhood plan. Some of the sites that we identified such as the Rock Channel and Lower School site (Ferry Road) show little promise of delivering, and whatever happens with the Cyprus Place proposal, the opportunities are focusing on the former Freda Gardham and Tilling Green school sites, both still owned by East Sussex County Council. These should be part of any future housing discussion in Rye.
Image Credits: Anthony Kimber .