Following three years of negotiations, the Blue Cross have agreed to sell their redundant 34-acre site in Northiam to the parish council.
The animal rescue charity closed its centre in the middle of the village in 2016 and announced that they would be selling off the land, immediately raising fears that it would be snapped up by developers.
With this in mind, and to ensure that current and future generations would have control over how the land was used, the parish council, following extensive consultations with local residents, sought to secure a central government loan for £2 million with a view to buying the site.
However, the Blue Cross subsequently announced that, due to their charitable status, they were obliged to obtain ‘best value’ for their assets. While they considered their options, the sale process was significantly delayed – and when planning permission for 125 houses was sought, it began to look increasingly unlikely that, in the face of such development potential, the £2 million loan secured by the parish council would be anywhere near sufficient to purchase the land.
Planning permission was never granted, though, and negotiations between the parish council and the Blue Cross recommenced last summer, with a sale price of £1.3 million finally agreed at the end of the year. The council will take possession of the land, which is based around a core of old farm buildings including an oast, and lies within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Immediate plans include the renovation of two existing bungalows on the site to offer to younger local residents at genuinely affordable rents, and paddocks and stabling will be rented out for DIY livery.
A pop-up pub and café could prove a draw in the summer and a community orchard may be planted. In time, artisan workshops and studios could be built, and a natural woodland burial site may be created. A microbrewery is under consideration too, all subject to planning and change of use permissions.
Funding will be sought through grants and benefactors, and a community interest company (similar to a trust) will be set up to manage the site, run by volunteers with a business background.
“This is a bold initiative,” says Pete Sargent, chairman of Northiam Parish Council, ‘but we are very excited to have finally acquired the land. It means we will be able to shape its future with our fellow villagers, and our vision is for it to become a hub at the centre of Northiam, offering variety of facilities that will enhance life here for all residents in perpetuity.
“The plans are ambitious and this is a long-term project rather than a quick fix,” he says, “but, after an initial period of maintenance and repair, a footpath and a bridle path will be opened up across the site so that villagers can start enjoying it as soon as possible, and we hope to have the two bungalows refurbished and ready for occupation by the summer. We will then turn our attention to the rest of the site. Going forward, we hope we will able to provide several more genuinely affordable homes to rent to both younger and older local residents, in addition to many new work and leisure facilities and, in due course, we anticipate that the project will be self-funding with any profit made going directly back to the village.”
Image Credits: Karen Ayling .