Northiam council acquires site

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The old Blue Cross site

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 .

5 COMMENTS

  1. It is good to see the local council acting in the interests of the community. Well done to Northiam Parish Council – a bold step to take on this liability but in time it should pay off.

    May I also suggest they investigate a small development of affordable housing for people with a local connection (‘exception sites’ I believe they are called) such as the one being developed in Icklesham.

    • Do you realise the residents of Northiam are paying for this! They have has a surcharge applied to their council tax! This is an ill thought out plan, where is the business plan? As a horse owner I wouldn’t keep my horse somewhere that the public have a right of way across and could potentially leave gates open, dogs chase horses! They want someone to run the whole venture on a voluntary basis!!!

  2. Middle class madness! There seems to be no coherent plan going forward, just a whole load of maybes. There is nothing vaguely resembling a business plan and limited benefit particularly to the elderly villagers who are now saddled with a £1.3m debt for the next 50 years that they have no choice but to repay as it is coming out of a compulsory monthly precept. Voting for this ill-conceived nonsense was far from transparent and quite why a village which already has a pub and a cafe needs pop up ones is beyond me. This ludicrous scheme is the baby of middle class incomers who have rode roughshod over the longstanding residents and has more to do with preventing ‘incomers’ despite the fact that most of them are exactly that. They’ve moved from expensive London homes where they made substantial profits to cheaper rural ones, banked a healthy sum and couldn’t care less that many of the poorer villagers can’t afford this monthly precept. I’ll be standing by laughing when they discover that they can’t sell their homes because new buyers dont want to be saddled with an enormous debt for absolutely no benefit

  3. The chairman anticipates the project will be self-funding. I will watch how this is achieved with interest. A loan of this size over fifty years, even at 2% interest, will cost the village over £3000 a month for the full fifty years. Any enterprise capable of generating that sort of income will require professional management, added to which development of the site will require working capital. Central government policy is to build thousands of new homes in the south east. Does the council intend to buy up any plots of land in the village that come on to the market?
    I did attend the meetings and was saddened to see how democracy can be manipulated by the determination of a few individuals coupled to a large measure of apathy in the village.

  4. Interesting observations. I assume that those voting against would actually have preferred to see a 125 home housing estate as an alternative, with the drain on local resources that surely involves?

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