Rallying call to Tilling Green

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A vision for the site from John Wylie of Tilling Green who , like others, is anxious about the future

A new town council for Rye will be elected in 13 days time but the old one is not going quietly. On Monday April 20, at its last full meeting, the council agreed in principle to back the draft neighbourhood plan about future development in Rye. And this coming Monday April 27, the redevelopment of the former Tilling Green school site – one of the big issues in that plan – will surface at the public services committee meeting in St Mary’s Centre at 6.30 pm. Cllr Mary Smith who chairs that committee is urging residents to pack the centre – “to ask questions, to demand answers, to receive defined timetables and targets. In short, I want to see evidence of a coherent plan and evidence of management. I want to know, too, who will run the centre,” she told Rye News.

Housing association Amicus Horizon has been invited to report at Monday’s meeting about their plans for the site amidst growing concern over how and when it will be redeveloped. The former school is now a busy community centre. It is the only one in that part of Rye and is used regularly by more than a dozen groups ranging from the Quakers to slimming activities, a recycling group, a camera club, computer club, and advice services on employment, health, benefits and related issues.

One possibility is that a community interest company (CIC) – which is required to use its profits and assets for the benefit of the community rather than for private gain – might be set up by the current users to run a replacement centre. That step was positively encouraged by Rye Partnership, who currently run the centre,  at a private meeting on Wednesday night of the groups who now hire the centre’s hall and rooms.

The Rye Partnership, focused on encouraging business growth and employment, currently use the centre as a base, and for the provision of various services, like advice and training, and also manages it. But though no final decision has apparently been taken by it, the partnership may not need or want to remain on the site, which was one of the reasons why they had called a meeting of the centre’s current hirers.

Wider consultation will follow, and has to follow, said Ian Ross, a Rye Partnership director. He apologised for not keeping people better informed, but then was unable to give specific answers to various questions raised – while giving the impression that work might start next year and take 18 months.

Rother Cllr Sam Souster said that it would be important to have Amicus present at any future meetings of the centre’s users particularly as the centre “is the only meeting place in this part of town”.

‘We need to know’

A moving-out-date concerned many who use the centre. They needed to know as soon as possible. Ross said he noted their concerns, would pass on comments to Amicus, and seek copies of the latest plans as “I don’t want this to be a one-off meeting”.

Amicus as the developer – invited to Monday’s meeting by outgoing Cllr Mary Smith – are likely to face close questioning about how this project is progressing.

The draft neighbourhood plan is very clear on the importance of the Tilling Green site – both in terms of housing and community needs – but there must now be a question mark over whether Rye Partnership can be, or wants to be, the community partner in the development.

The plan, and any developments, will however have to comply with national planning rules and Rother council’s own core strategy which states that developments cannot go ahead if they result in the loss of community premises and if alternative premises cannot be provided before redevelopment starts. Tilling Green residents understood an alternative centre would be provided before work started on the new housing, but this now seems uncertain.

The draft neighbourhood plan says that “with an ageing population, the delivery of services and activities in accessible locations is particularly significant” which would then become an issue if the existing centre was not available for a lengthy period. It goes on to say “many are concerned about the plan [for the new centre at Tilling Green] and how it might house facilities” for the range of services that might want to use it. It suggests that amenity CICs should be encouraged to allow the community to manage its own facilities, quoting the new Kino site and the allotments as examples.

Also on the agenda at Monday’s public services committee meating: Martin Bolton from Rother council on how social housing is allocated in Rye; Stuart Harland from the MarshLink Action Group on the latest rail news; and possibly an update from Rye Community Transport on bus cuts starting Sunday.