‘Stunning’ Tilling Green plans

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The new Tilling Green community centre will be built in the footprint of the old, above

The design of a new Tilling Green community centre, currently housed in the old primary school building, could be a single storey building. That was the surprise news to a crowded public gallery at Rye Town Council public services committee on Monday night. The downside of the plans is that they will leave Tilling Green without a centre on the site for an unspecified time. The upside is that the new centre will be “stunning”.

The plans are being driven by Rye Partnership in collaboration with the local housing association Amicus Horizon. Following years of negotiations and a tendering process the county council agreed to sell the freehold of the former school site to Amicus. Since when it has been evolving plans to build a number of  houses and flats there, together with the new community centre.

At Monday’s meeting representatives from both Rye Partnership and Amicus were invited to answer questions from councillors and the public about the project’s progress.

Amicus sent three representatives, including senior project manager Lisa Shead. However, Ian Ross, the Partnership director responsible for overseeing the project, was again unavailable at an open meeting. Instead Cllr Keith Glazier, leader of the county council and chairman of the Partnership, spoke in Ross’s place.

As at the recent Partnership annual meeting, Glazier emphasised that, to date, he had distanced himself from the project because of a potential conflict of interest between his roles at Partnership and county level. However, now that the “deal was done” he felt free to comment.

Shead began by explaining that there had been delays in submitting formal plans to Rother council because of ongoing investigations into potential flooding issues at the back of the site, where a culvert adjoins the Old Brickyard. As a consequence architects have decided to relocate the new community centre away from that part of the site. Instead they propose to build it in situ, where the school building currently stands.

Amicus still intends to build 30 dwellings of mixed size that will provide 12 rented affordable properties, 6 open market and 12 shared ownership.  Shead said she had just been advised by architects that they could not build any accommodation with ground floor bedrooms, such as bungalows or flats, due to the potential flood risk.

Glazier ‘shocked’ by news

She then announced that the community centre would be a single storey construction. Until then the assumption had been that Amicus would provide a two-storey replacement. Indeed, at the Partnership’s annual meeting there was much talk about the allocation of office space on the upper floor.  It was assumed that this space would be occupied by Rye Partnership.

Glazier, clearly taken aback, told the meeting: “I am quite shocked to find that we now have a single-storey building instead of a two-storey building. No one has shared that with us yet. I am sure we can have some more communication and I am sure we will be doing that. Disappointed, I did not know that, and probably even more disappointed that we shared it here before we shared it between ourselves.”

Shead responded by saying that she had only had two hours before the meeting to study the latest updates. Pressed by Glazier she said the one-storey build is an option, and that, as yet, no formal decision had been made.

Dan Lake, chair of the Tilling Green Residents’ Association (TGRA), asked whether the old community centre could still operate whilst the new was being constructed.

Shead replied: “The understanding was that a new centre would be built before the old one was demolished. The site doesn’t physically allow for this because the new one sits on the footprint of the old one. We will find this impossible to address.

“However, if the community centre is built to the back of the site it is do-able. The community centre will be built first [before the houses], so there will be two sites. The negative is that where we are putting the new centre is covering the footprint of the old. The reality is that there is going to be a window where there isn’t a community centre. The positive is that where the new community centre is placed it can be built as a separate first phase, which will reduce the amount of time that the community is without a centre.”

The demolition of the old centre and construction of the new is estimated to take 18 months. Current proposals suggest the new building will be 475sq m, with a main hall of 180sq m, plus 20sq m of storage, an exhibition/lounge space of 40sq m and dedicated classroom of around 23sq m. There will be a large kitchen area and a terrace. No mention was made of additional office space.

‘Must be commercially viable’

Questions were then asked about what kind of alternative facilities could be made available for centre users during construction.

Glazier said the Partnership and Amicus would work together to ensure that provisions for both centre activities and storage of equipment could be made available elsewhere in the town. Asked if a portable building could be provided on site for users, Shead said that this was unlikely. But, she said, the wait for the new building would be worthwhile, because ultimately Tilling Green would have “a state of the art, stunning community centre”.

John Wylie, a Tilling Green resident and a TGRA committee member, who has used his professional planning skills to produce alternative designs for both the building and the site, commented that the new centre should be designed to make it commercially viable:

“We need to treat it as a commodity that we can generate an income from the letting of the rooms and the space, so it needs to have a good sized space. You are looking for someone to run it –they will have to be self sufficient from the income that it generates – so it must be large enough to meet the community needs, plus being able to generate an income that makes it self-sufficient. The feeling tonight is that this is moving forward very positively. “

Glazier agreed and said that it was currently costing the Partnership about £1,000 a year just to keep the centre open. Once the new centre is built the Partnership would lease the building from Amicus at a peppercorn rent, and then sublet it to a group formed to manage the facility. The TGRA is one group that is expected to apply to run the new centre.

Amicus expects to submit plans for the site to Rother in June. If approved, construction might begin next year.

In the meantime it was agreed by all parties at the meeting that there was a need for further public consultation. Shead said she hoped that the Rye Neighbourhood Plan steering group could become formally involved – to date it has had no engagement in the process – together with the TGRA.

Glazier said that Rother Voluntary Services had already agreed to facilitate a public consultation process on behalf of the Partnership and Amicus. Cllr Mary Smith, chairing her last meeting before standing down as a town councillor, then encouraged both organisations to set up an open public meeting as soon as possible at Tilling Green.

Photo: Tony Nunn