On October 16, GKA (for Sainsbury’s) reported a statement from Sainsbury’s: “We fully recognise that many people in Rye would like another supermarket in the town. As such, we are approaching alternative food retailers in the first instance and will only consider other alternatives if there is no interest from other food retailers in the site.”
This development in the long-running saga follows the recent responses from Sainsbury’s and Tesco to letters from the Rye Neighbourhood Plan steering group, in which they announced the abandonment of their supermarket proposals. The companies were quick to indicate that their objectives for disposal will be commercial and focused on to selling to either another retailer or a housing developer.
Undeterred, the steering group has embarked on a series of meetings and discussions with interested parties, including the Rye Academy Trust, East Sussex County Council and Rother District Council, to check the understanding of all the factors affecting the land and buildings in the broad location bounded by Grove Lane-Love Lane, the railway line and the River Tillingham.
As a result, a marker has been placed with Sainsbury’s agents for possible consideration of other alternative future uses of the former Lower School site. These include the possibility for (as yet unspecified) educational and other purposes, such as the proposal by the Marshlink Action Group for additional car parking aligned with the Javelin fast train proposals.
It is clear from numerous conversations around Rye that many consider that the disposal provides a golden opportunity to take stock of how the Rye community views this part of Rye and how it might be developed for the future.
The work on the neighbourhood plan includes clarification of the future plans for the various levels of education from early years to post-16. The county council advises that the long-term forecast will be reflected in its educational plan for Rye, due to be issued this year. Some helpful interim data has been provided. However, after Sainsbury’s decision, if the Lower School site is to play any part in Rye’s educational overall strategy, then now is the time for clarity of the vision for future education in Rye.
Many have remarked that academies in surrounding places (Bexhill, Hastings, New Romney and Folkestone) have all benefitted from major and expensive development, which, apart from the new Rye Studio School, has so far eluded Rye. If it is to remain attractive to students from outlying towns and villages, should there be a development plan to bring its buildings up to date?
There are other factors in addition to education, including the future plans for the leisure centre (presently operated by Freedom Leisure, but it is known that Rother is keen to shed the responsibility and the significant subsidy which the centre requires to maintain it). Other leased buildings and land include the Rye Scouts and the allotments held now by the Amenities CIC.
At present there are more questions than answers, such as:
- To whom will Sainsbury’s sell its site?
- Can it be influenced and, if so, to what end?
- Can an alternative retailer be identified? If so, who?
- If no alternative supermarket then what justification is there for another use?
The steering group is tackling all these questions and more because, ultimately, the answers affect the Neighbourhood Plan’s provisional housing and commercial development plot.
With disposal plans by Sainsbury’s already advanced, there is no time to waste. More meetings and contacts are planned. If you have views on any of this then the Rye Neighbourhood planners will be delighted to hear from you at:
Anthony Kimber is vice chair of the Rye Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group