After more than 20 years of waiting and false starts, planners have approved a redevelopment scheme for Haywards Heath Railway Station.
The railway station land will be used for a new, 4,122sqm Waitrose supermarket, a 754sqm retail and restaurant space, plus a new multi-storey car park for the station, parking spaces for the supermarket, road alterations and the station buildings will be refurbished.
Many councillors at Mid Sussex Council’s planning meeting agreed that this was the right plan for Haywards Heath – however Cllr Graham Knight believed ‘the scheme was not ready yet, nearly, but not quite’.
Planning officer Steve Ashdown said: “This would go ahead if it was approved. It is commercially viable and would re-liven and revitalise this part of the town.”
Mike Nightingale, a Haywards Heath resident, said: “It is a more realistic plan and more Haywards Heath.”
Two representatives of taxi drivers who use the station, John Churcher and John Willard, raised concerns about the proposed taxi ranks.
Mr Willard said: “At Mid Sussex Taxi Association we don’t want the plans refused, we just want conditions included relating to the taxis.”
They believe there will be a reduction in the number of taxis allowed to rank on the station – from 35 to 18.
But Mr Ashdown said that some of the areas the taxi drivers currently used were not part of their licence and so would not have been looked at when the plans were being put together. He said it was a ‘like for like’ situation.
Jonathan Ash-Edwards, councillor for Heath Ward, Haywards Heath, said: “We need to show we mean business or we should just pack up and go home.”
He added that there needed to be compromises with the plans otherwise it would never happen, something the chairman of the committee, cllr Andrew MacNaughton, agreed with.
He said: “We need to be looking at solutions not problems, otherwise it will be another 20 or so years until another development like this comes along.”
Another concern raised related to the Bluebell Railway and its use of a track and platform at the station.
A track is already there and available for use but it was asking if a turnaround could be included in the plans so that the engine could go from the front to the back of the train in order for it to leave the station. However, this would have meant space being taken from the multi-storey car park to accommodate it.
Many of the councillors agreed that they could not hold the application up for a project that may take years to come through.
It was agreed that the new supermarket would also create a competitive shopping situation for other stores in the town, keeping people from driving to Horley or Lewes for a food shop.
The new food store and other retail outlets would create approximately 195 new jobs, which the report said would be a ‘huge boost for the town and the district as a whole’.
Last Thursday’s vote was to approve, subject to conditions and amendments, was nine in favour and two against.
The decision will now be referred to the Secretary of State. If it is not called-in then the council can formally issue planning approval for the scheme.
The project is being promoted by Solum Regeneration in conjunction with Southern Railways, which manages the station, and Waitrose.
Back in May 2012 Solum held a public consultation. More than 1,100 people responded with 94 per cent of those saying they supported the plans.
After the meeting, Haywards Heath resident and Solum Regeneration senior development manager, John Robinson, said; “The redevelopment of the area around station is long overdue.
“We are delighted that the council has approved the scheme. We look forward to continuing to work with the community and the council in delivering these improvements.”