NewRiver ‘committed’ to Burgess Hill town centre redevelopment
Developer NewRiver says it remains committed to delivering the town centre regeneration scheme in Burgess Hill.
Speaking to this newspaper, NewRiver director Justin Thomas said there have been challenges during lockdown, but added: “Before we went into lockdown our intention was to get on with it and make it happen – that is still our intention.”
Mid Sussex District Council approved amended plans for NewRiver’s £65million regeneration of Burgess Hill town centre on September 3.
Members of the planning committee voted unanimously to approve the redevelopment of The Martlets shopping centre to include 172 flats, a ten-screen cinema, bowling alley, gym and hotel.
The decision came after consultation with residents and businesses that helped to shape the proposals, including a revised layout of the library to accommodate a Changing Places toilet.
The redevelopment of the site has been dragging on since 2016, when NewRiver was originally given permission for a £65million project.
This latest and revised application included a number of significant changes in response to changes in the retail sector – with more focus on leisure facilities.
Mr Thomas said: “We are really pleased that Mid Sussex District Council has approved our plans for the regeneration of the town centre.
“We firmly believe that these proposals will reinvigorate the town centre, creating a place with a different offer that delivers for its community.
“Retail and town centres have faced a period of unprecedented change and challenge.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the businesses and communities in the town as we move forward and deliver something outstanding for the town.”
Now planning permission has been granted for the revised scheme, Mr Thomas said NewRiver will be working with the proposed tenants, retailers and existing occupiers to ensure their commitment to the town, ‘as they look to create a vibrant and sustainable destination that will meet the future needs of the local community’.
He said businesses are facing ongoing challenges due to Covid-19, but NewRiver is ‘committed to working with all tenants as the town centre moves towards this much needed step change in its future’.
Mr Thomas added: “We haven’t walked away from this. The lockdown has been hard for everybody but we are sticking to our guns and pushing on with what needs to be done.
“Having already invested heavily within the town centre to prepare the town for redevelopment, including the preparation of the site for the construction of the new Lidl store on Leylands Road and the completion of the new library,
“NewRiver would like to reaffirm its commitment to the town centre and thank all of the business and residents who have invested time in the scheme to date.”
Retailers ‘very keen’
NewRiver said over the coming months, it will be focusing on conversations with proposed tenants, retailers and occupiers.
Justin Thomas, director, said the Covid-19 lockdown has been hugely challenging for the retail sector and ‘not everybody has survived the horror show’.
“We need to allow the retailers to find their feet again,” he added.
“Across our retail portfolio, footfall went down by 85 per cent. Over the last month we have seen that come back up by 25 per cent. We are hoping there is not going to be a further impact if there is a second spike.
“We need to give retailers a couple of months to start trading again and bring back furloughed staff. It needs to be a sensible amount of time.”
Despite the challenges, amid Covid-19, proposed retailers for the town centre scheme, such as Next, Cineworld and Hollywood Bowl, are ‘very keen’, according to Mr Thomas.
“The feedback so far has been broadly positive,” he said. “Retailers are very keen to continue. People want to be there which is really encouraging.
“As soon as planning permission was granted we were on the phone to everybody involved straight away and have been setting up meetings over the next few weeks.”
Mr Thomas described Burgess Hill as a thriving town and said businesses want to trade there.
He added: “Burgess Hill is very well placed in terms of geographically. It is near Brighton, is easy to get to London and the South Downs is on your doorstep. It is a great place to live.
“We remain committed to the town and we really want to work together to bring this forward.”
As part of planning conditions, NewRiver must have a programme agreed with the district council, Mr Thomas said.
He added that it is hoped a timeline will be drawn up in a couple of months when terms have been agreed with retailers.
“We know they want to be there but ultimately there will be terms they will need to discuss with us,” said Mr Thomas.
He added that NewRiver will continue to engage with Burgess Hill Town Council, the district council and residents. “We have learned that the absence of information is unwelcome and unpopular. We will make sure people are aware of all discussions.”
When planning permission was granted on September 3, town council leader Robert Eggleston had a clear message for NewRiver, calling on the firm to ‘actually deliver the scheme this time and to a reasonable timetable’.
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