Burgess Hill residents 'kept in the dark' over town centre redevelopment project

Burgess Hill residents say they are being ‘kept in the dark’ about what is going on with the town centre redevelopment.

The residents say they are not being told anything about the major project, which is ‘so far behind schedule’.

Hils Sharpe, Mid Susex Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate Robert Eggleston, Lyn Baines and Renny Ormond

Hils Sharpe, Mid Susex Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate Robert Eggleston, Lyn Baines and Renny Ormond

However NewRiver, which was granted planning permission in 2016 for the £65m project – set to bring a ten-screen Cineworld, 63-bed Travelodge, new retailers, restaurant and leisure provisions, new homes and a new library – insists it remains ‘committed’ to regenerating the town.

The developer also said it ‘looks forward to sharing further information with the community in due course’.

Resident Hils Sharpe, 66, said: “I can’t understand why the development is falling so far behind schedule and yet we are not being told anything about it.

“This development should have been well on its way by now. We were expecting it to finish next year and all we have got is hoarding around the temporary library – and that’s it.

An artist's impression of the redevelopment. Picture: NewRiver

An artist's impression of the redevelopment. Picture: NewRiver

“We were told that this development was in three phases and the last piece of information we got was talking about a timeline from 2016 onwards. There is a poster up in the town which says ‘find out more’ – but we are not finding out anything.

“There has been no communication whatsoever, and when we question anything we are accused by the council of being anti-Burgess Hill and being negative.

“How can we be positive when we look around our town – we see it dying – we see closed shops, hoardings, and hardly anybody walking around.

“As long-term residents it breaks our hearts to see this. I think people are feeling let down by both the council and NewRiver. We are not being told about what is going on. They are keeping us in the dark.”

Resident Lyn Baines, 58, said businesses given notice to leave so the space can be redeveloped have been ‘thrown out too early’.

“Some have been forced to close down,” she said.

“The town needed updating, but what it needed was some foresight as to what sort of businesses could come in, support for the current businesses, which hasn’t happened whatsoever – most have been drummed out of the town which is a shame because we had such diversity here, which we haven’t got any more.

“The town is dead – all you have to do is stand here and look, there is hardly anyone that walks past. There was a time when you couldn’t move – you would fight your way to get through.”

Renny Ormond, 66, of Firtoft Close, Burgess Hill, said he thinks the redevelopment is a ‘waste of money’. “What is wrong with what we have got?” he added.

Robert Eggleston, Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate for Mid Sussex, echoed the residents’ concerns.

He said: “Both NewRiver and Mid Sussex District Council promised that major work on the town centre would start in the summer last year.

“Other than the work on the temporary library, nothing has happened and as shops have emptied we have been caught in a downward spiral.

“Despite unsubstantiated claims of lively trading, the truth is that footfall in our town centre shops is down 18 per cent compared to 2016.

“This is, in no part, due to the fact that so much of the shopping centre is boarded up as NewRiver rushed to squeeze out loyal, Burgess Hill based, traders.”

Councillor Garry Wall and councillor Pru Moore, Conservative leaders of the district and town council, said: “Across the country, town centres need to change as we all, as consumers, do more shopping online and look to town centres to provide leisure experiences as well as traditional retail.

“Burgess Hill is not immune from these pressures and The Martlets is badly in need of regeneration to ensure the growing town has a modern, fit for purpose town centre.

“NewRiver has consistently reiterated its commitment to investing in Burgess Hill for the long-term and we welcome this.

“Work is well underway to build the new Lidl in Leylands Road so they can relocate which is an important first phase of the regeneration.

“Regeneration projects of this scale are exceedingly complex to deliver and we are reassured by the work NewRiver is doing behind the scenes to attract new shops, restaurants and leisure providers.

“The latest news that NewRiver is working to bring Hollywood Bowl to Burgess Hill is hugely encouraging.

“We appreciate that this is a difficult time for retailers in the town centre right now, which is why we are so keen that the regeneration can progress as soon as possible. Everyone in the town centre will benefit from the additional footfall that the brand names coming to Burgess Hill will bring.

“Instead of party politics, what the town needs is for everyone to get behind the regeneration and work together to ensure that residents and local businesses benefit.”

A spokesman for NewRiver said: “NewRiver has been progressing plans for its re-development of Burgess Hill town centre and remain committed to helping regenerate the town, to deliver a vision that incorporates a blend of leisure attractions, community uses and facilities, alongside the town centre retail and restaurants.

“This week, we have confirmed that advanced discussions are taking place with Hollywood Bowl, the UK’s best ten pin bowling alley experience, to bring an exciting 16-lane bowling alley to form part of the new town centre development.

“We look forward to sharing further information with the local community in due course.”