Revised plans for the Burgess Hill town centre redevelopment were revealed to residents for the first time on Saturday.
Developer NewRiver held an open day at The Martlets so residents could have a first look at the new plans and give their feedback.
NewRiver revealed it had made changes to the scheme last week, with more focus on leisure provision due to the ‘massive shift in the town centre retail sector’.
There were mixed messages at the open day - it was clear residents liked the new scheme, but were frustrated about how long it has taken.
Resident Karen Grigg said: “I think it is good but we have been waiting for some time for this. We have a lot of empty shop units as businesses have had to move out for this. I don’t think this has been planned very well.”
Katie Ashworth, owner of Pippin Cottage Upholstery in Cyprus Road, said: “I think it is great for the town but it is a shame we have to wait until 2022 now. I have two kids, aged 13 and ten, who were looking forward to this.”
Eileen Brady was feeling hopeful about the scheme. “I have been in Burgess Hill for 20 years and this development has been talked about since then but I think it might actually be happening now and I am quite excited,” she said.
Ann Hadlow said she was concerned about parking, which she said is already difficult in the town.
Justin Thomas, director for NewRiver, said he was relieved to have been able to hold the open day and to ‘be the face and take all of the criticism’.
“A lot of people today have said they have been frustrated and angry with the process but it seems to be political,” he said.
“There have been mixed messages but it has been a great turnout. We want to keep moving this forward but the plan before was not sustainable long-term.
“We hope to get a planning application in for the new scheme this summer. Another open day for the public is also planned.”
The target completion date for the scheme is now 2022. A ten-screen Cineworld is part of the scheme and NewRiver is in advanced discussions with Hollywood Bowl, which it said it hopes to have opposite the cinema.
Retailers New Look and Next are still on the cards, along with a Nandos restaurant.
The community are invited to share their feedback on the scheme until June 8. Details are on the NewRiver website.
The open day on Saturday was attended by almost 1,000 people and 200 people filled out feedback forms.
Among those who attended was the new leader of Burgess Hill Town Council, councillor Robert Eggleston.
He said: “We want to see investment come to the town, but our skepticism, that is shared by many residents, is that this is now the fourth plan, so the reality is NewRiver has to deliver on this plan.
“If they can’t, then we will have to turn to the district council and say if your chosen developer can’t do it then you need to step in and complete the project. We have waited since at least 2009 for this – we can’t let this slip this time.”
Mr Eggleston said he was disappointed the retail and restaurant element had been reduced, but he understood why due to the growth of the online retail market.
The council leader said he applauds NewRiver for ‘sticking with it’ but it was a pity that the scheme was having to start all over again.
“We are back at square one,” he said, adding: “But let’s get it done – it’s down to NewRiver to deliver the goods.”
New town mayor Roger Cartright said the revised plans were ‘imaginative’ and would help bring more people to the town, which is ‘pretty dead’. He added that his concerns were parking and if people had been informed enough about the plans.
County, district and town councillor Andrew Barrett-Miles said he was ‘thrilled’ about the plans, which will ‘cater for the serious deterioration in the retail environment’.
He added: “They have come with concept which will serve the residents of Burgess Hill well. The mixture of retail, leisure, community and residential should ensure that the town centre will be an attractive and lively space for residents of all ages. This confirms NewRiver’s commitment to Burgess Hill.”