Sale of Bexhill sites to community land trust up for discussion

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The future of two sites in Bexhill are set to be discussed by Rother council leaders.. 

Rother District Council’s cabinet are expected to decide on whether to proceed with the sale of both the Sidley Allotments and the Cemetery Lodge site in St Mary’s Lane to the recently-formed Bexhill Community Land Trust at a meeting tonight (Monday September 2)..

According to council papers, the sites would be used for a community led housing scheme of affordable homes, although no final designs have been brought forward at this stage.

Discussing the sale of the Cemetery Lodge site, Rother council officers said: “The Bexhill CLT has continued to demonstrate their interest and commitment in developing a scheme at Cemetery Lodge, as well as actively considering other opportunities in the town to meet the housing needs of the local community. 

“It is important to consider that if this site was to be sold on the open market the scheme would fall below the minimum planning policy threshold for requiring onsite [affordable housing].

“In view of this, to sell the site on the open market will make it difficult for any community led housing group to compete to acquire the site.”

Plans to dispose of the site to the CLT had previously been discussed in November last year, but the decision was deferred in light of concerns raised by Bexhill Heritage.

As a result, the disposal was delayed in order to consult with Bexhill Heritage about whether it would be possible to build an affordable housing scheme without demolishing the existing Cemetery Lodge building.

The original plans put forward by the CLT would have seen the building demolished and eight one and two-bedroom homes built in its place.

Bexhill Heritage, however, argued it would be possible to provide a similar scheme by converting  and extending the Lodge, as well as building around it.

According to council papers, “in principle” advice shows Bexhill Heritage’s proposals are unlikely to be supported by planning policy, due to the close proximity of the new dwellings to the neighbouring property. 

However, the papers add, it was recommended to bring both designs forward for formal pre-planning application advice in order to make a better informed decision.

It is understood that no decision has yet been made on what form the scheme would take.

If approved, the papers say the sale price would be capped at the land’s current use value, not its speculative value for housing.

Council leaders are also advised to put a 12-month time limit on the sale, with the council putting the site on the open market if no agreement is reached by this point.

At the same meeting cabinet members will also be asked to decide whether to proceed with the sale of the Sidley Allotments sites to the Bexhill CLT.

While still at an early stage, this sale would be made on the understanding that affordable housing would be built on at least part of the site.

The terms of sale  are likely to be made subject to engaging in a public consultation.

According to council papers, any decision made to develop the allotments would  also require approval from the Secretary of State and a public consultation. Alternative allotments would also have to found nearby for existing plotholders.

The future of the Bexhill sites are set to be discussed as part of a wider report on the council’s Community Led Housing programme.

As part of this discussion, cabinet members will hear an update on the work of Icklesham Parish CLT to build 15 affordable homes on a site off of Main Road.

The proposals were granted planning permission in May and, according to the report, the CLT is currently in the process of securing the finances needed for the scheme to move ahead.

Cabinet members are also expected to discuss whether council-owned land in Fairview may be an appropriate site for a community led affordable housing scheme.

Still at a very early stage, council officers are recommending that residents and the parish council be approached to find out whether this would have any local support.

This would be done by the Sussex Community Housing Hub – a countywide group which supports volunteers to set up CLTs.