Developers have unveiled plans to bring modern shops, restaurants, an eight screen cinema, a 63-bedroom hotel, a car park, 150 new homes, and a 13,000 sq. ft. library and community centre to Burgess Hill.
New River Retail, who have owned The Martlets since 2010, also plan to demolish the western part of the shopping centre, the multi-storey car park, the Martlets Hall and the existing Library.
The plan is to build a 15,000 sq. ft Lidl with 70 car parking spaces at Wolstonbury Way car park.
The developer said The Martlets has ‘lost some relevance in the natural circulation of the town’ and ‘has a rather indirect link with Market Place and a limited presence on Church Street’.
“The objective will be to stem the loss of consumer spending to other competing centres such as Brighton, Crawley and Haywards Heath,” New River Retail explained.
It added that hundreds of new jobs will be created along with training opportunities.
The proposal states it will remove unsightly and dated 1970s architecture and replace it with high quality design, strengthen Burgess Hill as a shopping and leisure destination, attract leading high street names and upgrade the retail offer.
A new taxi rank would also be provided off Civic Way.
Developers continued: “The new library gives the opportunity to provide upgraded facilities that could serve as a multi-use community hub incorporating additional services for the police, Town Council and other community-based services.”
Phase 1, the relocation of Lidl and construction of an Argos, the demolition of the existing link bridge and the removal of shop front canopies, would start in 2015 and be completed in 2016.
Phase 2, the construction of shops, restaurants, homes, hotel, car parking, library, a new boulevard and public square, and demolition of the existing library and Martlets Hall would begin in September 2016 and be completed two years later.
Phase 3, the removal of office block Martlets Heights and Iceland, and development of shops fronting the car park with a new cinema above, would begin March 2018 and be completed 18 months later.
Green public space wrapping around the edge of the existing car park and children’s playground would be unaffected,
NewRiver will be submitting a planning application before the end of 2014, which it hopes Mid Sussex District Council will approve in Spring.
The developer owns 27 shopping centres UK-wide, and has £740 million of assets under management.
Reaction to the proposal has been mixed.
Some are concerned about the impact the development will have on the historic Orion Cinema.
Lee Allwood, who runs the Orion in the building owned by Mid Sussex District Council, said: “At Orion, we welcome change and improvements to Burgess Hill town centre. However, I am disappointed that, whenever mention is made of a possible new multiplex cinema, there is an assumption that this spells the end of the road for the Orion Cinema. This does not have to be the case by any means.
“I believe passionately that the Orion cinema has a healthy future. With careful programming and expansion of services we aim to offer sensible competition offering the people of Burgess Hill and Mid-Sussex a very high level of comfort and technical presentation at prices significantly below those charged by large cinema chains.”
A spokesman for New River Retail agreed the two cinemas can survive together, as they may attract different crowds with the Orion offering more for an older audience, and the new cinema fitting for families.
“At the moment everybody is going outside Burgess Hill. Orion can have a bar, drinks, coffee and cakes whereas the new cinema would have popcorn and fizzy drinks for families, they can coexist,” the spokesman said.
“The old plan was to demolish it, which isn’t in any of our plans.”
The new multi-screen cinema would not open until 2019.
Lee continued: “Orion Cinema has the commitment and drive to provide choice for customers, in the process saving the historic building that has been the subject of a ‘save-our-cinema’ campaign on Facebook and through an e-petition to the Council.”
The petition and Facebook group both have thousands of supporters.
“In order to provide this choice to customers the Orion must be treated on the same terms as potential multiplex operators,” Lee explained.
“Despite many attempts over several years we have been denied a long-term lease by our landlords, Mid-Sussex District Council. To enable us to invest for the future, we need security of tenure for a much longer period than we are currently being offered.”
The Orion building first operated as a cinema in 1919, and was named The Orion in 1946.
“We can achieve great things and offer real choice if we are offered a level-playing field and treated in the same way as other commercial operators who will be moving into the new developments that New River are proposing,” Lee added.
Burgess Hill residents told the Middy their views as the plans were revealed on Friday.
Margaret Cooper, who lives on Keymer Road, said she is concerned about the impact on the community centre, which may be removed.
“It’s the community hub of Burgess Hill,” she said.
“If we don’t have it, we won’t have anything. Where will the shows be held?”
Margaret added the cinema ‘isn’t essential’ as Burgess Hill already has the Orion.
“But we do need more shops,” she continued.
“The environment would be improved, won’t get a Marks and Spencer, they won’t come here, it’ll just be the run of the mill ones, but better than all charity shops and cafes.”
One man who has lived in Burgess Hill for 50 years was not pleased with the plan.
He said: “I hope they don’t do something to the library.
“There are changes in the wrong places. The railway station is important, it needs upgrading, there’s either steps or a big slope when you leave. And we’ve already got an historical cinema, people are quite prepared to go to Brighton or Crawley, they’re duplicating things in the area. I think I’m biased because I’ve seen it in the old days, and old people are resistant to change.”
Labour Burgess Hill town councillor David Andrews said he would reserve judgement until he knows how deliverable it is.
But he thinks it has ‘lots of merit’ and approves of the bid in principle.
“But we need to preserve the Orion, and develop a minority interest. People love the Orion,” he added.
Pauline Draper, who lives on Queens Crescent, has lived in Burgess Hill for 30 years.
He added these are his personal views, and not the official position of the Labour Party.
She said: “It’s certainly an improvement on the original plan eight or nine years ago. I’m Not against the Lidl, but it needs careful consideration.
“Increased the security of the park will be good, at the moment not nice things happen at the park, and the kids come through it from Oakmeeds. It would be useful to have something there 24 hours a day, and CCTV.”
Her husband Bob Draper added: “In comparison to the previous proposal I welcome the regeneration of the town centre, it looks quite subdued.
“It’s not outlandish, it seems achievable. We don’t think it’s a bad plan at all.”
Some residents welcome the new cinema.
Callum Smith, a student from Burgess Hill, said: “The proposed cinema is the highlight of the development. It provides not only an entertainment centre that is greatly needed but a place to sit and also a meeting place for young people.”
Callum explained his concern that New River Retail may remove the canopy from the closed part of the market to improve the ambience allowing more natural light.
He continued: “It has Waitrose, Wilkinson’s and Costa coffee along with others and is by far the liveliest part of the town centre. It also provides good protection from the weather. The canopy encourages more people to go to visit even when it is raining. It is, in my opinion the area least in needing any sort of regeneration. Areas such as lower church walk where the post offices and the area around the old cinema need attention; but there is no mention of them in the plans.
The student concluded: “I would have liked to have seen more facilities for young people, such as a bowling alley and encouragement for companies to enter the town which would fit my demographic better. I am encouraged by the increase in retail and employment opportunities.”
What do you think about the plan to regenerate Burgess Hill? Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org