Far from a cinema and superstore for Burgess Hill moving a step closer, as your headline last week suggested, I fear we are doing no more than marching on the spot.
A vision for Burgess Hill was presented by New River in November 2011 which promised (a) a new 85,000 sq feet foodstore; (b) a 45,000 square feet department store; (c) an additional 165,000 square feet of retail space; (d) a broader range of retailers; (e) the demolition of the office tower block and; (f) a new Library and theatre.
In May 2012, New River stated that it intended to work to a planning application in April 2013 with work starting in spring 2014. It followed this announcement with a revised plan in September 2012 which contained two options both considerable scaled back from its original vision. The department store, additional retail space, broader range of retailers, theatre and library had all been removed from the vision. New River intended to hold public consultation in April 2013 and submit plans in June 2013. But the potential of a multi screen cinema was added.
It is now September 2013 and New River has added a third option. The foodstore has shrunk in size (between 30,000 square feet to 55,000 square feet) and the tower block (surely one of the ugliest buildings in Burgess Hill) is to remain. It achieves this by getting rid of the existing retailers and by paying lip service to the need for a broader range of retailers. Its objective (which is not a commitment) is to submit a planning application by the summer of 2014 when previously work was going to commence.
In 2011, New River boasted of a nil% retail void rate. Now it talks of a steady decline. Highly regarded and long established independent retailers, such as Present Company, are quitting the town centre and a more forensic analysis the promises made to the Burgess Hill community would have shown that, two years on, we are being sold short.