Mid Sussex District Council plans to dip into a £5million reserve to pay for consultants to look into how to modernise and improve The Orchards shopping centre, in Haywards Heath, reports local democracy reporter Karen Dunn.
The council bought the centre – which still has many of its original 1980s features – in 2017 for £23.2m and set up the reserve specifically to pay for its modernisation.
The idea of hosting leisure facilities as well as shops in the centre has been suggested and a report to a meeting of the cabinet recommended development and commercial experts be taken on to help the council scope out what might be possible.
Peter Stuart, head of corporate resources, said the team would report back to the cabinet in the spring with some proposals.
Leader Jonathan Ash-Edwards said the viability review was ‘the logical and sensible next step in our ownership of The Orchards’.
He added: “We all want to see our three towns as vibrant centres where people are wanting to come in and spend time, spend money and sustain the local economy.
“We’ve obviously got a slightly different role in Haywards Heath given we own The Orchards, so we act as the guardian of that asset on behalf of the taxpayer as well as seeking to promote the vitality of the area more broadly.
“We know the retail world is changing and the aspirations of modern town centres are changing too and we’ve got to be sure our towns can be as well placed as possible to move with the times.
“It’s a welcome next step and we will look at the outcomes at the next stage with great interest to see positive steps forward.”
As well as changes to what the shopping centre had to offer, the report also said it would ‘benefit from refurbishment’ inside and out. This could include new paving, cladding or rendering the walls, re-doing the entrances, removing or replacing the canopies, upgrading the lighting, improving the car parking and putting in new public toilets.
Andrew MacNaughton (Con, Ardingly & Balcombe) said it was important the council did not allow The Orchards to ‘get stale’.
Talking about the need to bring in outside advisers, he said: “We know shopping habits change and different needs arise. Without taking proper professional advice we could be stabbing in the dark.
“This is the right way to go to get positive views from people who do this sort of work all the time to give us a steer and make sure our shopping centre stays as competitive as we can.
“So not only will it be a good attraction for our local shoppers but also a good setting for our tenants to make a living. Because that’s what it’s all about.
“With this sort of work, we think we know it all but we really do have to take professional advice sometimes.”
Judy Llewellyn-Burke (Con, Bolney) added: “There’s nothing like a fresh pair of eyes looking at an area that we’re all very familiar with and they will hopefully see new ways of using the centre and making it a better place than it is now for our residents and businesses.”