Government funding to ‘kickstart’ Blackfriars development

The Blackfriars site. Picture: Google Earth
The Blackfriars site. Picture: Google Earth

A Government investment of more than £3 million could help ‘kickstart’ a housing development at the Blackfriars site, in Battle.

On Thursday (February 1), the Government allocated £866 million to fund 133 council-led housing projects across the country in a bid to build up to 200,000 new homes by 2022.

This is the first wave of investment from the Government’s £5 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund which offered funding to local authorities on the back of a competitive bidding process that closed on September 28, 2017.

In Battle, the Government has allocated £3,240,000 to Rother District Council to create road infrastructure to allow 250 homes to be built at the Blackfriars site, located between Marley Lane and Hastings Road, in Battle, by 2022.

David Furness, chairman of Battle Town Council, said: “We would welcome any assistance from the Government to help us achieve our housing allocation.

“There is a real need for affordable housing as well as smaller houses for retired people in Battle and hopefully this will help us achieve our aims.

“I do however hope that more homes will not put too many demands on (an) already very weak infrastructure.”

The allocated funds will be put towards a new road – connecting Marley Lane with Hastings Road – to help alleviate traffic congestion caused by the extra homes.

Kevin Dixon, Rother District councillor for Battle Town ward, added: “The government grant to kickstart the road construction through the proposed Blackfriars development is good news for Battle and good news for local people who want desperately-needed affordable housing in their home town.

“It is hoped that the road will encourage applications to build the houses that have been earmarked for the area since the 1970s.

“The reason previous applications failed is that the infrastructure cost of a new road linking Hastings Road and Marley Lane was a barrier to developers.”

The Blackfriars site, which has been allocated for housing in the Rother District Council local plan since 2006, has been earmarked for housing development since Rother District Council published a design brief in 1975.

There has been previous interest from developers but, according to a spokesman for the district council, this never came to fruition for a number of reasons, including the impact on the housing market which followed the credit crunch in 2007.

Following this government investment however, the council is looking for a developer to come forward to build houses on the site and hopes the money available for a new road will help draw the attention of potential developers.

A spokesman for Rother District Council said: “The Blackfriars site has for a number of years been allocated in the council’s Local Plan for housing.

“The view of our planning officers is that to make the site viable for this purpose, a new road would be needed connecting Marley Lane with Hastings Road, to alleviate traffic congestion.

“Our successful application for money from the Housing Infrastructure Fund will enable this road to be built and thereby increase our chances of finding a developer to bring this project to fruition.

“This is great news for Rother as it will allow us to deliver some of the new homes we need and, in particular, much-needed affordable housing to enable young families to stay in the district.

“How we progress with this is still to be decided but any new developer coming forward with a proposal to develop the site would need to submit a planning application in due course.”

The design brief for the Blackfriars site, published in 1975, indicated land for residential development, a possible primary school site, local community centre, children’s home and open space.

However, in the past 43 years, only a relatively small part of the land has been developed.

The district council added the Blackfriars site to its local plan, in 2006, while making it clear that any development ‘must respect’ the setting of adjoining listed buildings.

The policies of the local plan adopted then have been ‘saved’ and they remain part of the statutory ‘development plan’.

The district council said the Blackfriars site is allocated for ‘housing, education and open space purposes, to be brought forward through a comprehensive scheme’.

Two areas of the site, totalling approximately 7.3 hectares, would be allocated for residential use providing at least 220 new homes, 40 per cent of which would be affordable, according to Rother District Council.

Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman hopes the £3,240,000 can be spent on road infrastructure connecting Marley Lane with Hastings Road to kickstart the housing development.

He said: “This is great news for Rother District Council and aspiring home owners.

“Over £3 million has been granted to the council by the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund to create the road infrastructure to allow 250 much-needed homes to be built at the Blackfriars site in Battle.

“This funding has unlocked the site which had been agreed for development and I am delighted to be part of the bidding team and huge credit to Rother District Council and Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, for making it happen.

“It is a great example of central and local government working together to increase housing for local communities.

“For our young people, in particular, this will make a local home more within reach.”

Planning consultancy JB Planning Associates, which secured planning permission to build homes on the site in 2007, is in the early stages of submitting a plan for 20 to 25 homes on a smaller section of the site.

John Boyd, the managing director of JB Planning Associates, said: “This Government investment is welcome news.

“We are in conversation with Rother District Council about a development for the Highlands Farm section of the site and probably a couple of months off submitting an application.

“Our application will create the first section of the new road. It will create the junction at Hastings Road which, in the full plan for the site, would take the road up to Harrier Way, off Marley Lane. The connecting road has been an obstacle with this site so this funding is great news in order to bring the site forward.

“The site plans have changed over time – there will no longer be a school – but the rest of the land is still available for residential development.

“We are very enthusiastic about this site and keen to work with Rother to bring forward this first section of road.”