An increased grant to deliver a long-awaited housing site near Battle has been welcomed - with calls made to use some of the funding to improve access at the town’s railway station.
On Monday (January 13), Rother District Council’s cabinet accepted an increased Homes England grant of £8.7m (up from £3.24m) to deliver the infrastructure needed to build out the 220-home Blackfriars development near Battle.
Cabinet members also signed off on preparations for using Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) to take the full site into council ownership, as a result of conditions tied to the grant funding.
The decision was welcomed by Charles Clark, the council’s lead member for housing, welfare and equalities.
He said: “Without this money and without getting the infrastructure it would be very difficult to progress what we are trying to achieve – affordable housing and a mixed development on a site that has been dormant for many, many years.
“It’s a green light and there are many hurdles to cross, but we have made a start and that is fantastic.”
More than half of the Blackfriars site is already owned by Rother District Council, with the remaining land split into three parcels owned by separate, private parties.
While the use of CPOs would ultimately require consent from full council (and would likely come after attempts to reach a voluntary deal), officers say laying down the groundwork now would ensure the project could move ahead as quickly as possible.
The push to move ahead with the purchase comes as a result of conditions tied to grant funding from Homes England, which would be used to build out the road infrastructure needed to move ahead with the housing scheme.
This grant funding was initially set at £3.24m but has since been increased to £8.7m following further investigation into the viability of the site, officers say.
During the meeting, cabinet member for environment and transport Kathryn Field took the opportunity to highlight how the development could see improvements made to the access at Battle railway station.
While she welcomed the increase in funding, Cllr Field (who also represents the neighbouring North Battle, Netherfield and Whatlington ward) said she would ‘find it very difficult to support further development’ if these improvements were not made.
She said: “I also want to thank the officers in this because in my long career in local government I very rarely come across a grant for anything, certainly not a grant that substantially increased.
“The Blackfriars development does provide us with an opportunity to provide a downside access to the station. This is important for several reasons.
“First of all it cuts down considerably on the amount of driving and emissions of people getting from one side to another.
“[Also] if you are disabled it is actually very expensive to come from London to Battle, because you have to buy a ticket to Hastings, change at Hastings and come back north so you can get off at Battle on the side with access.
“Having this plan and this opportunity now is once in a lifetime and if we don’t do it then I would find it very difficult to support further development.”
In response, officers said they had not yet begun design work for the development, but the access improvements “would be considered” as the project moved forward.
Similar views were aired by Cllr John Barnes (Con, Burwash and the Weald), who said: “I support Cllr Field quite strongly. I think it is nice to say it will be considered, but I think it should be part of our overall thinking for this area.
“I really do congratulate Cllr Clark and the officer team, because we are at long last – and god knows we are talking decades – finally making progress [on the development].
“We have got a very good grant now from central government, which will enable us to do the infrastructure.
“It’s fine if we can do a deal with the other owners but really we must drive this ahead. If that requires a CPO then I think we should support that and move ahead with it.
“It seems to me that we need to really produce this as a key part of our housing strategy, not only for Battle but for the whole district.”