December 3 2012

Jo Pettit, the organiser of recent residents meetings concerned with the sale of the Lewes Road Rec voices her concerns in the first of her blogs here at Haven News...

Last Tuesday, East Sussex County Council decided 'in principle' to the disposal of the 47 acre site known as 'Riverside Park' for the nominal sum of just £1 to Round Table Entertainments. 'Riverside Park' is the site next to the land recently sold by Lewes District Council for £84,000. In the name of regeneration, Round Table has been granted the potential to snap up yet another of our well used and well-loved open spaces for next to nothing. This is in the absence of any hard evidence that its £350 million water park proposal is anything more than a rather odd idea. It may appear that Newhaven is being sold down the river, in more ways than one.

Unlike LDC, at least ESCC have insisted on the completion of weighty pre-sale conditions before transferring the land. As well as gaining planning permission, Round Table must also demonstrate availability of funds for the scheme to go ahead and place a 'substantial' sterling bond in a UK bank to remediate the site in the event of the project being left incomplete. Rather tellingly, Roundtable said that they 'could not comment' when asked by a reporter later that day if they were confident they could meet the conditions imposed on the sale.

At a Chamber of Commerce meeting last week, Newhaven's business community was encouraged by Round Table to register their interest in a chance to tender for small slices of their pie-in-the-sky. A timeline was displayed by Round Table which showed it is aiming for a 'Design Freeze' by February 25th in order to submit an outline planning consent application. However, Round Table revealed, when questioned, that it had not yet even appointed an Architect! Round Table did acknowledge that time was 'extremely tight' on this. A huge understatement I'd say, unless they are, in fact, magicians.

The crayon drawings and enticing photographs of other waterparks around the world that we've been shown by Round Table so far won't do. Attempts to get locals on-side by claiming an interest to include their own design ideas in the master-plan are fooling few. We need to see the detailed plans, and soon, otherwise all we have to go on is rumour, (mostly propagated by Round Table), and hot air. How much longer do we need to wait before we can declare that the Emperor does not have new clothes? And how much more of Newhaven will be given away on a promise before Round Table is forced to show its hand?

What of the jobs we're being assured of? Of the 650 direct jobs that Round Table envisages, only 10% need to be recruited locally by law. The creation of any job is not to be sniffed at, but this hardly amounts to jobs for all. Round Table has mentioned its intention to offer a 'Job Shop' in town where locals can register interest in future employment. Bearing in mind the opening of the site is scheduled for 2017 at the earliest, I wonder if these potential employees will be on a retainer until then, to reward them for their support. Or is this just more propaganda?

Speaking of propaganda, at the Chamber of Commerce meeting, Round Table claimed widespread support for its proposals based on statistics from the survey conducted by DemSoc at the recent 'soft launch'. Round Table boasted that 80% of visitors to the recent exhibition were 'positive about the water park helping regenerate Newhaven'. In fact, a third of the visitors to the 'soft launch' did not complete the questionnaire it cited - many because they were unhappy with the wording of the questions. The comments left by visitors on formats other than the questionnaire indicated that the response to the 'soft launch' was actually very mixed.

As many have said, the suggestion that a water park complex will be a spring board for the regeneration of Newhaven is questionable. It would not really be in Round Table's interest to enable the advance of oppositional businesses interests in the town. Round Table know that people who visit leisure attractions of this scale and nature rarely include a trip to the local shops and pubs in their schedule; they spend their money within the complex before driving home. And 800,000 visitors a year will result in huge volumes of traffic being shuttled through Kingston village by satnavs and along the already congested C7, link road or no link road to the A26.

Round Table has not yet completed its quest to buy up Newhaven. The company is apparently trying to acquire the land on the North Quay from the south of the incinerator to the railway station. This area does appear to be fully occupied at the moment by a number of 'waste and minerals' related operations which have been identified as 'being of strategic importance to the economy of the South -East for sea-landed aggregates'. No doubt Round Table's Kuwaiti millions can make all this, (existing jobs and all), disappear in the blink of an eye. That's if the money's really there - and we've yet to see the colour of it. It's time for Round Table to put down the crayons and crack open the piggy bank. Sketches and waffle will not satisfy Newhaven people for long. Even those who support the water park idea in principle need to see the plans in detail before they are able to make an informed choice.

My instinct is that a development of this scale and nature is completely wrong for Newhaven and entirely inappropriate for the targeted site, but I might be in a minority.

Of course, if we ever get to the stage when a finalised design is on the table, then a referendum for local residents would be the only fair and reliable way for Lewes District Council to deliver on their pledge to give Newhaveners the final say. But that's a long way down the line.

In the meantime, ESCC will shortly be advertising their 'intention to dispose of the 47 acre 'Riverside Park' site in the Public Notices section of two local newspapers with a Newhaven circulation. (And how many people buy those now... Haven News). The period of notice for the receipt of objections will be at least four weeks. Which at least is two weeks more than Lewes District Council gave us. Follow the link below for more information on this:  

Jo Pettitt