Proposed Submission Core Strategy

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8. BEXHILL

Scope and Issues

8.1 Bexhill is by far the largest settlement in Rother district. It has a population of 43,531 5 people, equivalent to some 48% of that of the district as a whole.

8.2 The town’s age structure reflects a combination of the town’s history, seaside location, and quiet character, with relatively low house prices compared to the wider South East. There is a high proportion of older people, with 36.5% of the population aged over 65 years6, which compares with 23.4% for East Sussex and 17.3% for the South East. Migration information7 confirms a trend in older couples (aged 45+) and retirees moving to the town.

8.3 The proportion of children, younger adults and people aged 30-44 are all correspondingly lower than county and regional averages. This is partly attributed to limited job and career opportunities locally. Average incomes are noticeably lower than county and regional levels, with most jobs in the public sector and local services.

8.4 The combination of the town’s demographic profile, seaside character, relatively low crime rate and built environment help give it a genteel character.

8.5 However, there are indications of a gradual fall in its economic well-being. Most notably, this is evidenced by falling rankings in the national ‘Index of Multiple Deprivation’. This is matched by neighbouring areas, especially Hastings, with which the economic health of the town is closely linked.

8.6 To help reverse this trend, a shared approach with Hastings Borough Council to fostering a more prosperous future for both towns is set out in Chapter 7: Overall Spatial Strategy.

8.7 The amount of business accommodation is relatively low for the size of the town, with only Beeching Road and, to a lesser extent, Brett Drive and Elva Way forming recognised industrial estates. Hastings Direct is the largest private sector employer. Business organisations have supported further provision, including high quality units.

8.8 There has been retail development at Ravenside Retail Park in recent years, but there has been little retail or other commercial investment in the town centre, while the level of vacant premises is around 10% of all shop units8.

8.9 While educational attainment of Bexhill’s residents is lower than local and regional averages, the town’s new, innovative High School, in addition to recent developments of both the Bexhill College and the University Centre, Hastings, provides a basis for improved educational achievement locally.

8.10 Looking ahead, both national and local demographic trends indicate that the proportion of older people in the population will increase noticeably over the next 15-20 years.

8.11 Public consultation has highlighted a general desire for the town to continue to serve its older, and ageing, population, while at the same time, improving its opportunities and attractiveness to younger people.

8.12 Growth also provides an opportunity for the town. Development has been focussed on urban redevelopment in recent years, as limited transport capacity on the A259 to Hastings has frustrated new sites being developed. A high proportion of this has been flatted schemes, often for older people. However, there is the potential for sustainable urban extensions, subject to additional traffic capacity. In this respect, a favourable Government decision on the proposed Link Road between Bexhill and Hastings is vital.

8.13 A fuller consideration of issues and opportunities is contained in the Bexhill Town Study Background Paper, as well as in the Bexhill Local Action Plan.

Objectives

8.14 As outlined in Chapter 6, the Strategic Objective for Bexhill is :

‘To strengthen the identity of Bexhill and for it to become one of the most attractive places to live on the south coast, attractive to families, the young and elderly alike, within an integrated approach to securing a more prosperous future for the Bexhill and Hastings area.’

8.15 The following objectives elaborate upon this, taking account of the main themes highlighted in evidence documents and through consultation.

(1) Bexhill Objectives:

  1. To increase the number and range of local job opportunities, within an integrated approach across the Bexhill and Hastings area;

  2. To make the town more attractive to younger people and families and thereby foster a more balanced demographic profile;

  3. To improve the quality and character of the built environment, promote its heritage and a clean, safe image for the town;

  4. To secure investment in improved community infrastructure, particularly that which promotes active lifestyles;

  5. To strengthen the retail, commercial as well as cultural role of the town centre as the heart of the town;

  6. To focus on meeting socio-economic needs within more deprived areas of the town;

  7. To promote a scale and nature of housing consistent with other objectives, especially economic growth, and infrastructure capacity.

Strategy for Bexhill

Character

(1) 8.16 Local consultations have emphasised that a strategy to deliver the objectives needs to build on the strengths in the town’s character in relation to the:

  • high level of participation in community life
  • strong cultural heritage, notably the iconic De la Warr Pavilion
  • distinct Town Centre and Old Town areas
  • amenity provided by the seafront and green spaces
  • low crime levels

(1) 8.17 In line with the objectives, the strategy should also look at improving the availability of jobs, access to affordable housing, education and training opportunities, and leisure facilities, to specifically cater more for younger and economically active sections of the population.

Economy

8.18 In terms of the central concern of economic well-being, while the town’s coastal location and relatively poor transport links limit its commercial market potential compared to other parts of the region, there are existing local firms with growth potential. Also, Sea Space9 has shown in Hastings that where new modern premises are available, investment in new industries, such as cultural industries, media, health and leisure and eco-industries, is possible.

8.19 Hence, the strategy involves stimulating the market, supporting the growth of local firms and attracting investment that resonates with the town’s bold past, more genteel character today, and more particularly with achieving wider recognition of the qualities that make it a very pleasant place to live on the south coast. Examples could include healthcare, leisure and insurance.

8.20 Providing suitable sites and premises, and infrastructure, for business growth is considered further under the ‘development strategy’ at Policy BX3 below.

8.21 Education remains a key part of the strategy, to support families across the town. There is scope to improve provision through rationalisation while still providing accessible schools for all parts of the town; a new primary school will be required to serve new housing development to the north of the town.

Well-being

8.22 Increasing the town’s amenities’ will improve its profile, as well as contribute to the vision. The priorities include continuing to invest in improving the public realm, including the seafront environment, open spaces and leisure facilities, to make them more attractive to all age groups.

(1) 8.23 More broadly, promoting a design agenda that both respects the town’s heritage, through robust design standards and careful management of change in the Town Centre and Old Town Conservation Areas, and promotes innovative design especially on key sites, will reinforce public realm and open space initiatives.

8.24 Access to major ‘green space’ is identified as being limited for the eastern part of the town10. The commitment to create a ‘Countryside Park’ extending from the sea between Bexhill and Hastings, around Pebsham, and westwards along the Combe Haven, will address this.

8.25 The Council’s Leisure Facilities Strategy11 identifies a need for further provision of sports halls, multi-use games areas (MUGAs), community health and fitness facilities and swimming lanes. In meeting this need, it concludes that, in terms of drive time access, Bexhill Leisure Centre is the preferred location for new facilities. It would also reduce competition with Hastings and serve a wider catchment area.

8.26 Positive consideration should also be given to building on existing water sports activities to support more active lifestyles, whilst recognising the wide range of use of the seafront.

8.27 As well as leisure and health facilities, ‘community life’ is facilitated by support for the Bexhill Town Forum, its member organisations and other community groups, volunteering, pre-school provision, adult education and other lifelong learning, such as provided by the Library Service and, for older people, through the University of the 3rd Age (U3A).

8.28 A greater focus on larger, family housing is proposed, whilst also facilitating a range of ‘supported housing’ options for older people. Affordable homes will focus on the needs and aspirations of younger adults, with more provision of shared ownership dwellings.

8.29 Particular attention should be given to parts of the town that demonstrate forms of deprivation, most notably in Sidley and around the town centre, to reduce economic disparities and increase opportunities. Effective actions are expected to be brought forward through collaborative working of key agencies and community groups. At the same time, policy formulation should take specific account of the implications for these localities and vulnerable groups.

8.30 In addition to the town centre, the district shopping/service centres at Sidley and Little Common provide focal points for community life in their localities, and are supplemented by smaller neighbourhood centres across the town.

8.31 Accessibility to both jobs and services in the town and district centres, other employment areas and neighbouring towns should reinforce local identity, as well as healthy lifestyles. Also, and recognising the traffic capacity difficulties discussed in relation to the ‘development strategy’ below, every effort needs to be made to encourage walking and cycling, as well as effective bus routes.

8.32 The following policy sets out how the objectives will be achieved.

(16) Policy BX1: Overall Strategy for Bexhill

The overall strategy to deliver the objectives for Bexhill is to:

  1. Conserve and enhance the town’s distinct and independent character and residential function, supported by local services and jobs as much as possible;

  2. Develop local amenities, including support for community activities and facilities, learning opportunities, and improved sports and leisure facilities, including a new leisure/swimming centre, and a network of accessible green space around the town, as well as by implementation of a Countryside Park at Pebsham;

  3. Promote the economic growth of the town, and wider area, including through encouraging growth in new and established local firms, especially in high value-added sectors, prioritising development for employment purposes, increasing the supply of land and premises and promoting efficient infrastructure;

  4. Give priority to improving welfare and economic opportunities in more deprived areas, including by assessing the impacts of development proposals on more vulnerable groups and areas;

  5. Improve road, rail, bus and cycling access within Bexhill and between the town and Hastings, via an integrated sustainable local transport strategy for the Bexhill and Hastings area, key elements of which will be:

    1. the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road, associated ‘greenway’ and new ‘quality bus corridors’;

    2. provision for a new railway station adjacent to Ravenside Retail Park;

    3. a cycle network that focuses on ‘utility’ routes to the town centre, schools, colleges and workplaces, and recreational routes into the Countryside Park and along the seafront;

  6. Strengthen the town centre’s role, both as a commercial and cultural centre, in accordance with Policy BX2;

  7. Provide for employment and housing growth, in accordance with Policy BX3, with particular regard to the needs of families, affordable housing for younger people and a range of supported housing options for older households.

8.33 Marketing of the town’s attributes and aspirations, or ‘personality’, should capture the above strategy themes.

8.34 More detail about the proposals for the Pebsham Countryside Park is contained in Chapter 9: Hastings Fringes.

Bexhill Town Centre

8.35 Over time, the town centre has not seen much investment, due largely to competition from other centres; as a consequence, it has relatively low rental values, which further marginalises investment interest. Even so, the strong presence of independent retailers, as well as its range of services, has enabled it to continue to maintain a good level of occupancy.

8.36 There is retail investment potential in the town, as highlighted in the ‘Shopping Assessment’. This identified a capacity for some additional 2,500 m2 retail floorspace for convenience (i.e. day-to-day) goods and 4,000 m2 floorspace for comparison goods12. The challenge is to provide the space for growth in and around the town centre, and the trading conditions and environment that will attract operators.

8.37 The position and physical fabric of the town centre, allied to its heritage value, limits opportunities for growth in the centre itself, although selective and sensitive redevelopment is not ruled out. The inter-relationship of conservation and development factors was considered in the Council’s ‘Bexhill Town Centre: A Framework for Regeneration and Development’.

(1) 8.38 Given retail growth potential and town centre constraints, expansion will be considered in edge of centre locations on the north side of the railway, within an area from Sea Road through to Terminus Road, including the southern end of Beeching Road.

(1) 8.39 Specific proposals will come forward though the Development and Site Allocations DPD. However, if a viable proposal within the town centre were not possible, then alternative locations would be considered in accordance with Policy EMP7 (retail sequential test). This would include Ravenside Retail Park, particularly for the sale of bulky goods, and also subject to sufficient and sustainable transport capacity.

8.40 The strategy recognises that the town centre will continue to face competition from other larger centres. Even so, its retail ‘health’ can be improved through a number of measures to encourage ‘footfall’, greater spend and leisure time. These are currently being evaluated by the Council’s Bexhill Town Centre Steering Group; potential measures include introducing a regular market, increasing parking capacity, environmental and access improvements, a ‘hub’ for community services, events and marketing of shops and restaurants in line with a distinct ‘brand identity’. The development of proposals is being informed by wide-ranging engagement with local people, businesses and other stakeholders.

8.41 Closely linked to the well-being of the town centre is the spending power in and around the core area. Better connectivity, tourism and leisure developments, as well as office and high quality residential accommodation would be ways of assisting this.

8.42 The cultural offer provided by the De la Warr Pavilion contributes to both the profile of the town and to the local economy; this highlights the value of good links between the town centre and the seafront. Attention will also be given to the tenure mix and to enhancing existing residential streets, where appropriate.

8.43 A study undertaken for the Council has identified the potential for hotel investment, to support the role of the Pavilion and/or provide centrally situated accommodation for ‘family and friends’ visitors.

8.44 In combination with transport and environmental improvements along approaches to the town centre, especially London Road, the above initiatives should consolidate its cultural and service centre roles, as well as its accessibility to the town’s residents for shopping.

8.45 Specific proposals will be brought forward by a range of measures; sites will be identified in the forthcoming ‘Development and Site Allocations’ DPD. In addition to funding by the relevant public agencies, development contributions will also be expected where proposals impact on the town centre.

(10) Policy BX2: Bexhill Town Centre

The Strategy for Bexhill Town Centre is to:

  1. Promote a co-ordinated town centre initiative to improve its use for shopping, services and leisure, including through investment in the public realm, increased parking capacity, links to the seafront, activities and marketing;

  2. Develop a holistic pedestrian and traffic management strategy that combines improved accessibility for buses and additional parking capacity with ensuring a more attractive shopping environment;

  3. Provide for some 2,500 sq m additional convenience goods and 4,000 sq m comparison goods floorspace, primarily through ‘edge of centre’ retail expansion on the north side of the railway, as well as effective use of town centre accommodation;

  4. Provide for hotel accommodation, well related to the town centre and/or the De la Warr Pavilion;

  5. Facilitate leisure, office and high quality residential developments within walking distance of the centre;

  6. Ensure that development and change respects and, where appropriate, enhances the late Victorian/Edwardian character of the Conservation Area.

Strategy for development

(1) 8.46 Physical growth at Bexhill is not heavily constrained by national environmental designations. Therefore, there is capacity for sustainable urban extensions to help meet the overall strategy objectives, in particular for economic development. Housing growth may both stimulate business development as well as help otherwise achieve the vision for the town.

(1) 8.47 However, large-scale growth would not be consistent with the objective of retaining its essential character, nor with the commercial property market. Even within these other sustainability parameters, the very limited highway capacity, primarily along the A259 trunk road towards Hastings but extending through the town, is a real constraint upon development at present.

8.48 To date, the scale of development envisaged at Bexhill has been predicated upon early construction of the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road. (The earlier ‘Consultation on Strategy Directions’ put forward some 3,100-3,300 dwellings in the town over 20 years to 2026, but this assumed the Link Road would be open in 2012/13.

8.49 The present position is that the Link Road is in a ‘pool’ of transport schemes competing for Government funding, with a decision expected by the end of 2011. Therefore, it is not guaranteed. However, set against this, not only is the construction of the Link Road consistent with the established Local Plan strategy for the town and will greatly support the strategy advocated here for the next 15 years, it has planning permission, and is being vigorously promoted by East Sussex County Council.

8.50 Therefore, the preferred strategy charts the development plans for the town assuming construction of the Link Road. At the same time, the strategy sets out priorities for development and change in advance of the Link Road opening, which is expected to be at the end of 2014/early 2015, given a favourable Government decision, as well as the approach to any delay in opening.

8.51 Delay in opening the Link Road impacts on the overall quantum of housing growth, as the Highways Authorities have indicated that they do not believe that large new sites can be built ahead of the Link Road. The weakened property market following the recession also lessens the prospects for a high level of house building.

8.52 Therefore, and given likely employment growth, a housing target of some 2,150 new dwellings between 2011 and 2028 is considered appropriate, and equates to an average of some 129 dwellings a year over the Plan period, which is somewhat above the average house building rate over the last 20 years.

8.53 It is anticipated that a lower rate of housing development will take place before construction of the Link Road, primarily for business land supply and infrastructure reasons, increasing to some 150 dwellings a year in the later phase of the Plan, which is equivalent to the rate of house building over the last 5 years.

(1) 8.54 Based on the Link Road opening towards the end of 2014, then the projected level of housing growth is:

2011 - 2015 (4 years): 300 dwellings @ 75 dwellings/year
2015 - 2016 (1 year): 100 dwellings @ 100 dwellings/year
2016 - 2021 (5 years): 700 dwellings @ 140 dwellings/year
2021 - 2028 (7 years): 1,050 dwellings @ 150 dwellings/year

8.55 This represents the best estimate for the level of sustainable growth but some flexibility is provided by adopting a range of 2,050 – 2,250 dwellings. This allows for site specific circumstances to be reflected, as well as acknowledging general uncertainties over the potential rate of regeneration and growth.

8.56 There are outstanding commitments for some 300 dwellings. Deducting these from the total leaves a requirement to identify sites for some 1,700 -1,900 additional dwellings.

(1) 8.57 The current development strategy already provides for a major urban extension to the north east of the town (including some 1,300 dwellings and 50,000 sq m of business floorspace), It is still regarded as the most appropriate location for urban expansion of the town, as it secures vital new business land in an accessible location (to the A21 and A259, the urban area, the town centre, existing employment areas and areas of greatest job need), supports sustainable development, is most acceptable in environmental terms and integrates well with green space proposals.

8.58 Allowing a reasonable estimate for small sites coming forward, further allocations are needed for some 250-450 dwellings. The SHLAA indicates some potential within the existing built-up area, as well as several sites around the northern and western edges of the town. Development to the east would erode the marginal but critical open countryside gap to Hastings.

(1) 8.59 Further outward expansion to the north east of the town would threaten the integrity of the strategic gap with Hastings, the planned Countryside Park and clear topographical limits. However, it may be extended westwards adjacent to the urban area without undue impact on the wider landscape. This provides the opportunity to extend the proposed ‘country avenue’ serving the existing allocation in the area of Preston Hall Farm as far as the A269, Ninfield Road, thereby relieving Sidley of significant through traffic. Development extending west of the A269 will also be considered, if appropriate, linking to the Ibstock brickworks site. Development in this area would also be expected to contribute to the extension of accessible green space from the Countryside Park towards the High Woods area.

(3) 8.60 Development to the west of Little Common, both north and south of Barnhorn Road (A259), will also be considered. Again, the area enjoys an attractive pastoral character, but without impacting on the wider landscape for the greater part. It also benefits from reasonable access to shops and services at the Little Common district centre. Access would need to be created directly off the A259, supplemented by existing estate roads. Whydown Road and Sandhurst Lane are unsuitable access roads.

(2) 8.61 These areas will be the focus of attention in accommodating the additional housing requirement, but the scale, timing and locations will be determined at the Site Allocations stage. This is most appropriate time to assess in further detail the key issue of the capacity of the A259 and local roads, as well as specific development issues.

8.62 It is anticipated that further consideration will also be given to the future of the ex-United Arab Emirates training centre a little beyond the western edge of the town in preparing the Development and Site Allocations DPD, as this has recently closed down.

8.63 In advance of the Link Road, the focus of employment growth will be within and adjacent to the town centre and at existing business sites. This will be complemented by a focus on public realm and town centre improvements, addressing deprivation issues, encouraging healthy, active lifestyles and securing housing in line with the strategy on urban sites.

8.64 The implications for delays in Link Road construction are set out in Chapter 7: Overall Spatial Strategy.

(13) Policy BX3: Development Strategy

New residential and employment development will contribute to overall strategy for Bexhill through:

  1. A total of some 60,000 sq m of new business floorspace, focused on new strategic employment areas associated with construction of the Link Road, with further provision in and adjacent to the town centre and as part of other developments;

  2. An overall level of housing growth of some 2,050- 2,250 dwellings between 2011-2028, the precise number being dependent upon the timing of construction of the Link Road, but will accord broadly with the phasing set out at paragraph 8.54;

  3. Over and above development opportunities within the existing urban area, new housing and business development will be focussed on a strategic site to the north east of the town (as already planned), together with further sites to the north and west of the town, the scale, timing and locations of which will be determined through the Site Allocations process; and

  4. In advance of construction of the Link Road, new opportunities for business growth, including office schemes, will be encouraged mainly within and adjacent to the town centre and existing employment areas.


5 Source: East Sussex in Figures: Population estimates in 2010 - parishes 6 Source: East Sussex in Figures: Population estimates in 2010 - parishes 7 Housing Market Assessment for Hastings and Rother March 2006, DTZ Pieda Consulting 8 Source: RDC Survey April 2011 identified 21 empty units, relative to Goad ‘Centre Report’ which identified 217 shop units (as well as 104 service units) in the town centre 9 Sea Space is the trading name of Hastings and Bexhill Renaissance Limited, the local regeneration company 10 ESCC Strategic Open Space Strategy 2011 11 Leisure Facilities Strategy 2009-2020 12 Comparison retailing is the provision of items not obtained on a frequent basis. These include clothing, footwear, household and recreational goods
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