The need for a new parish hall for Buxted was identified through the 2005 Parish Action Plan: an up to date community hall fit for life in the 21st century was required. The vision was to develop a real heart to Buxted centered on the Basil Ionides Memorial Centre (IT) land using it and the recreation ground as a combined space for the community. A Heart of Buxted steering group (HOBI) was formed to develop the new hall idea and in 2011 this group was registered as a charitable company – Buxted Community Hall Trust Limited – with a working name of BCHT. The charity embraced various stakeholders in the village and, particularly, had the support of the Ionides trustees and the Parish Council. Its original aims were to produce plans for a new hall on the Ionides site, to obtain planning consent from WDC for the build, to fundraise for the project and ultimately to build and run the new hall. The new hall was not intended to be a parish council (BPC) owned facility but, as with the Five Ash Down and High Hurstwood village halls, it would be charitably owned and run by the community.
BPC allocated funds and appointed an Architect (Simon Barker of Barker Shorten Architects LLP) to produce suitable plans, following local consultations, and to apply to Wealden District Council (WDC) for planning permission. A local developer allocated £100,000, under a section 106 agreement “towards the establishment of the new Buxted Community Hall…” and well-supported fundraising events were run locally to start to amass the requisite funds. Unfortunately, whilst under consideration by WDC in late 2011, the planning application ran foul of the EU restrictions on new building works within 7 Km of the Ashdown Forest and this was just the first of many delays that began to take the momentum out of the project. Eventually, consent for a much-reduced hall was granted as a special case in December 2014, giving BCHT 3 years to complete all the building regulation requirements, obtain estimates, select and appoint contractors, fundraise, etc. BCHT trustees also needed to obtain a lease for the proposed site from the trustees of the IT. However, early in 2016 it was discovered that a small section of the land BCHT required for the hall was subject to a lease held by the Scout Association for the Scout Hall. Both the Scouts and the IT had indicated their willingness to agree to a ‘land swap’ but the associated legal issues to enable BCHT to have a lease for the new hall site have been extremely protracted and were still incomplete in February 2019. In December 2017, with the planning consent about to lapse the BCHT trustees decided to commence phase 1 of the new hall building works (foundations etc.). Had this not been started, planning consent would have lapsed; any further application would have required payment of a further full fee to WDC and there would have been no guarantee that the repeat application would succeed.
Still not having a lease for the proposed building’s site has prevented the BCHT trustees applying for funds from any supportive foundations and trusts so the matter has stagnated from the AGM in January 2018, to the subsequent AGM in February 2019. In 2018 we had C50 people in the AGM audience expressing support for the new hall but by 2019, this fell away and only about a third of that number attended the AGM. Disillusioned members had left the board that now only had FOUR trustees and this number could not be either increased nor resigning members replaced. The BCHT trustees unanimously took the decision to dissolve the SOLVENT charitable company in accordance with the company’s articles of association and Charity Commission rules and donate its funds/assets to the IT for its trustees to take the matter forward in due course in any way they deem to be appropriate within the terms of the transfer of funds. The AGM audience generally expressed regret at this decision but agreed with its inevitability in the circumstances.
In the future, if another group emerges who are willing and able to take the project forwards, the BCHT transferred assets and the balance of the unused Section 106 monies would be available to them through the IT Trustees and BPC – who hold the balance of the S106 grant monies.
A sad end to a failed but worthwhile project? However, the scheme leaves a legacy of a good gated access to the Scouts Hall area of the IT land, planning consent for a new hall has been secured in perpetuity and the new hall’s foundations are partially in place.
BCHT trustees February 2019.