Theobalds Road bridle path

Walked down Theobalds Road along the bridle path to Fox Hill Village, its current state shows why Mid Sussex District Council did a U-turn on its proposals to turn it into a paved cycle path given the cost of ensuring proper drainage! However anyone who walks it regularly would have been able to tell them, as well as questioning the environmental effects of such a proposal.  Their would be a significant financial and environmental cost to improving, particularly for the section by the stream (further complicated because it is in Lewes District which would not contribute to the cost).

Clair Hall legal fiasco

The decision last year of Conservatives on Mid Sussex District Council to close Clair Hall without regard to a public consultation and their failure to heed Liberal Democrat concerns about the closure was revealed to have cost taxpayers £27,000 in legal advice. As a result the Council has had to commit to new public consultation on its future.  The Council’s Conservative administration ignored Liberal Democrat requests for the Council’s Scrutiny Committee to review the decision which could ultimately have saved some of these costs.  Conservatives didn’t follow Council rules, and cost the Council dearly, yet don’t want the Council to consider what lessons can be learnt from the debacle.  The venue is currently being used as a vaccination centre, but the Council needs to make clear in any consultation that there is a realistic option of reopening the hall to the public.  The Council needs to engage with Haywards Heath residents interested in running the hall as a community asset which could secure its future.   Conservatives have form here, they shut the Martlets in Burgess Hill without establishing a replacement, and now most of Mid Sussex is without any major performance venue.

Parking and congestion problems

I know congestion and parking is increasingly a problem in our area, parking can easily reduce a road to one lane, causing problems (although some people see a potential positive when not unduly obstructive as it slows traffic down).  Fast roads such as Rocky Lane can be particularly dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, and this has been highlighted as an issue which the District Council needs to address as it is currently considering safe cycling and walking routes between Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath. 

There is no easy answer to these problems, however it is important that people using the road act considerately whether they are parking or transiting the road.  We can all help by reporting issues that we come across as immediate reporting makes more explicit action more likely, and the number of reports will be monitored, and may highlight the need for a more calculated response.  At the same time new building activity increases pressure on local roads, particularly on the eastern side of Burgess Hill and the Town Council is particularly concerned about the cumulative impact of new development on local roads and makes this point when new planning applications are considered.

Vehicles parking in contravention of existing waiting restrictions (yellow lines) should be reported to the District Council Parking Service who can take action.  If a Civil Enforcement Officer is nearby, they will visit the location and assess the situation to see if a Penalty Charge Notice can be issued.  You can report such illegal parking via parkinginfo@midsussex.gov.uk.

You can also report vehicles parking in a hazardous position on an unrestricted section of highway to the County Council via https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/roads-and-travel/make-an-enquiry-or-report-a-problem-with-a-road-or-pavement/parking/ or download the “Love West Sussex” app for your smart phone to make reports whilst you are out.  However, the Council is not be able to intervene in cases of dangerous or obstructive parking which is a police matter. If vehicles are causing a dangerous obstruction, preventing access for emergency vehicles, parking on the pavement or blocking driveways, report it to Sussex Police – see https://www.sussex.police.uk/contact/af/contact-us/. Please use the non-emergency number 101 or email at 101@sussex.pnn.police.uk .  But they can only issue a fixed penalty or take other action in certain circumstances, for example when an obstruction is likely to endanger life.

Report to the County Council specific incidents to highlight there is an issue with parking in the area that requires a more coherent response or if there is a specific traffic accident, these reports are monitored and can influence policy making.  Requests for new road markings such as yellow lines require a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO).  These are prioritised based on a number of criteria, including safety, pollution and congestion, and would require a sustained campaign to reach the necessary criteria including contacting our local County Councillor to get their backing – see https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/roads-and-travel/traffic-regulation-orders/about-tros/apply-for-a-tro/.

Call to safeguard Family Centres and for better mental health facilities

At last Friday’s Council meeting Liberal Democrats on the County Council pressed for services to combat the huge impact of COVID on families, children and teenagers. The Tories all voted against the Liberal Democrat amendment – which was fully costed and signed off as financially sound by the finance officer –  and which would have seen the Children and Family Centres threatened with closure saved.

They also turned down fully costed plans to provide mental health support in every one of West Sussex’s 286 schools as we recover from COVID, and keep important day services for elderly residents open after the pandemic as well as investment in more resources for walking and cycling.

Liberal Democrat county councillors proposed funding these prudently, through a small 3% rise in fees charged for services, such as those we ask of developers sitting on billions of pounds of cash, and cuts to back office budgets only.

Not a single Conservative councillor, including all of those in Mid Sussex, voted to save our Children and Family Centres or provide much needed support in our schools.

Mid Sussex District Council Conservative mismanagement costs £26,000 in legal advice

The decision of Conservatives on Mid Sussex District Council to close Clair Hall without regard to a public consultation and their failure to heed Liberal Democrat concerns about the closure has now been revealed to have cost council taxpayers £27,000 in legal advice.  Yet the Council ignored Liberal Democrat requests for the Council’s Scrutiny Committee to review the decision which could ultimately have saved some of these costs.  Conservatives didn’t follow Council rules, and cost the Council dearly, yet don’t want the Council to consider what lessons can be learnt from the debacle.  The venue is currently being used as a vaccination centre, but the Council needs to make clear in any consultation that there is a realistic option of reopening the hall to the public.  The Council needs to engage with Haywards Heath residents interested in running the hall as a community asset which could secure its future, yet it seems they are unwilling to even meet with the campaigners working to save the hall.   Conservatives have form here, they shut the Martlets Hall in Burgess Hill without establishing a replacement, and now with their latest move on Clair Hall  most of Mid Sussex is without any major performance venue.

Footpath delays explained

Following resident complaints about the apparently sporadic nature of the work on some of what are welcome improvements to foot and cycling paths in the Burgess Hill, the following message was received by the Town Council from Nathan Spilsted, Lead Officer for the Place & Connectivity Programme, MSDC:

“Firstly my apologies for any inconvenience you may have experienced whilst improvements are being delivered via the £22.8m Burgess Hill Place and Connectivity Programme. The programme of works were scheduled to be spaced out but unfortunately start was delayed due to Covid and delivery has been further delayed due to the exceptionally wet winter weather. This has compressed delivery and whilst the usual practice would be to pause delivery, we are required to continue to deliver at pace in order to meet Programme funding requirements set by central government.

The risk is that we would lose funding it these requirements are not met. The team are working as hard as they can to reopen the recently closed section of Green Circle between Malthouse Lane and to the north of Burgess Hill burial ground but this will be closed for up to 8 weeks and there will be further closures further along the Green Circle over the coming weeks to deliver improvements.

Further on-site signs advising the public of closures and the work programme will be put in place. I can advise that the section of the Green Circle between Gatehouse Land and Malthouse Lane is scheduled to reopen by the end of February; the path through West Park Nature Reserve should reopen by the end of next week and the route through Holmesdale Woods by the end of this week. I hope you will understand the reasons for the number of closures and I am sure that when the paths do reopen, you will find the schemes a vast improvement to what previously existed.”

Programme details are available at: https://burgesshill.net/transport/sustainable-transport

Finally demolished but what happens next?

Finally, the old Library is being demolished, but only after pressure for the District Council to complete the job by Liberal Democrat Councillors last year. This site has been an eyesore for too long and is thousands over budget after delays and extra work to remove asbestos.  The District Council had no strategy when it insisted the Martlets Hall should close without making any alternative arrangements for users of the venue.   The original reason for closure was to hand the site to New River Retail to jumpstart the redevelopment of that part of the town centre, however against the current downbeat environment for retail this seems unlikely to start anytime soon.   What must happen is to creatively use the site for something meaningful until any development commences, one suggestion is an urban garden to open up that corner of the town centre and encourage recreational use – and its important Mid Sussex District Council is held to account to see something positive come from this.

Freeks Lane – work to begin on new play area and road bridge

Work on the access road to the Freeks Lane housing site continues with the picture below showing the view towards what will be the play area behind the Hawthorns, although I don’t think a lake is part of the new facility! A new road bridge across the Adur will link the site with Isaacs Lane and mean that construction traffic will enter from the main road rather than Maple Drive. Work on both projects is set to begin in the Spring. For further details see the Northern Arc newsletter for January.

Freeks Lane itself will be then no longer be a thoroughfare for the contractor lorries and will be properly surfaced to allow access by cyclists as well as pedestrians through to Isaacs Lane. Whilst the special character provided by the mix of trees and bushes that line its margins need to be protected, easier all weather access would be welcomed.

Homes England will be holding another community briefing on 27th January at 6.30pm streaming the presentation for attendees to watch in a web browser, or via the MS Teams app. The link to the event is here. You are encouraged to submit questions using this Facebook link.

Still waiting for a cycle path to Haywards Heath

Plans to turn Theobalds Road and the bridleway leading to Fox Hill Village into a cycleway are I understand now considered not viable by the Council and it has returned to looking at alternatives. Whilst capital and maintenance costs were the barrier, many local residents were concerned about the environmental cost of the route.

Certainly, there are good reasons for making Rocky Lane and Issacs Lane safer for pedestrians and cyclists as well as taking a stand with the owners of the Heaseland Estate who could provide a more straightforward route to Haywards Heath at very little inconvenience to themselves. Anyone who has tried to walk between Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill knows this is putting their lives in danger given the sharp bends and straight roads where even the grass verges are not always wide enough to walk on.

Work is nearing completion to widen the cycle path link to Fairbridge Way at Blackstone Way (albeit completion is currently delayed). This is part of the Place and Connectivity Programme, and I look forward to an all-weather cycle and footpath between St Wilfrids Road and Leylands Road, as well as improvements to the “bumpy bridge” to make it less bumpy! However, the plan also needs to consider a more permanent upgrade to the footpath to the north of Leylands Road leading to Maple Close to allow cyclists to use it.

The Town Council always advised against the so called “eastern route” to Fox Hill Village given the environmental concerns, and I understand they are now considering our proposal for a pedestrian crossing at or near the Mill Road junction given the need for a safe route across Leylands Road here.

Supporting the Town Centre

Well done to the market traders that braved the town centre this morning, and thanks for the cheese man for letting me off the 2p I owed him (promise to pay you next month). Slowly increasing my shopping at Scrapless, the plastic free store, today refilled the porridge oats, handwash and eggs, today. Did notice the main post office has limited opening hours and is currently closed on Saturdays and open from 11am during the week, although of course the suboffices in London Road and Worlds End remain open as usual.