The sorry saga of the North Queensway Innovation Park continues. We reported in September 2015 that SeaChange had finally found a tenant for the site. The fact that the tenant would be moving from elsewhere in Hastings, and creating no new jobs, did not dampen SeaChange’s excitement. The Hastings Observer duly reproduced SeaChange’s press release with no critical comment.
By December 2016 – with no sign of work beginning on the site – another occupier had been found. This time, SeaChange was uncharacteristically silent about it, merely submitting a planning application. Their reluctance to shout the news from the rooftops was explained by the fact that the proposed tenant was Bartlett Seat, a car showroom currently situated rather inconveniently bang on the route of the Queensway Gateway road.
Forced to move
So rather than choosing to move to North Queensway because it was such a wonderful site, the company was being forced to move by another SeaChange project. No new jobs were to be created, although SeaChange stated rather hopefully in the planning application that:
‘In total the proposed development will result in around 20 jobs. Whilst it is acknowledged that these jobs already exist in Hastings at Bartlett SEAT’s existing showroom, the proposed development will enable these jobs to remain in Hastings.’
When it was first proposed, North Queensway was forecast to create 865 jobs. With the first two tenants confirmed, and not a single new job between them, things were looking decidely grim.
But now it’s just got worse. At the South East Local Enterprise Partnership strategic board meeting in March 2018, members were told that one of those tenants (it doesn’t say which) has now pulled out because it:
‘requires a larger facility than can be provided on this site’
Which is rather odd: did they not know how big the site was when they said they’d take it? Or is there something else going on? It doesn’t quite smell right.
And the report shows that the ‘repayment risk’ for North Queensway (SeaChange received a £1.5m loan from SELEP towards the site) is now set at red with the warning that:
Further delays anticipated in repayment of these funds due to slow take up in land sales. 1 new business to begin development in March 2018 which it is anticipated will catalyse interest in the other plot.
The ‘new business’ referred to here is presumably whichever of the two tenants has not yet pulled out. But the report is keen to put a gloss on the unglossable, saying that :
Although good new [sic] for the local economy and job creation this site will now require further marketing
Given how long SeaChange has been marketing it already, and their abject failure to find tenants, it doesn’t seem very likely that they’re going to find a replacement anytime soon.