Wealden council leaders have agreed to ‘formally conclude’ Hailsham Aspires — a town centre regeneration project now considered to be “unaffordable”.

On Wednesday (March 13), Wealden District Council’s cabinet agreed to “formally bring the Hailsham Aspires project to a conclusion” and reassign its funding to the delivery of a new medical centre in the town.

When first announced in January 2019, the project was described by the council as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’, which would regenerate Hailsham town centre and the council-owned Vicarage Field Shopping Centre.

The project, then expected to cost around £100m, was initially set to include: a new and improved shopping centre; a multi-storey car park; new council offices; a new leisure centre; and up to 280 apartments and townhouses aimed at younger buyers.

“This has been a long awaited wake,” said Kelvin Williams, cabinet portfolio holder for public health, wellbeing and asset management.

“Its intent was to try and regenerate the town centre to provide an all-singing, all-dancing town centre with a lot of very high level facilities. Unfortunately, due to a range of things, we have to draw this to an end.

“But I think it is important [to highlight] our commitment to still, where we can, deliver a medical centre which does accord with our policies in terms of wellbeing and community use and also support the continued use of the leisure facilities at Hailsham”.

When asked why he thought the project had failed, Cllr Williams added: “There are some quite, I think, fundamental [things] that have gone wrong; a lot of them outside of our control as a local authority.

“We were bidding for the Levelling Up funds and we didn’t get out. That was £20m, so that had a significant hole in how we were going to deliver this. I could be quite cynical here and say perhaps the money in Levelling Up tends to go where the existing government thinks they’ve got real problems in getting elected again.”

He went on to say the failure to secure Levelling Up funding had combined with the rising cost of building materials, Brexit, issues around design and the wider economic picture, which overall “meant this project could not go ahead.”

The council had sought Levelling Up Fund monies for the project on three occasions, in 2021, 2022, and 2023. It also sought alternative sources of grant funding, but was unsuccessful in doing so.

Funding was intially being sought for the first phase of the project; a combined medical and leisure centre to replace the existing Freedom Leisure centre in Vicarage Field.

With the cancellation of the project, officers say the council will now be able to reallocate almost £12m (including £5m of Community Infrastructure Levy monies) towards the construction of a new medical centre in the town.

A report to cabinet notes how this figure would not be enough to fully fund such a construction project, but says a standalone medical centre “is much more deliverable than the wider regeneration project”.

Details of this alternative project would be expected to come forward in the coming months.