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THE FUTURE OF THE VILLAGE HALL LAND

Over recent months the Village Hall trustees have been considering the future of the charity and its land. We are now asking for feedback from the residents of Steep to help make the best decision.

BACKGROUND

In 1920 the Badley family gave land on Church Road for a village hall, in memory of the men of Steep killed in World War I.  A charity, the Steep War Memorial Village Club (SWMVC), was set up to provide a centre for social activities and “for all forms of physical and mental recreation and for educational purposes… for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Parish of Steep”.

Since the 1930s Steep Parish Council has been the sole trustee of SWMVC, regulated by the Charity Commission.  As trustees, Parish Councillors have a duty both to fulfill SWMVC’s charitable objectives and to secure its long-term future.  We do this mainly by running the Village Hall, which is used by local clubs and organisations and is available to hire for events. 

Prior to the pandemic, the Hall’s income broadly covered its running costs, and it was no longer being subsidised by the Parish Council.  But we have to think about the future.  The Hall’s last major renovation was 1999, i.e. 20 years ago.  Recent surveys brought up various issues that will need attention, and there are things we could do to make the building work and look better.

Steep Village Hall Aerial Shot

It would also be great if we could ‘future-proof’ the charity financially, to make sure it is there for the next generation of Steep residents.  We do not have a large endowment, and so have to consider very carefully any opportunity to put the charity on a more secure long-term financial footing.  This is one aspect of the situation we are now facing.

As well as the Hall itself, the charity owns some land on the south side of Church Road.  This consists of the Hall car park and just under half an acre of rough grassland, stretching back to the hedge line dividing the Hall’s land from Bedales’.  Although it is open to the public, we feel that as it is this land does not fulfil SWMVC’s objects.  It is also largely inaccessible for wheel-chair users, people with prams or buggys, or anyone with limited mobility or sight.  This consultation is about the future of this land.

To the east of the Hall’s land is the field of around 1.4 acres.  This was assigned in the nineteenth century as “allotments for the labouring poor of Steep” and held since then as a charitable trust.  This is now in the stewardship of Steep in Need, an independent charity created in 2015 to help people in financial need in Steep and the adjoining parishes (see Steep in Need website – www.steepinneed.org.uk – for full details).  They are a separate organisation from SWMVC and from the Parish Council.

STEEP AND THE SOUTH DOWNS LOCAL PLAN

In 2019 the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) adopted a Local Plan which has some important implications for Steep.  First, it changes the settlement boundary – the area within which development is normally allowed – and makes it more tightly focused on Church Road as the centre of Steep.

Secondly, it designates Steep in Need and part of SWMVC’s land as an allocation site which could be developed to meet housing need in the National Park.  The SDNPA would be likely to approve an application for 8-12 dwellings, with various conditions such as retaining mature trees and avoiding hard surfaces.  Crucially, around 20% of the site should be public open space accessible from the Village Hall.

RECENT HISTORY OF THE CHURCH ROAD SITE

Over the last three years Steep in Need and SWMVC trustees have been working together to see how both charities’ land could best be used to help both charities’ objectives:  Steep in Need’s for the relief of poverty, and SWMVC’s for recreation.  Together we decided to sell the land to the developer, who would build a mix of market and affordable homes on the site, while keeping around 20% as public open space.  This would be returned to SWMVC ownership as a recreational space for the whole village.

Steep in Need’s land makes up 85% of the allocation site and they took the lead in choosing a preferred developer and commissioning  preparatory works, such as ecology studies and ground water monitoring.  More details can be found on their website.

After discussions with the Charity Commission and concerns from some residents, SWMVC’s trustees have decided NOT to proceed with the joint sale.  Steep in Need can develop their land without our involvement and have recently signed an agreement with Wilson Designer Homes Ltd.  We are now considering how best to make the Village Hall land work for its beneficiaries in this situation.

THE BROADER PICTURE: A CENTRE FOR STEEP?

The Hall and its land are a vital part of village life and need to work as well as it can for the whole village.  As trustees we want to find a solution that fulfills the aims of SWMVC and also meets the spirit of the original Badley gift.

Steep is an unusual parish: we have more than 400 households spread over an area larger than Petersfield but no obvious village centre.  The main concentration of residents is along Church Road, where there is also the church, Steep Common, the primary school and the entrance to Bedales.

We believe we have now a unique chance to create an attractive public space on Church Road.  We could bring our grassed area to the front of the site and join it to open space in the Steep in Need development to make a new ‘village green’ for all the people of Steep to enjoy.  The car park could be moved to the back of the site.

A pleasant public space in the middle of the village directly fulfills SWMVC’s objectives by providing a place for physical and mental recreation.  The recent Open Space Working Group consultation revealed that residents want somewhere to come together and socialise, to enjoy nature, and to pause to reflect in a tranquil setting.  Your responses also emphasized that we should think holistically about such a space, including the Village Hall land and the current car park.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO NOW?

This is a complex situation. Tt’s important that we understand and consider all the options so we can make the best decision for the long-term future of the charity and its beneficiaries, i.e. you, the people of Steep.

We have come up with five options for the SWMVC land, assuming that development will go ahead on the Steep in Need land.  These are set out briefly below and described in detail in the Options Appraisal document.

Under any of the options, all the open space created by the development would ultimately come into SWMVC ownership, increasing our land holding and making it easier for everyone to enjoy.  Some options would also improve our financial status, so we may be able to make improvements to the Village Hall and strengthen the charity’s future.

THE OPTIONS IN BRIEF

  1. Do nothing.  We could simply leave the hall and its surrounding land as it is.
  2. Sell the rough grassland to Wilson Designer Homes, the developer, with the final open space returned to SWMVC ownership.
  3. Leave the hall and surrounding land as it is but covenant the rough grassland to be part of the final open space.  The land would remain in SWMVC ownership and the developer would make a payment in return for the covenant.
  4. As option 3, but with SWMVC land rearranged by moving the car park to the back and creating a recreational area along Church Road.  This would be covenanted as part of the final open space in return for a payment from the developer.
  5. Sell the rough grassland and use the whole proceeds to buy equivalent land as a like-for-like replacement elsewhere in the village.  The current plot would presumably be included in the development and the final open space come back into SWMVC ownership

Please read the Options Appraisal for a fuller explanation of the differences between these options, and what we have considered in weighing them against each other.

We do not think that the options 2 and 5 have any clear benefits over the others and we do not plan to pursue them further.

The other three options have distinct features.  Option 1 represents the least change from the status quo.  Option 3 leaves the land unchanged, and in SWMVC ownership, but the payment would provide financial security for the charity. 

Option 4 creates a better space for recreation and reflection at the heart of Steep, in line with SWMVC’s objectives and residents’ wishes expressed in the open space consultation.

We think this is the best way both to secure a green centre for Steep and to fulfil SWMVCs long and short-term objectives.  It is important to realise that if the Village Hall land isn’t included in the development, there is no guarantee of 20% of the Steep in Need land being left as open space.

Rough-Area

LEGAL CHALLENGES & QUESTIONS

Over the past three years, there have been a number of legal and process challenges to the Parish Council, to the Village Hall charity and to the SDNPA about various aspects of any potential development in the centre of Steep.  We fully respect the rights of residents to hold us accountable for our actions, but we assure all residents that we have been working with care and in good faith throughout and are committed to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the charity.

THE CONSULTATION

We want to hear your views on what the future holds for the SWMVC land.  It is our responsibility as trustees to take the final decision, but your feedback is vital as you are the beneficiaries of the charity.  Although this is not a referendum, we will take your views into account and will publish a summary of the information from the consultation.

The key questions are:

The Key Questions Are:

Clicking on the button below to  express your views.

The consultation period has been extended until Friday 4th June 2021