top of page


With a project as large and complex as this - the ongoing management and future development of St Francis Fields into a community asset - there are undoubtably many questions which arise. This page will be updated on a regular basis as we move forward.

Q: Why did the village buy St Francis Fields?

A. In 2020 Northiam Parish Council purchased the St Francis Fields site, from the Blue Cross animal rescue charity. This was after a village-wide consultation process and vote. The primary reasons were:

  • to have control over its future use

  • to create a village amenity

  • the opportunity arose. Rother District Council declined to accept it as a potential development site, and the Blue Cross then agreed to sell it to the Parish Council.

The alternative to not purchasing the site was for it to be sold on the open market. The consequences if this had happened are obviously unknown, but the Blue Cross, when it was investigating options for sale, asked Rother District Council if it would consent to the building of 125 houses on the land (see village consultation leaflet from 2018). This was declined at the time, but could remain a possibility in the future if the use of the site was not controlled by the village.

Q. Why did the Blue Cross sell the site to Northiam Parish Council?

A. Rother District Council indicated that it would not be an acceptable site for a major housing development because of issues of access, its location in the AONB and its proximity to the Conservation Area. As a result of this, the Blue Cross accepted an offer from the Parish Council.

Q. Who owns St Francis Fields?

A. Northiam Parish Council owns the land. It has the title to the property (title numbers at Land Registry: ESX 119625, 252160, 312844 ). It holds the land for the benefit of the community.

Q. Why was St Francis Fields Community Interest Company set up?

A. When the site was purchased, Northiam Parish Council didn’t, and still doesn’t, have the necessary legal standing known as the “General Power of Competence” to run St Francis Fields itself.  It is also unlikely that councillors could devote the necessary time to a project as large and varied as this alongside their council responsibilities. For these reasons, the management of community assets purchased by parish councils is almost always contracted to another body, with Community Interest Companies being one type that is used. 

A Community Interest Company (CIC) is a business with social objectives where surpluses are reinvested in the business or in the community rather than distributed to shareholders, and the recommendation that a Community Interest Company would be the most appropriate body to manage the estate came from the East Sussex and Surrey Association of Local Councils. It was then made clear during the village consultations that led up to the purchase and when applying for the government loan, that a Community Interest Company would be set up to run the estate on behalf of the Parish Council. At the St Francis Fields Open Days held in February 2020, residents put their names down to be involved in various aspects of St Francis Fields and a number volunteered to be part of the Community Interest Company.

Q. What's the role of Community Interest Company?

A. The St Francis Fields Community Interest Company (sometimes referred to as the CIC) was incorporated on 7 May 2021. The Company and Northiam Parish Council agreed a Management Agreement effective from 1 August 2021 and this clearly sets out the duties and responsibilities of the Community Interest Company and Northiam Parish Council. The Community Interest Company has no legal interest in (does not own) the property, but acts as the Council's managing agent for the estate.

Q. How does the Community Interest Company work?

A. How the Community Interest Company works is set out in its Articles of Association – its constitution – with these and other company documents publicly available on the Companies House website.

The Articles set out how the Community Interest Company is controlled by its members through their voting rights at general meetings of the company. Membership of the Community Interest Company is free and anyone living in the Parish of Northiam can apply to become a member. 

Day-to-day management of the Community Interest Company is through a board of directors whose responsibilities are again set out in the company’s Articles.  The directors are answerable to the members at general meetings of the company. At the St Francis Fields Open Days in February 2020, residents put their names down to be involved in various aspects of St Francis Fields. A number volunteered to be part of the Community Interest Company and they became the first directors of the company.


There are now eight directors of the Community Interest Company who are elected by the members at general meetings of the company. They are unpaid volunteers and all are Northiam residents who between them have the range of skills, knowledge and experience necessary to achieve the long term aims for St Francis Fields.

Q. What must the St Francis Fields Community Interest Company do?

A. What the Community Interest Company was set up to do - its 'Objects' - appear in its Articles of Association. These are "to carry on activities which benefit the community in the Parish of Northiam and in particular (without limitation) supporting Northiam Parish Council by devising and undertaking the business of developing, establishing, promoting and facilitating the provisions, effectiveness and use of the land and. buildings of the Estate with a community focus”.

How the CIC does this is set out in the Management Agreement between it and the Parish Council.

In carrying out the above, the Community Interest Company has to reinvest all of the surpluses it generates (e.g. from the pop-up pub, other fundraising events and new projects) into St Francis Fields or, in very exceptional circumstances, other Northiam community projects.

Q. Can the Directors benefit financially from their role in the St Francis Fields Community Interest Company?

A. The Company's Articles of Association state that “The Company is not established or conducted for private gain: any surplus or assets are used principally for the benefit of the community”.


The Articles go on to say that “The directors may not be employed by the company or receive any other financial benefit for their services either as a director or through the provision of goods and services to the company” and that “A director who wishes to contract to supply goods or services to the company must resign”. Under these rules, it would be illegal for directors to benefit financially from St Francis Fields Community Interest Company.

Q. Who decides what to do with St Francis Fields?

A. Ultimately, it is the owner of the land - Northiam Parish Council - which takes decisions on what to do with St Francis Fields. Part of the St Francis Fields Community Interest Company's role is to make suggestions to the Parish Council about uses and improvements to the estate. It then implements those agreed by the Council. You can help to influences future plans for St Francis Fields by becoming a member. 

The Community Interest Company cannot develop anything on the site without the approval of the Parish Council, nor can it sell any land. The Community Interest Company is the 'Managing Agent' not the landowner.

Q. How is the loan of £1.4 million repaid?

A: The loan is for 50 years and began in 2020. It is at a fixed interest rate of 3.3% and the loan will be repaid in 2070.

The cost reduces every year and is currently met through:

  • Northiam Parish Council precept paid for by parishioners (92p per week for Band D in 2023/24)

  • Rental income (£25,000 per year) from the stables and the two bungalows. The rental income is paid directly to Northiam Parish Council.

Q: Do we really need to "Save St Francis Fields from Housing"?

A. This question refers to a leaflet published in the run-up to the Northiam Parish Council elections in May 2023. It was produced by four of the then current parish councillors and a past chairman (none of whom are now on the council) and claimed that there could be “excessive housing” on SFF involving the Community Interest Company. This is despite the Parish Council meeting of 12 May 2022 unanimously agreeing that Northiam Parish Council had not agreed to any houses being built, there were no plans to do so and no contractors had been employed. 

Be reassured, there are NO housing plans for St Francis Fields, ill-considered or otherwise. The Community Interest Company cannot build any houses anywhere. Only the Parish Council as the landowner could initiate this.

The only housing that has ever been mentioned in connection with St Francis Fields is the possibility of ‘building a small number of properties available exclusively for local residents and made genuinely affordable'. This was a possible use set out in the Parish Council leaflet sent out to all residents before the vote on the purchase of St Francis Fields in February 2018. However, to develop affordable housing three things are required. The first is a suitable site, the second is planning consent including agreed viable access and the third is the funding to pay for construction.

While Rother District Council is desperate to increase its housing numbers by identifying suitable development sites, they have on at least three occasions since 2006 considered the Blue Cross site (now St Francis Fields) but each time the land was deemed ‘not suitable, red site’ because of issues relating to access, location of the site within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and proximity to the Northiam Conservation Area. These issues will continue to impact on any future projects at St Francis Fields, of housing or anything else.

Of the two areas of St Francis Fields that could possibly be considered for a small number of affordable homes, only one lies within the village development boundary and that is the site known as the Doctor’s Field. However, the only likely viable access to this site is under the control of the developer of Highfields. No meetings have ever been held with this developer.

The second site is that of the current sand school behind the hedge at the beginning of Beales Lane. Although outside of the development boundary, it would qualify as an Exemption Site as it adjoins the development boundary and is related to the village. It could only be for affordable housing, the need for which was identified by the village Housing Survey completed in 2020.


However East Sussex Highways would need to be convinced that a suitable access off Beales Lane could be provided.

It was surprising that the individuals who published the leaflet didn't seem aware or chose to ignore that the St Francis Fields Community Interest Company could never take on housebuilding at St Francis Fields, or indeed anywhere else; it simply doesn’t have the power to do so. If the Parish Council decided to try to build affordable housing at St Francis Fields, it would have to work with a housing association, a Community Land Trust or some other body with the appropriate funding to do this and would always be faced with the issues surrounding planning consent outlined above.

Q: The original village consultation sent out by the Parish Council said that they would like to purchase the Blue Cross land to prevent a large development company buying, building and controlling the land. If the village, via the Parish Council, bought the land then they could use part of the land for low-cost housing suitable for the needs of the village, i.e. 1 or 2 bed homes, and other parts of land could be used for recreational or environmental needs. What are the plans for exploring low-cost housing?

A: It’s for the Parish Council as owner of the land, not the Community Interest Company, to decide whether it wants to explore affordable housing options, or to ask St Francis Fields Community Interest Company to do so on its behalf. To provide affordable housing anywhere in the village, the Parish Council would need to go into partnership with another body such as a Community Land Trust or Community Benefit Society. It's worth noting that limited access would almost certainly be a problem for the provision of low-cost housing at St Francis Fields.

Q: The natural burial ground. Who will manage it? How do you plan recording names of those buried? Number of burials? Can ashes be dispersed on site?

A: A natural burial ground is one of our key projects, having been raised by many residents at the St Francis Fields Open Days in 2020. We've been in discussion with the Parish Council for many months about this and will discuss all aspects of the proposal with the new Parish Council after May’s elections, including how it will be managed. We first need to establish whether it is permissible from an Environmental and Highways point of view before applying for Change of Use from Rother.

Q: Please explain the breakdown of the Northiam Parish Council precept as mine is higher than the 92p a week mentioned.

A: Questions about the precept should be addressed to Northiam Parish Council. However, it's worth noting that the part of the precept going towards paying off the St Francis Fields loan remains unchanged. The 92p a week refers to a Band D property and is based on the Parish Council's published budget for 2023/2024. 

bottom of page