The war of words over the future of St Mary’s Social Centre in Lewes intensified this week.
The centre’s Trustees said they were “appalled” by the comments made by the Leader of Lewes District Council on the highly controversial issue.
Cllr James Page claimed that local people were being “totally misinformed and scared” into signing a petition protesting against any plans to close St Mary’s.
Colin Reynolds, Chairman of the Trustees, said: “ Our petition is very straightforward. We do not wish St Mary’s to be demolished or redeveloped.
“We think it is Cllr Page who is running scared of the support we have overwhelmingly received in our face-to-face approach – a hand-written signature petition of nearly 3,500 names.”
Mr Reynolds agreed the social centre had a lease until 2022. But he accused Cllr Page of failing to fully answer concerns posed last week by the Nevill Residents’s Association.
“Clause 7.7 of this lease confirms a six-month break clause can be served, if the council wishes to demolish the centre,” said Mr Reynolds.
He quoted the clause: ‘If the council shall desire to demolish the demised premises or any part thereof for any purpose, or to take the demised premises or any part thereof for or in connection with any scheme for redeveopment ... the council shall give the lessee not less than six months previous noticing in writing ...’
Mr Reynolds said this clause was confirmed at a face-to-face meeting with Cllr Page and the council’s Chief Executive Jenny Rowlands with Trustees on Thursday last week.
In the following day’s lead story in the Sussex Express, Cllr Page said the rent review was not due for another 10 years.
Mr Reynolds said: “These mixed messages understandably make us feel very insecure.
“Do you really know, Cllr Page, which story you are telling? We don’t believe you when you say you ‘have no plans’.
“We have also identified a European journal on the internet in which the district council wishes to develop and regenerate 48 sites within its ownership, located across the District.
“The council is seeking to work with a partner who will be able to deliver development solutions which will ensure ALL sites are either ‘built out’ or ‘disposed of’. St Mary’s, Cllr Page has confirmed, is one of those sites.
“This, Cllr Page, sounds like a plan to us.”
Now the Trustees have applied to Lewes District Council register St Mary’s as an ‘Asset of Community Value and Right to Bid’.
“This means we are taking this matter very seriously,” said Mr Reynolds. “It is difficult to build-up and maintain the level of community support and usage which the social centre currently enjoys.
“We are not, despite what Cllr Page may say, ‘in love with bricks and mortar’. More the sense of community that we have built-up over the years which we don’t wish to risk melting away should the site be closed, even temporarily, for an unwanted development.”