Lewes MP Norman Baker visited the town’s Phoenix Estate, in North Street, on Friday to see for himself the workshops that are under threat from proposed development.
In all, there are more than 50 small and medium-size businesses on the site (including 85 workshops and 13 venues), providing more than 450 jobs.
Most of these businesses depend on the low rents that the existing buildings command for their viability, and they cannot afford to move to newer, more expensive accommodation.
Robin Van Creveld is managing director of Community Chef, a training and educational community interest company which has been operating in Lewes for 12 years.
He provides support to all three food banks in Lewes, helping poor families to get the best out of the food that is provided.
Mr Van Creveld said: “I moved into the estate two-and-a-half years ago because I needed a permanent kitchen in which to train my clients, and I couldn’t find anywhere else in Lewes that I could afford.”
The proposed development is being led by the Santon Group and Lewes District Council as part of plans for the area known as the North Street Quarter.
Mr Baker said: “Today I saw an array of wild creativity and innovation. The area is a hive of productive activity, providing work space and venues for artisans, manufacturing, community and educational enterprises and service jobs that are important to the diversity of a town like Lewes.
“The area is diverse, quirky, impressive and productive – Just like Lewes itself.”
Mr Baker expressed his hope that Santon and Lewes District Council would think again about their approach to the development, working with Lewes Phoenix Rising, the community developer that has prepared alternative plans for part of the site which preserve low cost workshop space and provide low cost housing for those in greatest housing need in the town.
The MP welcomed the fact that Santon and the district council have agreed to explore collaborative working with Lewes Phoenix Rising, and urged the parties to come to a quick agreement so that the uncertainty that has blighted this important site for many years can be removed once and for all.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Festival returns on Saturday, August 30, to celebrate the art, music and culture to be found on the estate. The free event, from 12noon until 8pm, features open artists’ studios, live music, children’s activities, dance performances, a bar, food and much more.
Developers Santon said: “The regeneration of the North Street Quarter is a great opportunity to put the area back at the heart of Lewes. Any proposed development must be truly sustainable – environmentally, economically and socially. It has to give the people in and around the town the services, jobs and housing they need. It has to be part of Lewes, in tune with Lewes, not from a standard plan.
“It also needs significant financial investment that needs to have a viable return, both in terms of delivering opportunity but also of sustaining the area for generations to come.