Council leader “sets record straight” on new homes plan

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Rob Blackman, Leader of Lewes District Council, has written an open letter to residents “setting the record straight” about the council’s plans to build 415 new homes across the district.

He writes: “There have been a lot of rumours and misinformation circulating about our plans to build 415 new homes on council-owned sites across the district and it is time to set the record straight.

“This project is all about building high quality affordable homes for local people at a time when we are facing a severe housing shortage.

“We have nearly 2000 households on our housing register in Lewes District, including 382 specifically requesting homes in rural areas.

“Like councils up and down the country, we have had to tighten our belts in recent years, and so to be able to build the new and affordable homes which it is our duty to provide, we have had to be imaginative.

“That is why in May 2012, we decided to go out to the open market with a list of council-owned sites and ask what could be done to secure much needed affordable homes for the district.

“That list of sites was known to all councillors across the political spectrum and the project has had cross party support between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups since April 2013.

“We advertised for a private sector partner under stringent EU rules overseen by external advisors.

“The successful bidder was a consortium including Karis Developments, Southern Housing Group – one of the largest housing associations in the South East, and the internationally-acclaimed architects Conran and Partners.

“Our proposal is to build around 415 new homes on a number of sites in Peacehaven, Seaford, Newhaven, Lewes, Ringmer and East Chiltington. Some of these will be mainly private housing developments which will be sold at market prices. The funds from the sale of these houses will then be reinvested in building council-owned or shared ownership affordable homes.

“Affordable housing is a nationally defined category including shared ownership and homes rented out at up to 80 per cent of the market value.

“Affordable rents are set according to the local housing allowance, which means that for people on our housing register, housing benefit will cover the entire rent, whereas if they rent in the private sector, they will have to supplement this benefit with other income.

“Key to the project is that both the private sector and the affordable homes will be designed to the same high standards by Conran and Partners, who have extensive experience of building sustainable and sensitive developments.

“We believe that all our residents, whatever their circumstances, have a right to beauty.

“We want to be as open and transparent as possible about the development process. We have held and will continue to hold consultation events, not because we have to – there is no legal requirement to do so at this stage – but because we want to ensure that local people have their say on the final plans for the new homes.

“The dates for these consultations will be advertised on our website at www.lewes.gov.uk/newhomes.

“We are also putting as much information as possible up on our website including proposed site plans, architects’ sketches, environmental impact surveys and traffic and parking studies, as well as the original list of sites, which has since been reduced in number.

“The feedback we have received from residents at our consultation events and via email to newhomes@lewes.gov.uk is invaluable and we are making a wide selection of your comments available on our website under the ‘Have your say’ section of the New Homes pages.

“In the next round of consultations, we will present designs worked up after hearing your comments and concerns, which we will then consult on again, before the final designs are submitted for planning approval in two stages in 2016.

LDC is the planning authority for some of the sites, but I can reassure you that our planning officers will treat this application like any other and assess it under the same established criteria.

“The South Downs National Park Authority is the planning authority for some other of the sites, and we are working closely with them to ensure that our designs meet their strict criteria.

- At Meeching Down in Newhaven we have heard how important that green space is and we will develop designs for affordable homes which will ensure that at least 75 per cent of the park remains, but much improved and more accessible.

- At Christie Road in Lewes we have heard how valuable the St Mary’s Social Centre is to the community and we will work with people there to develop designs for a new, enhanced community centre to sit alongside affordable homes.

- At The Buckle in Seaford we have heard how important the car park is to allow visitors including disabled visitors to access that end of the beach and we will look into providing alternative parking nearby as well as toilet facilities.

- A 2012 survey showed there were no affordable one-bedroom properties in 12 rural parishes in the district. Our proposals for East Chiltington will specifically address the need for housing amongst elderly residents needing to downsize and for younger adults starting out.

“Our proposals will also help to regenerate town centres and rural areas, bringing in new customers for existing businesses and providing opportunities for new enterprises.

- In Seaford, our proposal is for a beautiful development that will help to boost the town as a coastal visitor destination. Based on the ONS Household Expenditure Survey, the proposed 76 new apartments at the Buckle would also bring in an additional £362,000 per year for Seaford’s retailers.

- Our proposals for affordable apartments at Robinson Road include ground floor space for start-up businesses. There will also be improved access from the site to the town centre, creating new opportunities for businesses there to serve residents.

- A council review found that lack of affordable housing in rural areas of our district is affecting businesses as well as families, making it difficult for businesses to recruit employees, in part due to housing pressures.

“We hope that local people will take this opportunity to get involved in the development process and will wait until they have seen the final designs before they make up their minds about this project.”

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