The Lib Dems are calling for iconic Lewes House to be protected after new Lewes District Council Leader Rob Blackman suggested he would like it to become a boutique hotel.
Lib Dem Group Leader Sarah Osborne said: “I’m surprised and dismayed that Rob Blackman has underestimated just how important Lewes House is economically as well as culturally. Nationally it ranks in the top 8 per cent of buildings of historical importance.”
District council staff vacated the premises on School Hill in September last year and the ground floor has recently been used as an exhibition centre.
Cllr Osborne continued: “Cllr Blackman already knows that recent reports by independent consultants said that it is unlikely to be financially viable as a hotel because it is too small, has a pre-existing covenant, a lack of parking and would face competition from current and future hotels.
“I find the lack of commercial foresight in someone who is supposed to be in charge of our district terrifying. I know we are extremely fortunate that Lewes House is in public ownership and as the recent public exhibition has shown there is enormous potential for it to be a key cultural asset.”
Cllr Blackman started the controversy earlier this month when outlining some of his hopes and ambitions on being elected council leader.
He said of Lewes House: “My own personal view is that it would make a fantastic boutique-style hotel, but we will fully consult on any changes.” He was at pains to emphasise that it was just his own opinion.
Lewes academic Paul Myles, who brought the acclaimed Rodin exhibition to Lewes and has organised several exhibitions in Lewes Town Hall, welcomed the Lib Dems’ support to save Lewes House for the community and future generations.
He said, “Since November 2013, Lewes House has, experimentally, been open and truly accessible to the public. The first public exhibition, Slaters’ Sussex, was a huge success, attracting more than 3,600 visitors in 16 days and taking £10,000 in sales of related merchandise.
“This shows Lewes House is perfectly sized to host exhibitions of national standard. I already have expressions of interest from other renowned artists to show their work.”
Mr Myles continued: “Now is the time to establish a vibrant cultural hub, available for hire in many ways, providing office space as a revenue stream, weddings, parties, seminars, lectures, merchandise, and the telling of our Lewes stories in inventive, lively and visually attractive ways. The development possibilities are truly exciting, now is the time to secure this future for the well-being of our community.”
In stressing the potential of Lewes House as a cultural hub, academic Paul Myles said: “Lewes is the jewel in the crown of English democracy. From the Battle of Lewes to the present day the town has hosted important moments and characters that have turned the course of world events.
“Thomas Paine honed his writing and thinking skills in Lewes, just prior to him kindling the creation of the United States of America. To date there has been no place in Lewes to show and tell the powerful narratives unique to Lewes and the surrounding area. Lewes House is the perfect place for this.”