There was a wave of disappointment among residents last week as Lewes District Council revealed the list of 30 sites earmarked for housing.
The plan is to build 415 homes on 30 council-owned sites, with 40 per cent affordable housing in a bid to reduce the 2,000-household strong waiting list.
Consultation with residents will begin at the start of June with the first planning applications to be submitted at the end of 2015, but some groups are already making their feelings known about the proposed developments.
Trustees and supporters of the St Mary’s Social Centre met earlier in the week to discuss their next steps forward after plans to demolish St Mary’s and replace it with a new social centre and a small number of well-designed homes remained on the council’s list.
In a joint statement, the group said: “It would appear Lewes District Council have made up their minds that St Mary’s Social Centre is firmly on the developers list and we are disappointed that this is so. It had been our wish to buy the site, taking a loan via Lewes Town Council or financing this ourselves.
“The District Council have categorically stated that the site is not for sale and this leaves us no choice but to meet and discuss the options of a new community centre.
“St Mary’s is registered as a Community Asset but the community right to buy only applies if the property is offered for sale.
“The Trustees have received a letter from LDC Chief Executive Jenny Rowlands, who is seeking a positive and collaborative working relationship to produce the best possible outcome for the users of St Mary’s. The developers and architects are planning to meet with us to design a new and enhanced community centre on the site, as well as seeking planning permission for a small number of well-designed affordable homes.”
Lewes Town and District Councillor Ruth O’Keeffe also expressed sadness at the apparent fate of the St Mary Social Centre.
She said: “I am saddened but not surprised to see the St Mary’s site included in the list. In both cases I feel the land is not surplus and suitable for redevelopment but very much in use. In the case of St Mary’s especially, it seems strange to want to change the use of a site that pays £10,000 a year in rent, costs the District Council nothing in upkeep, which is all covered by the volunteer Trustees who run St Mary’s, and is in use for more than 90 per cent of the time.
“Rather than changing the use of this land, it might be expected that the District Council would want to see how this very successful outcome was achieved and look at working towards similar percentages of use by the community at other community centres in other towns. St Mary’s is the only social centre to be put on this list and why it has been chosen is a question which has never been answered, although it has been asked many times. There is talk of a smaller centre on the site as well as housing (the exact nature of which has yet to be revealed) but it is difficult to see how this would be able to give to the community all of the services which the present centre delivers to thousands of residents a year.
“In addition, I was surprised to see that the Household Waste and Recycling Centre in Ham Lane is one of the proposals. I do not think the county council which runs the site has been consulted on the possible loss of this facility, and I am not sure how the cost of moving the site to another location would be accounted for in any development plans.”
It is understood the largest housing developments will be in Robinson Road, Newhaven and Buckle Car Park in Seaford, while there is also a proposal to turn the Western Road public toilets, in Lewes, into two homes.
Lewes Town Councillor Stephen Catlin, who campaigned against losing the Western Road toilets, said: “I am, naturally, very disappointed in the outcome. I would be less so if the housing proposed for the site was to be truly social housing, but this does not appear to be the case. The scheme as a whole has some good points, but I have not yet been given the full details. I hope it will still be possible for the plans to be tweaked so that a smaller facility could be included on the site. Lewes is a tourist town, yet we are offering fewer facilities for visitors.”
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