Lewes demonstrators must quit site before talks

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A FLAG of truce has been waved by East Sussex County Council in the ongoing crisis over a former school site in Lewes.

But it comes with a stark ultimatum - the demonstrators must quit the grounds of St Anne’s School in seven days before any negotiations can be entered into.

The land has been occupied since April 22 despite a High Court ruling that it be vacated by May 25. Activists The St Anne’s Diggers fear the county council intends to sell the site for new housing.

The encampment in Rotten Row has set up a series of defences to thwart bailiffs, including barricades, tunnels, tripods and tree houses.

Now the council has issued a round-robin letter to the demonstrators, local residents and civic and clerical leaders.

It pledges open discussion on interim community use of the site - “within seven days of the illegal occupation ending”.

Sean Nolan, Director of Corporate Resources, said: “I can only hope the occupiers leave peacefully and soon so we can begin the discussion.

“I am very conscious of the disruption and inconvenience to the immediate residents by the continued illegal occupation.

“If we are forced to evict it will be an unnecessary cost for all of us as taxpayers. The cost and disruption will reflect the necessary precautions that we, the High Court enforcement officers and Sussex Police will have to take to ensure a safe operation upon the level of obstruction that is encountered.

“We know the protesters have erected defences such as tripods, tree houses and possibly tunnels.”

Mr Nolan continued: “Once we have possession of the property we will have to deal with the immediate public health issues such as the prevenion of any risk of asbestos contamination.

“Unfortunately we also suspect we will have to carry out significant clean-up operations as a result of the occupation, including the removal of other materials or substances that may represent a risk to visitors to the site.

“This will not interfere with my promise of an open meeting within seven days of the occupation ending.”

He added: “When we can initiate the promised discussion, I really do think we have the chance of securing an innovative and exciting community conservation and outcome.”