Plea for former Lewes Magistrates’ Court to be spared

Former Lewes magistrates court building
Former Lewes magistrates court building

Campaigners against the proposed redevelopment of the former Lewes Magistrates’ Court have claimed their pleas have been ignored.

They said they had written to developers Quora asking for plans to demolish the Friars Walk site to be reconsidered but had not received even an acknowledgment after two weeks.

A group of 10 residents asked for the building to be spared, and adapted with additions such as more windows.

John Curtis, one of the group, said: “Things may have gone quiet because the planning authority will not be considering this until November 14, but if we are to avoid an architectural disaster in Lewes we must keep the pressure up.”

In their appeal to Quora, they said the design of the proposed replacement – a Premier Inn hotel and shops – would “damage the architectural heritage of Lewes”.

The letter, addressed to the directors, said: “This development is bland and large in scale. It might be acceptable in a new town context or on the fringe of an industrial area but is out of scale with the historic core of Lewes and will neither conserve nor enhance the South Downs National Park.

“The building proposed echoes much of the architecture of the 60s and early 70s which are in many towns and cities in the UK and are seen as eyesores now.

“We will have to put up with whatever structure is constructed on this site long after you have disposed of it. We will have to live with the architectural failures and mistakes of the past.”

The letter continued: “We hope you would agree that your company would not want to be remembered for an architectural failure.

“We appeal to you to withdraw your applications to demolish the existing building and to build the boxlike structure proposed. We believe that good use can be made of the existing Magistrates’ Court building which is built of good quality, durable traditional brick and tile materials, although from a rather sombre pallet. It has a complex tiled, pitched roof which reflects its context in the area.

“We believe that with small changes, such as removing a high brick wall and adding more windows and changing the dark smoked window glass the existing building could be made to be more attractive and useful.”

Quora has said the introduction of a 62-bed Premier Inn would have a positively beneficial effect on Lewes, creating new jobs and boosting the local economy. An increase in visitors would mean more money was spent in the town and the Conservation Area would be regenerated.

The letter sent by campaigners to Quora’s directors said: “The town of Lewes is attractive to many people and one of the major attractions is its appealing architectural scene of bricks and tiled roof buildings interspersed with more ancient medieval, Georgian, Victorian and modern styles; all in all, architecturally in sympathy with each other.

“Yes, there are exceptions and the flat roofed precinct buildings at the bottom of School Hill, where Boots and the other shops are is a prime example.

“We could quote other examples of eyesores but suffice to say - let’s not make it worse!”