Meeting on Lewes school site bidding controversy

Site of former St Annes School, Lewes
Site of former St Annes School, Lewes

The controversial proposed sale of the former St Anne’s School site in Lewes will be the subject of a public meeting next week.

Local people have reacted with dismay to East Sussex County Council’s decision to sell the property and grounds of more than four acres to the international spiritual movement Subud.

Opponents claimed it had bid less than others and “democratic principles appear to have been ignored”.

Cllr Rosalyn St Pierre has called on the sale to be delayed until residents’ worries have been addressed.

The St Anne’s Group, composed of concerned Lewes residents, said Subud would move its existing operation from one part of town to another, “adding little or no value to the community”.

The group said other bids from the YMCA and Lewes Community Land Trust offered significant extra value to Lewes with up to 26 badly needed affordable homes, amenities for children and young people, training facilities, a nursery and community cafe.

Annabel Frost, spokeswoman for the St Anne’s Group, said: “We have called on the council to explain in transparent fashion what the competing bids offered and how the decision was reached to award the sale to a bidder that appears to offer substantially less community benefit than two others.

“We also wish to know why bidders were asked to confirm that their bids were not confidential if the council had intended not to release them.

“In response to a Freedom of Information request the council now argues that ‘it is not in the public interest’ to release details of the bids. This would seem to be more about saving the council embarrassment than anything else.”

The public meeting will be held in the Council Chamber of Lewes Town Hall on Wednesday, September 3 (7.30pm).

East Sussex County Council said it had been transparent in its decision process and in sharing the formal assessment process, including the scoring structure.