The Nevill Residents’ Association is up in arms about what it has described as “plotting” by Lewes District Council to close the town’s St Mary’s Social Centre.
It fears the council plans to work with a partner developer to re-develop the area and squeeze up to 14 properties onto the site in Christie Road.
The council has responded by saying it was “absolutely tragic” that local people were being misinformed.
Alan Chapman, Joint Chair of the Residents’ Association, said: “We simply do not believe the council when it says that there are no plans to evict the community centre. Even other councillors are being kept in the dark so how can we believe them?
“Council documents suggest a short-sighted attitude by the council which seem determined to sell off as many assets as possible to plug current financial shortfalls without consideration for the communities they are supposed to serve.”
Mr Chapman continued: “St Mary’s pays the council significant rent every year, which does not include maintenance of the site or upkeep of the buildings. The cost is borne by all those involved in the running of the centre. Hardly a ‘drain’ on council resources.
“The social centre is at the heart of the community and has been for many years. It has more than 40,000 visitors a year, supports more than 20 different clubs and societies as well as providing the community with affordable locations for parties, weddings and other celebrations. St Mary’s is a valuable asset that we will not let the council squander.”
He added: “If Cllr James Page [the Leader of the Council] thinks he can trade off the social centre in the same way that he disposed of the recreation ground at Newhaven, he needs to think again!”
The Residents’ Association has organised a protest petition and aims to have at leas 1,500 signatures by next Wednesday.
Petition forms can be found at the Nevill shops, Leicester Road and Winterbourne stores, St Mary’s Social Centre Hall and Supporters Club, The Brewers Arms, The Elephant and Castle, The John Harvey Tavern, Wallands School and on Saturday morning on Cliffe bridge.
Councillor James Page, Leader of Lewes District Council said: “I have repeated on many occasions the facts in relation to St. Mary’s Social Centre and find it absolutely tragic that local people are being totally misinformed and scared into signing a petition that is not true.
“Lewes District Council has a 15 year lease with the trustees of St Mary’s that is not due for review until 2022. The rent that is paid is based on a “full repairing and insuring lease” that has been agreed by the trustees, assessed independently as part of a regular fair rent review, and conditions of the lease have not changed since the lease was first taken out.
“It is true we are starting the process of looking for a property partner to maximise the value of our assets. This does not mean we are selling them. As part of our Property Strategy we are going out to tender shortly to see what interest there is in the market and what potential property partners come forward. Once we have established if there is a suitable partner, anything we decide to do will be consistent with our published Property and Regeneration Strategies.
“I have personally met with Colin Reynolds (Trustee of St Mary’s), held meetings and responded to numerous letters and e-mails to clarify the position of the District Council. I am mystified as to why these misapprehensions continue to persist. I invite Nevill Residents’ Association to contact me to discuss any concerns they have. I am committed to continuing discussions with the local community.”