The Executive Committee of the Friends of Lewes, the town’s Civic Society, has decided to oppose the recent planning applications for the vacant former Magistrates’ Court building in Friars Walk.
The Society starts from the premise that in a Conservation Area, demolition should only take place where the proposed replacement would improve and enhance the area – and in its view this has not yet been demonstrated.
It said the proposed uses of the site - an economy hotel and retail - would be likely to complement and augment provision in the town and area and it is believed that a carefully-designed proposal could be developed and would be an improvement on the present building, which sadly is uneconomic to adapt.
In the course of earlier consultations, the Society expressed reservations to the developers about the intended closer proximity of a new building to Fitzroy House, but suggestions to mitigate that by realignment have not been followed up. Given the interesting profile of the present building, it was suggested that the flat roof in the proposal could be improved upon and that the western front needed more detailing.
Suggestions about the south-western corner, commanding the junction with Court Road, where the present tower feature is successful, have also not been followed up. Whilst approving of plans to remove the high wall facing the public car park, the materials proposed for that elevation – mainly wood and glass – are not really in keeping with the surrounding buildings, which are largely of brick, the Society said.
In particular the Society is disappointed at the absence of crucial details in the drawings and in the application as a whole; it is convinced that, if this re-development is to succeed, all the details of the design and materials must be specified in advance and not left to be resolved later with the planners as ‘reserved matters’. Similarly, the proposed ‘green wall’ feature should have maintenance conditions applied at the outset.
This is a key site in the town and the Friends of Lewes believe it requires a replacement building of the highest quality. They are willing to engage in meaningful discussions with the developers to try to achieve this.
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Last week John Anderson, a member of the Lewes Town and Country B&B Group, said plans for the 62-bed hotel and shops on the site “should be vigorously resisted”.