Video: Save the Phoenix demo

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Protesters gathered in force on Wednesday amid fears that buildings covering 14 acres of Lewes are earmarked for demolition.

‘Save the Phoenix’ campaigners staged a demonstration outside Pelham House ahead of a meeting of Lewes District Council to discuss the local blueprint on planning for the next 20 years.

Demo at Pelham House against demolition of Phoenix Estate, Lewes

Demo at Pelham House against demolition of Phoenix Estate, Lewes

There has been mounting concern that the council’s Core Strategy will allow the Phoenix Estate in the North Street area of the town to be bulldozed.

It led to a vehement denial from the council this week.

More than 2,000 people signed an online petition in the space of four days calling for the site to be protected.

Samira Harris, of Zu Studios, said a wealth of local employment was at risk. Numerous businesses that can only operate in big industrial units would be driven from the town.

She said the Phoenix site had become one of the biggest and most exciting grassroots creative movements in the country. It offered community facilities for thousands of people, with an indoor skateboard park being built, children’s dance classes, workshops for adults, art shows, theatre productions and youth projects.

Ms Harris, a director of Lewes Community Land Trust, warned: “Everything will be destroyed, turned to rubble to make way for new build shops, a hotel and housing.”

She added: “The site might look tatty but this is cosmetic. We have the people on site with the vision, drive and financial savvy to make it work.”

Lewes District Council and the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) sought to reassure campaigners ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, saying it will not have any immediate impact on the North Street area.

A council spokesperson said: “Campaigners are concerned decisions on the direction of future planning policy for the site will immediately displace some business and arts enterprises, which have been occupying vacant factory buildings. This is not true.”

The council was preparing a new plan in partnership with the SDNPA. The meeting was an opportunity for councillors to receive a presentation from planning officers and put their questions and comments forward to enable the consultation with local people to begin early in the New Year. Cllr Tom Jones, Lead Councillor for Planning, said: “There will be a lengthy period of public consultation and any contentious planning policy issues will be considered by an independent Government Inspector later in 2013.

“Any redevelopment ‘on the ground’ will have to follow the separate process of gaining planning permission.”

This would mean that the landowner would need to make a detailed planning application and this would also involve extensive public consultation.