Common sense prevails on decision over Lewes Magistrates Court site

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It was extremely upsetting on Thursday, December 5, to see that the officers of the SDNP had recommended to the planning committee that the application for the demolition of the Magistrates’ Court be approved.Equally upsetting was recommended approval of plans for construction of a Premier Inn of enormous size (relative to the site) and little sympathy with its surrounding area.

However, it was then gratifying to see that all the members of the planning committee took time to make a proper site visit, spending a not inconsiderable period both inside and outside the Magistrates’ Court and Fitzroy House, a building that would be greatly affected by the development.

Perhaps this officers’ recommendation spurred members of the various groups, who felt the plans to be inappropriate, to even greater efforts. No less than nine speakers registered to have an opportunity to speak against the proposal at the meeting, in spite of it being in excess of 40 miles away, at Midhurst.

As a maximum of six three-minute slots were available, a certain amount of negotiation and co-operation followed, eventually ensuring everyone had the opportunity to get their different points across and all groups be represented.

I would like to thank the various applicants for their willingness to be adaptable.

The SDNP planning meeting on Thursday, December 12, took a full two hours on this agenda item. It consisted of an explanation of the proposals, with photographs and plans, hearing the proposing and opposing speakers, then deliberation of the matter. It was therefore an enormous relief when the members of the planning committee unanimously rejected the proposals.

It was also apparent that the site visit was a major factor in clarifying their understanding, and in the decision making process.

It does seem less than helpful to hold the meeting at such a distance from the town and I support suggestions that contentious issues should be heard in the relevant place, but I can see the practical difficulties in such a move.

It also highlights for me the necessity for planning committees to take their task seriously and ensure they visit the various sites under consideration, as viewing photographs and plans is not the same as being there!

So, common sense prevails at last! What we need now is some really imaginative thinking and determination to find a suitable conversion plan for the Magistrates’ Court building. No-one wants to see an empty building (or an empty demolition site); it will not be easy, but not impossible to convert the building to a different use. If a viable option really cannot be found, then at least now we know that the planning committee are not just going to allow a developer to ride roughshod over them or us!

Eleanor Austin Lewes