We’ve reached a critical point on Lewes Magistrates’ Court site decision

It seems to me that a critical point has been reached in the consideration as to whether this prominent civic building, in the heart of the Lewes Conservation Area, is to be replaced by a developer’s opportunist mixture of commercial uses, or whether it should be retained as a building offering a wide range of arts & theatrical uses now proposed in a competing planning application by Lewes Repertory Theatre (LRT).

A crossroads has been reached, and a definitive choice has to be made between these two polarised concepts. We are told by the developers, Quora Ltd, that they are the only body having a contractual arrangement with the owners, the Estates arm of the Government’s Justice department, and that therefore any proposals by another body to retain the Magistrates Court building for a range of uses other than those proposed by Quora is of no effect, and cannot proceed.

What they omit to mention, however, is that this proposition depends entirely on the question of whether planning permission would be granted for any redevelopment proposals, an open question indeed, if ever there was one.

They overlook the fact that any question of demolition of the present Court building would also depend on whether any feasible and suitable re-use of the building, such those currently put forward by LRT, so as to retain it for further use, existed, an aspect which is now being actively explored via the current application by LRT to the South Downs Planning Authority. It is thus vitally important, as I see it, for the South Downs Authority to avoid any action which would pre-empt a favourable decision on the LRT application. This means that, at the very least, Quora’s redevelopment proposals should be deferred to allow the retention of this key building in the Lewes Conservation Area to be considered without compromise, in the light of the present LRT application.

In my view, the whole vexed matter of the Magistrates Court would best be dealt with via a public inquiry, either via a “deemed refusal for non-determination” of Quora’s proposals, or on appeal following an outright refusal by the South Downs Authority, with a final decision made by the Secretary of State considering his Inspector’s report & recommendation in the normal way. As a very last resort the Sec’y.of State’s “call-in” procedure could perhaps be invoked, though this would come to much the same thing as the normal public inquiry route following refusal of the redevelopment proposals. These at present hang like a “Sword of Damocles” over the heads of every Lewes citizen acutely concerned that the best possible outcome to the current situation be arrived at for a key part of their historic environment.

Michael Parfect Lewes