After years of consultation and debate, the decision to approve the controversial North Street Quarter development was made in less than five hours at a meeting of the South Downs National Park Authority’s planning committee last week.
Committee members voted unanimously in favour of the plan, which has been described as the most significant development in Lewes for decades and the largest since the town became part of the National Park.
Despite hundreds of people joining a march on Saturday (December 5) and thousands more signing a petition against the proposals, the committee felt the application, jointly submitted by Santon and Lewes District Council, would benefit the town of Lewes while regenerating a brownfield site.
The scheme will deliver 416 new homes, 40 per cent of them affordable, which is a first for the area, 140,000 sq ft of workspace accommodating 475 registered full-time jobs, new riverside walkways, including a foot and cycle bridge across the river, as well as a health centre to serve 26,000 patients. It also includes a large undercroft pay on exit carpark, to support the wider town centre and tourism in the town.
Leader of Lewes District Council, Cllr Andy Smith, said: “We now have the opportunity to create a vibrant, mixed use neighbourhood which will reconnect this brownfield site to the heart of Lewes, providing the sustainable homes and jobs we need as well as supporting the town centre and attracting more visitors to enjoy it.”
The meeting, held at County Hall in Lewes on Thursday, December 10, heard councillors and members of the public speak for and against the plans.
Margaret Paren, Chair of the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “This is a major application which our planning committee has considered in detail – listening closely to all viewpoints.
“We recognise our decision won’t be universally welcomed but we believe it offers the best possible use of this brownfield site for the future of Lewes and the people who live here, including much-needed flood defences and drainage for the whole town and space for recreational facilities.”
As expected, the decision was not welcomed by Lewes Phoenix Rising, which presented an alternative plan for the development. A spokesperson for the group said: “We are deeply disappointed in the SDNPA’s complete failure to live up to its own duty to foster the economic and social well-being of communities in a National Park. The officer’s report and ensuing committee meeting presented an almost entirely uncritical assessment of the application, which took all the developer’s proposals at face value, regardless of the 600 objections and concerns raised about them.
“Rather than proper scrutiny of the economic, social and sustainability impacts of the plan, the committee frustratingly spent more time on micro-cosmetic issues such as smartening up Willey’s footbridge, decorating the walls of the underground car park, wondering whether there would be broadband and making sure the flood defences aren’t bland.”
Cllr Joanna Carter, who led the campaign on behalf of the creative industries currently based in the Phoenix Estate, also expressed her disappointment but looked ahead to the future. She said: “It was disappointing the South Downs planning committee didn’t listen to the people in Lewes. However, now the decision has been made, I’m already working to find other ways to keep space for teenagers in the town, and affordable workspace for the creative industries.”
Work is expected to start on phase one of the plan early next year. Clive Wilding, project director from Santon North Street, said: “Working with the Lewes Community Land Trust and LDC housing, we will now be procuring a long-term registered provider to help deliver the housing and making it as affordable as possible. We also intend to carry out further community consultation on how the public, cycling and pedestrian movement can be better around the Causeway.”
Visit www.northstreetqtr.co.uk for details and updates.
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