Decision close on Lewes Premier Inn plan

Former Lewes Magistrates' Court building
Former Lewes Magistrates' Court building

Campaigners fighting a bid to build a Premier Inn hotel in Lewes were making their final stand this week ahead of a crunch meeting.

The South Downs National Park’s planning committee will consider the controversial proposal on Thursday October 9 in Midhurst.

But developers said while many people in Lewes supported the plan, there was a small group of people who opposed a new hotel.

Averil Garritt, from Keep Lewes, Lewes, said: “We are almost at the eleventh hour with the planners probably recommending the tearing down of the old Magistrates’ Court and building a Premier Inn.

“But the meeting is going to be held 45 miles away in Midhurst which many people from Lewes will find difficult to attend.

“We are planning to hire a minibus if a sufficient number are interested in going.”

More than 100 people have objected to the plans on numerous grounds, while just six residents wrote to the national park in favour of the scheme.

Lewes Town Council and the Friends of Lewes were also against the plans.

If approved the development will create around 60 jobs.

Planning officers at the national park have recommended the scheme for approval but the committee will have the final say.

Developer Quora is arguing its new design for the 59 bedroom hotel with shops and restaurants has addressed previous concerns.

In December 2013 the principle of a hotel on the site was agreed by the planning committee, but members asked Quora to reconsider the design.

It said for the last ten months it had worked with local groups to incorporate comments into the latest scheme.

A Quora spokesperson said: “Under the guidance of community representatives and design specialists, we are confident that we are have produced a high quality and balanced design which addresses previous concerns.

“While many local people and businesses welcome a Premier Inn, a small group of people are still opposed to the opening of a new hotel in Lewes. For some people the issue is not design, it is the hotel and design will never be agreeable whilst a hotel is included.

“Quora is a local developer and wants to work in the best interests of a Lewes. We are proposing a simple building, beautifully made to complement the existing streetscape and stand the test of time.”

The Lewes Repertory Theatre Community Company wants to retain the building and create a cultural centre.

Its separate planning application for the site will be heard at another meeting of the national park planning committee to give the applicants time to address some outstanding issues identified by East Sussex County Council and Lewes District Council.

Director of Planning for the South Downs National Park Tim Slaney said: “Anyone can submit a planning application for a site so although it’s unusual, it’s not unheard of, to have two separate applications from different people for the same site. Every application is judged on its own merits so having more than one would make no difference to the Committee’s decision on either. Both applications could be approved but, at the end of the day, only the legal owners of the site can decide how they act.

“In this instance one application will be considered at the October planning committee and the other at a later date when the applicant has had more time to respond to outstanding issues that have been identified by East Sussex County Council and Lewes District Council.

“Our officers visit every site, sometimes several times, as part of the planning process and our local rangers and liaison officers are also active and engaged with applications. Members of the Planning Committee will always visit the site of an application the week before it goes to the Planning Committee meeting for a, something that many other planning authorities do not do.

“The National Park is 1,600km2 and the majority of SDNPA planning meetings cover applications from across this area. Planning applications are time dependent and in general any attempt to group them by location, for example by dealing with applications only from one end of the National Park, could lead to unacceptable delays for applications and interested parties from the other end.

“We therefore made the decision to hold Planning Committee meetings in Midhurst some time ago, being centrally located within the National Park and therefore offers a reasonable commute from all areas. This is vital not only for people wishing to make representations but also for the Committee Members who give up their time to travel from across the National Park to attend the meetings. Midhurst is accessible by regular bus services linking to train stations in Chichester, Petersfield and Pulborough.”