EAST SUSSEX: Council leaders defer Cemetery Lodge decision
At a meeting on Monday (November 5), Rother District Council’s cabinet agreed to defer making a decision on proposals concerning the Cemetery Lodge building in St Mary’s Lane, as result of a request put forward by the historical preservation charity Bexhill Heritage.
Prior to the deferral, the council had been recommended to hand over the council-owned building to the soon-to-be-established Bexhill Community Land Trust – a group which aims to build or buy affordable housing in the town.
However, during the meeting, cabinet member for housing Joy Hughes, who is also a member of the land trust’s steering committee, proposed the decision be deferred until further consultation could take place.
She said: “I must commend the steering committee for all the hard work they have done. We met for many, many weeks and went through this with a fine tooth comb and were quite happy with what we had resolved at the end of it.
“However as it stands at the moment, we know that Bexhill Heritage particularly have not had an opportunity to look inside the building. They have seen the outside and their recommendation on how much it would cost to build the outside is, to me, quite unacceptable.
“I would be quite happy for the decision to be deferred pending discussions with Bexhill Heritage on Cemetery Lodge and further investigation into alternative sites for a community-led housing scheme.
“Community-led housing is a fantastic scheme, I don’t want to feel that we ever get to the point where we lose sight of the fact there is money coming in on that area. I just hope people realise how much we need affordable housing in Bexhill.”
While the land trust has not yet been legally incorporated, its steering group had agreed to pursue plans to demolish the Cemetery Lodge building and build an eight-home affordable housing scheme in its place.
According to council reports, the steering group had also considered an alternative four-dwelling scheme which would retain and extend building instead. However the steering committee considered this scheme less satisfactory as it would be less ‘cost-effective’ and provide fewer houses, council reports said.
Bexhill Heritage is understood to be putting forward its own alternative plans to convert the building into three homes and, potentially, build three more in its surrounding site.
Any of the proposals would need to gain planning permission before work could begin.
Following a short discussion, cabinet members unanimously agreed to defer making any decision on the site until further talks could take place with both Bexhill Heritage and the Bexhill Old Town Preservation Society.
Welcoming the decision, a Bexhill Heritage spokesman said: “Cemetery Lodge is a fine Edwardian building with huge potential for conversion into attractive family homes.
“Until last Monday’s Cabinet meeting the Lodge’s future looked grim, but councillors have shown courage and wisdom in deciding not to approve a recommendation to demolish this structurally-sound heritage building.
“We are delighted that, instead, councillors are seeking solutions that offer much-needed homes while also respecting Bexhill’s heritage.
“Bexhill Heritage’s officers and consultants will now be working in partnership with Rother District Council to an outcome that is attractive and cost-effective.
“We’ll be meeting with officers from the council next week and we’re confident that, by working in partnership, we can come up with a scheme within which a restored and extended lodge can enjoy a new lease of life helping to provide excellent homes for local people.”
Huw Oxburgh , Local Democracy Reporting Service