Call for community led development in North Street Quarter in Lewes

MP Norman Baker.
MP Norman Baker.

A packed public meeting at Lewes Town Hall saw overwhelming support for a new community-led development proposal for the Phoenix/North Street area of Lewes.

The event, which attracted an audience of more than 300, gave people a chance to hear from a panel of speakers and put their questions to a range of experts in flooding, traffic, planning and sustainability.

Chaired by former broadcaster Martin Leeburn, the panel included Samira Harris of arts venue Zu Studios on the Phoenix Industrial Estate who outlined the proposals by developer Santon, part-owners of the 14-acre site with Lewes District Council. Harris voiced fears that the current proposals would take Lewes closer to becoming a dormitory town for London commuters, losing its connection to its industrial past and forcing many successful businesses out of the town.

Chris Smith, an expert in affordable housing, outlined the need in Lewes for 200 homes to rent at social rents. The number of people on the housing waiting list in Lewes town had risen from 1,485 five years ago to 2,142 today. Santon’s current proposals, he reported, are likely to offer around 86 affordable homes and 50 care flats.

Chelsea Renton, a local artist and co-founder of the Phoenix Rising Group, gave a whistle-stop presentation around some of the 137 businesses, workshops, art spaces and community enterprises currently on the Phoenix/ North Street site.

The new proposal put forward by the Phoenix Rising group and elaborated on by planning expert Andrew Simpson, recommends buying up to 30 per cent of the site from Santon in order to provide one- and two-bedroom affordable housing. The Phoenix Rising plans also include substantial space for creative and industrial businesses plus new workshops, by renovating the remaining buildings of the old Phoenix Ironworks and infilling with a focus on innovative sustainable architectural and environmental design.

Responding to the panel, Norman Baker MP talked about his wish-list for the site, including maintaining the creative and employment quarter, providing low-cost housing and creating a green development that minimises environmental impact.

He called on the district council to leverage its position as a landlord and landowner to ensure that any development that takes place is sympathetic. He said: “This is a great opportunity for Lewes but it’s also a potential threat if it goes wrong. I want to be sure this is a really good development but that it’s a development for Lewes people by Lewes people.”