Decision looming on Lewes Premier Inn plan

The Friars Walk site
The Friars Walk site

The future of the former Lewes Magistrates’ Court will be decided by the South Downs National Park Authority at a meeting in Midhurst on Thursday, December 12.

Members of the planning committee will be considering the application from property developers Quora (Lewes) Ltd to demolish the present building and build a 62-bed Premier Inn in its place.

Feelings in Lewes are running high against both projects and a group – ‘Save Lewes Architecture’ – has been formed to oppose them.

Campaigners claim Quora and Juice Architects have not listened to local people and are riding roughshod over them.

They claim that there had been no investigation into the possibility of reusing the existing building nor had any figures been produced to indicate there was a demand for more hotel beds in the town.

The rules in a Conservation Area, they say, state that if a building is to be replaced it must be an improvement on the existing one. Vic Ient, a founder member of Save Lewes Architecture, said: “The Premier Inn ‘box’ would be more at home on an industrial estate.”

James and Maureen Franks live next door to the courts in Fitzroy House, the 150-year-old former Fitzroy Memorial Library. They say the proposed building would overshadow both the garden and part of their living space.

Roger Bailey, a local former magistrate, knows the court building well. He said: “To demolish such a large building seems inexplicable. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be converted into a hotel. The proposed design is abysmal, totally out of keeping with its surroundings and quite unsuitable for the town’s Conservation Area.

John Anderson, from East Chiltington, said: “It’s unthinkable that Sir Gilbert Scott’s classically designed Fitzroy Memorial Library could be dominated in future by an overbearing flat-topped, tile clad temporary looking hotel put together by a supermarket architectural practice called Juice.”

Linda Calvert, of the Grange Road Residents’ Association, said that if the National Park Authority allowed the scheme to go ahead it would lose all credibility. Another resident wrote to the authority saying: “Lewes is billed as the gateway to the South Downs National Park, but visitors are unlikely to be impressed by finding at its centre a building that would seem more at home on a Basingstoke ring road. If the National Park stands for anything, it must be to protect the charm and character of one the finest small towns in England.”