Relief as Lewes hotel scheme on court site rejected


Controversial plans to demolish the former Magistrates’ Court in Lewes and replace it with a Premier Inn have been thrown out.

The 11-strong Planning Committee of the South Downs National Park Authority unanimously rejected the scheme at a 90-minute meeting on Thursday last week.

They went against a recommendation for approval by officers. Developers Quora had sought to replace the former court, in Friars Walk, with a 62-bed budget hotel and shops.

Committee members decided the design of the proposed building did not go far enough towards reflecting the distinctiveness of Lewes architecture, said Margaret Paren, Chair of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA).

Vic Ient, who has been spearheading a vigorous opposition campaign, said after the meeting that he was “elated and so relieved” about the outcome.

“We have saved the town from a dreadful, box-like design,” he said. “Our speakers convinced the commitee that Lewes is the jewel of the towns in the National Park and they had the courage to refute the officers.”

Other speakers against the proposal were Robert Cheesman, on behalf of the South Downs Society and the Friends of Lewes, Cllr John Stockdale, ward member on behalf of constituents, and Anthony Dicks, Chairman of Lewes Conservation Area Advisory Group.

Also Eleanor Austin on behalf of her parents, Mr and Mrs James Franks of Grade II Listed Fitzroy House adjacent to the site, and John Anderson on behalf of the recently formed Save Lewes Architecture, who said the developers had made no effort to try to adapt the existing court building.

The Friends of Lewes have been talking to Quora for almost a year, seeking design amendments.

The town’s civic society welcomed the decision to reject the application on design grounds and said it objected to the demolition of the existing building unless its replacement is an enhancement to the conservation area and street scene in this key part of the town.

However, the Friends have no objection to the concept of a low-cost hotel together with retail provision on the site.

A spokesman said: “The civic society does not want to see this disused building become derelict and so it encourages Quora to engage as a matter of urgency in meaningful discussions with them, with the planning authorities and other interested groups to see if amendments can be made to the design which would enable the objections to be withdrawn and a fresh application made.”