Lewes District Council responds on way forward for St Mary’s Social Centre

St Mary's social centre faces demolition.
St Mary's social centre faces demolition.

The future of St Mary’s Social Centre in Lewes should become clearer at an important meeting next week.

The Christie Road venue, which some residents fear is still under threat, will be discussed by the Cabinet of Lewes District Council on Thursday.

Members will consider and respond to a ‘Notice of Motion’ agreed by the council on May 8, submitted jointly by Councillors Michael Chartier, Amanda Dean, Ian Eiloart and John Stockdale.

It said the council recognises the important role played by St Mary’s and the immense public support for the social centre.

In view of this the council requests that the Cabinet either agrees to the removal of St Mary’s from the list of potential development sites within Lewes District; or if that is not possible then make it a requirement of any contract with any development partner that it is retained in its existing or an improved form without interruption either to St Mary’s Social Centre or St Mary’s Supporters’ Club.

The Cabinet is being asked to approve the recommendation in the latter part of the Notice of Motion. But it may have to be amended to recognise the fact that if there is any work undertaken at the site then there is likely to be some interruption to activities, albeit that this should be kept to the minimum necessary.

St Mary’s is currently the subject of a 15-year lease from Lewes District Council, which is due to expire in March 2022.

The lease contains a six month landlord’s break clause in the event the landlord wishes to demolish the premises, or part, for or in connection with any scheme for redevelopment.

Exercising the break clause would end the contractural lease, but a statutory tenancy would come into effect automatically at that point. And, if termination of the lease is contested by the tenant, the council would have to satisfy the court that it has proper grounds to oppose a renewal of the lease.

In early 2012 the estates office identified a number of sites in council ownership which were not being used for the direct provision of council services. StMary’s is listed as one of a potential 49 properties, spread out across the District, the the council owns. A high level assessment indicated that there is the potential for the council and its chosen partner to deliver up to 700 new homes; enhanced community facilities and open space; and new commercial space.

Elsewhere, the council is refurbishing Southover House, in Southover Road, Lewes, to create a modern, energy efficient office and one-stop reception for all council services. Staff from Lewes House, on School Hill, are due to move there by the end of August but the council will continue to use Lewes House after that. Leader Cllr James Page is currently talking with various groups and organisations about options for its future use. One possibility is as a base for an ‘innovation lab’ as part of the council’s project with FutureGov to develop ideas to help ensure residents are better able to cope with welfare reforms and financial pressures.