Lewes theatre plan to be looked at by South Downs National Park Authority

Former Lewes Magistrates Court
Former Lewes Magistrates Court

Lewes Rep Theatre’s scheme to turn the former Magistrates’ Court into a theatre will come under the microscope at the South Downs National Park Authority’s (SDNPA) planning meeting next week.

The group wants to turn the empty building into an arts centre after the Phoenix Theatre in Lewes was gutted by fire last year.

Planning officers at the SDNPA are recommending the scheme for approval.

The SDNPA planning committee will make a decision on the proposal on Thursday February 12 at its meeting in Midhurst.

Lewes Rep Theatre wants to use the redundant courthouse for holding lessons in music, ballet and dance.

It would like to provide studio facilities for radio, television, theatre and film and create a meeting place for groups and societies to discuss arts, theatre and cultural projects.

The courthouse would provide rehearsal facilities for the New Sussex Opera, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Brighton Festival.

It could also become a venue for talks and provide studios for contemporary artists.

In the report to the planning committee prepared by the SDNPA planning officers it said the new theatre would add to the vitality of Lewes and help attract visitors.

However in the report it also said: “The Ministry of Justice, as owners of the property, have advised that they have exchanged contracts with another party so that only that party may implement a planning permission on the site.

“Further the site has been mothballed since closure and due to investigative works and the lack of maintenance, the building is not in occupiable condition.”

Controversially, developer Quora was granted planning permission to knock down the former Magistrates’ Court and replace it with a 59 bedroom Premier Inn hotel and shops in December last year, in the face of 100 objections from residents.

Campaigners lobbied the SDNPA meeting in Midhurst but their objections were over-ruled by the committee which agreed the planning officers’ recommendation for approval for the hotel.

A total of 64 people wrote in support of the scheme. It also received support from the South Downs Society, Lewes Town Council and the Theatres Trust.

The Friends of Lewes had no objections to the change of use and welcomed the fact that alternative uses for the building were being considered.