Fresh pressure to reveal 49 sites list in Lewes

Lewes Tourist Information Office
Lewes Tourist Information Office

Lewes District Council was coming under fresh pressure this week to reveal a list of the 49 sites in Lewes earmarked for development.

Councillors Stephen Catlin and Ruth O’Keeffe called for the council to tell the public which council owned sites were to be made available for housing using a freedom of information request.

But the district council said negotiations were ongoing and public disclosure at this point might prejudice the effective conduct of the process.

Both councillors Catlin and O’Keeffe are now asking the council to review the responses they received underthe Freedom of Information Act because they were dissatisfied with the answers they were given.

The district council stressed it would make the full details of the controversial 49 sites project public as soon as it was able to do so.

The St Mary’s Social Centre, the Western Road toilets and Tourist Information Office in Lewes have been earmarked for development by the council in the scheme.

But volunteers at the St Mary’s Social Centre have been left in the dark as to the precise nature of the scheme the council has in mind for the important facility.

Cllr Stephen Catlin said: “In particular I am concerned that Lewes District Council appear to treat the sale of public assets as a matter of secrecy.

“Sure, the price may be withheld, but never which properties are up for disposal.

“It must be about three years now since the list was drawn up. I do think it is time the residents were told.”

Cllr Ruth O’Keeffe added: “I do not find any of the answers adequate and so am going to request a review for all of them.

“These are very important questions about the effective disposal of community assets without any consultation of local people, nor of myself as a local member of the council.

“I think the extent to which the district council has shown itself unwilling to answer simple questions about consultation and contingency and mitigation plans is quite shocking.

“To refuse to answer even which sites are affected is beyond what I had expected in terms of keeping information secret for business purposes; also the community value of the assets should not be a secret I think, this has no commercial sensitivity as it is a value that the assets will have had for some time.

“All of the possible consultation that they are describing is after the main, central decision has been made, to take the asset and develop it. This is not true consultation at all. I will continue to press for answers.”

Lewes District Council confirmed it had received requests for a review of responses made under Freedom of Information to be carried out.

It said these reviews would be completed within 40 working days and would be carried out by a Head of Service within Lewes District Council who had not been involved in the original requests for information.

When this process is completed there is the option for an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

A spokesperson for the council said: “It is already in the public domain that the council advertised for a development partner under the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 and in accordance with the European Union procurement procedure and the selection process has been overseen by external legal and commercial advisers.

“Negotiations are ongoing and public disclosure at this point in time may prejudice the effective conduct of the negotiation process.

“The appropriate time for disclosure of information is after the procurement exercise has been completed and the development agreement has been signed.

“The council has repeatedly stated its intention to make full details of the project available as soon as it is properly able to do so.”

The district council is making available 49 sites across Lewes District for housing, with the ambition of building around 450 homes, 40 per cent of which would be affordable housing.

It has gone into partnership with Karis Developments to build these homes.