Pledge on future of St Mary’s Centre in Lewes

James Page and Norman Baker
James Page and Norman Baker

Lewes MP Norman Baker has secured assurances from the Leader of Lewes District Council, Cllr James Page, that there will be no redevelopment of St Mary’s Social Centre unless there is public support.

Last month the local MP publically called on the district council to come clean about its intention for the site.

He demanded transparency after speculation about St Mary’s became rife, with many residents concerned about its future and particularly rumours that it might be demolished and redeveloped with up to 14 properties on the site.

The speculation resulted in a petition in support of the centre garnering more than 4,000 signatures.

In his call for openness last month, Mr Baker said: “What the council must do, and this is what I am asking its Chief Executive [Jenny Rowlands] to do, is to state publically and clearly what it intends to do with the site.

“If it does not intend facilitate in any way its demolition or sale then they need to say that publically and explicitly.

“If the council does not intend to break the lease, providing this public promise should be no problem at all.”

In response to his call, last week the MP received a letter from Cllr Page. In his response, the council Leader stated: “I have said that any development would only go ahead with public support through the planning process. I am happy to go on record saying that St Mary’s Social Centre will not be redeveloped unless there is an enhanced community facility and public support for the proposal.”

Mr Baker said: “The centre is clearly valued locally and the strength of feeling has been clear for all to see.

“I therefore welcome Cllr Page’s explicit assurances that ‘it will not be redeveloped without public support’.

“With 4,000 people signing a petition in support of the centre, it appears quite clear what the public’s view is on this.”

The council has recently gone out to tender to invite potential property partners to come forward. As part of the council’s Property Strategy it wants to work with a partner organisation to explore the potential of up to 48 properties the council owns, including St Mary’s.

The key objectives are: community benefit, regeneration, risk mitigation and financial return.

Cllr Page said: “As a responsible council looking after taxpayers’ money, we have to consider how we can make best use of all our assets.”