Lewes’ MP has been accused of making ‘misleading’ comments about the status of a project to bring a new health hub to Seaford.
The previous Conservative administration at Lewes District Council launched proposals for the Downs Leisure Centre site, which would see the town’s two GP practices relocate alongside new medical and community facilities as well as a retail unit and several apartments.
A new cooperative alliance administration, which took control of the council in July, is reviewing the plans in light of concerns from residents about the way the project has been handled.
However a newsletter from Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes, has sparked a furious row after it claimed the plans had been revised to remove the shop element and now included a 3G pitch with dog walkers still able to use the grass areas around the site.
In response Zoe Nicholson, Green leader of the council, said she was ‘very concerned’ about the information circulated by Ms Caulfield.
She added: “For the avoidance of any doubt, no final decisions have been made, including the location of any new development.
“The feasibility of proposals for a health hub in Seaford are being scrutinised by the district council and we will consider those findings in due course.
“Local people understandably have a keen interest in the future of health services in the area and to share details with them that are inaccurate is deeply unhelpful.”
Lib Dem James MacCleary, deputy leader of Lewes District Council, added: “As soon as our new administration took over the council in July we started to review the Seaford health hub plans as numerous residents and some local councillors had raised serious concerns.
“It is a very big project for the district council and we have to be sure to get it right. Our scrutiny committee are now reviewing the project and the council is investigating other possible sites including the existing medical practice on Dane Road.
“It is not only unhelpful but also irresponsible for an MP to circulate inaccurate information on such a vital project. She and her Conservative colleagues have refused to engage with residents properly on the issue and we are clearing up their mess. Myself and my Green, Labour and Independent colleagues will ensure that Seaford gets the new health facilities it needs no matter how much misinformation our MP spreads.”
Johnny Denis, a Green councillor and his party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Lewes, added: “Our MP continues to present the proposed health hub as a done deal. It is anything but.
“She is trying in her communications to take credit for something which hasn’t happened and over which she has had no involvement. Her intervention is really unhelpful and has caused much more concern among residents.
“I became chair of scrutiny committee in May and we agreed to set up a panel to look at the impacts of the plan to move to GP practices from the centre of Seaford to the Downs Leisure Centre.
“The scrutiny panel has started work and new cooperative alliance council has commissioned further work to look at feasibility of other sites for upgrading GP led services in the town. It is absolutely not a done deal.”
He also pointed out how the 3G football pitch was an entirely separate decision.
Carolyn Lambert, Lib Dem county councillor for Seaford South, said: “What residents need is accurate information on what is happening with this important project. The Conservatives have been trying to forge ahead with their original plans without any interest in legitimate concerns from residents. It is just irresponsible of our MP to be putting out misleading and out-of-date information that will cause further confusion and anger.
“Conservatives in Seaford are still trying to trample on residents’ concerns and ignore any alternative ideas. Local Lib Dems will continue to press for proper scrutiny and community involvement to deliver a health hub that is right for our town.”
The war of words continued on Twiter with Ms Caulfield saying it was ‘disgraceful’ a Green and Lib Dem administration was holding the project up.
Although she admitted there were issues she suggested the ‘solution isn’t to scrap the medical hub’, adding: “We will never get this opportunity again.”
She also pointed out that she had only said in her newsletter what is currently on the council’s own website.
In a statement the MP added: “While there are concerns from residents about the location of the medical hub in the town, it is essential that Seaford gets brand new medical facilities. Being the largest town in the constituency it would be shameful if it is the only town not to see improved medical services when new hubs are planned for Lewes, Newhaven and Polegate.
“I hope it is not the case that because the leaders of the council are not councillors for Seaford that they are putting plans on hold. There are genuine issues with the planned site that residents have and a decision needs to be taken about the most suitable location but let us work together to sort that out.
“With all the new housing planned for the town our GPs, cannot cope without new and improved facilities. Seaford deserves better than this.”
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A statement from Lewes District Council has been released, saying: “Only when the council has completed further feasibility work on the various options for a health hub and scrutiny of the findings, will a report with recommendations be taken to cabinet.
“A date for this cabinet meeting will be confirmed in due course and communicated on the council website, to the media and directly to local groups. The council is very aware of the interest in these proposals and will ensure that this cabinet meeting is hosted at an alternative venue with sufficient seating for larger numbers of people.
“The next scrutiny committee and cabinet meeting, both in September, will receive short reports for information and update only.
“Members of the public are very welcome to attend a full council meeting on September 25 at County Hall in Lewes when councillors will discuss a petition received from Downs Development Neighbourhood Voice. The meeting will start at 6pm.”