Newhaven Fort could be put out to tender

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HISTORIC Newhaven Fort could be put out to tender on a long-term lease and only part of it run as a visitor attraction.

The fate of the Victorian fort, a scheduled ancient monument bought by the local council for £13,000, is up for discussion by owner Lewes District Council at a cabinet meeting on Thursday (July 12).

Councillors will hear consultants found there is interest in using the fort as a high end hotel resort, holiday let accommodation on the hilltop, using the whole site for commercial development, developing educational facilities or for a location for filming.

They are being recommended to approve a long-term lease arrangement , to develop a specification and seek expressions of interest.

Run as a museum and a venue for events, the landmark building is said to have the ‘potential to be a catalyst in the town’s regeneration’.

But it runs at an annual loss of £200,000 and needs about £6million spent on it to fulfil its potential as a ‘significant visitor attraction’.

Rare and Malcolm Reading Consultants were commissioned in October last year to test the market and deliver a range of options.

They concluded the fort was an ‘under-utilised asset that had the potential to host a wider range of events and activities and have a wider range of commercial and educational functions’.

Staff costs were projected to exceed revenue in 2012/13, ticket prices did not maximise revenue and marketing and promotion was ‘insufficient’, consultants said.

Other options before the council were to improve the museum and visitor attraction or mixed use with an improved museum and part of the site leased out, both options with the district council bearing upfront costs, or minor changes to maintain the museum.

With the recommended option, the council would divest all or large parts of its responsibilities to a third party and could retain elements like the Caponier and Lunette Battery as a museum under its own management, again with upfront investment.

The council report said: “The need for significant upfront investment means that large parts of the fort will need to be converted into commercial, revenue generating operations.

“The specification will need to set out clearly what the parameters of these should be so that at least part of the fort is retained as museum and visitor attraction that is open to the public, possibly linked to Castle Hill Nature Reserve.

“Any development will need to support the wider regeneration plans for Newhaven.”

The ‘expectation’ was at least part of the site would be retained for community use such as art and cultural events.