‘Temporary’ relocation of Peacehaven Library granted permission

Plans to relocate Peacehaven Library have been given the go ahead by county council planners.

Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 3:00 pm
Peacehaven's library is set to relocate to The Joff

On Wednesday (December 15), East Sussex County Council’s planning committee approved proposals which would allow the facility to move out of its current home in the Meridian Centre and into The Joff, a nearby youth centre.

The committee heard the proposals (which would see the library move into a significantly smaller space) came as the result of plans to redevelop the Meridian Centre, which would require the library to move elsewhere. 

The proposals had proven to be contentious among local residents, who argued the relocation would harm both the library and the youth centre.

Peacehaven Library's current home in the Meridian Centre

Among those to speak out against the plans was David Carpenter, a representative of Friends of Peacehaven Library. He said: “There is absolutely no sensible requirement to do this and it is counterproductive to both the youth club and the library.

“Under the government housing policy, hundreds of new homes are due to be built in the Peacehaven area over the next 30 years. Therefore The Joff needs to be enlarged and brought up to date, not reduced by having a library ensconced under its roof, thus reducing its capability both as a youth club and as a library. 

He added: “The disabled will be disenfranchised by poor accessibility, the lack of space will give rise to health and safety issues [and] it will be difficult to find staff to manage the library under the working environment created by the planning proposal.

“All these things will lead to the loss of footfall and the eventual closure of the library.”

Similar objections were also raised by ward councillor Chris Collier (Lab), who argued that the decision may be unconstitutional as co-locating could have an impact on the youth service without a service change being agreed democratically.

This argument saw the meeting enter a short recess while committee members sought advice on this. 

Cllr Collier also argued the relocation would be premature as no planning application had been submitted for redevelopment of the Meridian Centre. This was confirmed by officers, who also told the committee that the library is not currently under notice to leave the Meridian Centre.

However, officers also said that pre-application advice had been sought and the library service informed of plans for a redevelopment. If given notice, the library would have six months to leave the centre.

Natalie Anderson, of the East Sussex Library Service, said: “To put this application in context, in November 2020 the county council library service were contacted by the developer of the Meridian Centre to say that we only had six months left in the current building.

“Fortunately our property team were able to negotiate with the developer, however this notification … highlighted how vulnerable the service provision was in Peacehaven going forward.

“While we believe any proposal to redevelop the Meridian Centre will need to re-provide a suitable space for the library service, given the current issue of a short term lease and the likelihood that the current space will need to be vacated while any redevelopment takes place, there is clearly a pressing need to find a suitable property in a suitable location that can continue to provide a good quality library service in the short term.”

Ms Anderson said the council had explored alternative options to this proposal, but had faced ‘limited’ options. As a result, the application had been put forward to provide ‘certainty’ about the library’s future.

She added that co-locating with the youth centre could actually see footfall increase and attract new users.

Ms Anderson also stressed any move would be temporary and was likely only to last for between 18 months and two years (although planning permission would allow the relocation to last four years). 

Objectors, however, said they feared the move would either be extended, become permanent or eventually lead to the library’s closure.

After hearing from speakers, the committee began discussion on the proposals.

During discussion committee chairman Tom Liddiard (Con) stressed that the decision should be made on planning terms alone and that operational issues for the youth and library service should not form part of the decision.

While there was some disagreement among committee members, the majority considered the proposals acceptable in planning terms. As a result, the application was approved with the caveat that any extension to the four-year permission would need to come back to the committee.

The decision was met with disappointment from many of the objectors.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Collier said: “The Lib Dem and Conservative members of the planning committee today voted to put Peacehaven Library into a cupboard, at the same time as reducing youth services. 

“This hugely disappointing for Peacehaven and Telscombe cliffs. I raised that the Lewes District Local Plan says changes should be ‘equivalent or better quality’ – not a reduction. I clarified that there is no planning application on the table for the Meridian Centre. 

“Once again our community feels the impact of decisions made outside of our district.”

Huw Oxburgh , Local Democracy Reporting Service