Battle lines are being drawn in Lewes between the small creative businesses people say symbolise the town and the large scale development others believe will upgrade their premises and deliver much-needed housing.
Now a popular Lewes cafe is fighting eviction and owners say they have been left with nowhere else to go.
Christian Thompson from the Cafe des Artistes, Phoenix Place says he has been given notice to quit. Potential developers Santon North Street are bringing a court hearing for trespass against the firm at Lewes County Court on November 25.Christian said: “We’ve been offered a bit of storage space but that is a temporary option, only available for three months. But that is a poisoned chalice and will cost £12,000 in costs and £600 for a three month lease. There’s no power there and we would not be allowed keys.”
He explained he has no option but to get rid of kitchen and studio equipment - the death knell to his business. “Half of it has already gone. There are nearly 50 firms here. What is happening is a big issue for Lewes.” He concedes much of the site is run-down but adds: “My view is that if a place is not given a lick of paint or repaired roof it is bound to be run down. We are being evicted but these plans have not yet gone to committee.”
Regarding the cost of new premises, A Santon spokesman said some existing tenants have already sublet to others. They say many creative businesses ‘popped up’ after floods destroyed most buildings making them untenable for modern use. He went on: “However, this cannot be sustained long term and that was never the intention. Many of these buildings are no longer fit for purpose and it was always recognised they are being used on a temporary basis with short term leases. Many existing light industrial businesses are moving to Malling Brooks - they are economically sustainable firms which can afford Lewes market rates. However applicants LDC and Santon recognise the value that small start-ups bring and that is why a 106 agreement will secure capital subsidy for half of the North Street Quarter workspace for start-up sustainable businesses which may include some of the existing ones.
“This will subsidise market rents to affordable levels - probably by 50 per cent less than market rates. This would be managed by a local social enterprise set-up for start-up businesses that need it. Flexible space would be suitable for constructing two-storey dinosaurs one day and running dance classes the next.”
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