Hearing voices and daft schemes

Our group, which we have modestly called “A Voice for Lewes” have received much encouragement from readers of the Express two weeks ago.

We have also read critical letters published last week and it may be useful to set the record straight.

Our initiative began after we looked at the draft 30-year plan and compared it to predictions for the population growth.

Some basic information – the average house size in England is already amongst the smallest in Europe. England has the highest population density in Europe. In South Central England for example it is 667 people per km2, the Netherlands has the second highest population density at 493 people per km2. During the period of our local 30-year plan, the population of England is predicted to grow by 40 percent and most of that will be here, in the South.

The Government has told us we must build homes for all these extra people, but has completely ignored the infrastructure. Schools and hospitals are already at capacity, on dry summers water is rationed, roads and car parks are saturated.

The draft 30-year plan for Lewes looks depressingly grim, with few solutions to today’s problems let alone those of a future with more people. Living in the Lewes area will be very much more crowded, inconvenient and unpleasant.

But it doesn’t have to be.

There are many good reasons to be optimistic about the future, the technology, high and low, already exists for us to be confident that we will be able to feed everybody on an earth with a population of 9 billion give them abundant clean water, clean energy, sequester all the carbon we need to and, in due course, live healthier and more comfortable lives. The challenge in getting from here to there is not just science and technology, it is primarily a political challenge at both the micro and macro level, personal, national and international.

Can we not start with Lewes?

If we want a future in Lewes that is better for our children and even better still, for our grandchildren, we will have to exercise our imaginations, our intelligence; we must dare to dream, plan, scheme and work hard. However it is all very achievable.

The people working for ‘A Voice for Lewes’ are all professionals and in addition have consulted with specialist firms. From an engineering and design perspective all the proposals are straightforward and achievable.

Lewes is the county town and this would be a flagship project for Lewes, the county, the National Park and the country. If we don’t want to concrete over ever more of our country, we will have to tunnel and earth-shelter more and more of our infrastructure. This would provide more homes, more businesses, more convenience for the town and district and become an environmental role model for building in a crowded country without spoiling it.

To address Brian Beck’s letter, it is right that he challenge us; that all these projects need to be put to the test.

We will put more detail into the way our proposed hill would be built, on our website. To explain briefly though, it would be a hill-shaped, terraced, multi storey car park, with houses, twittens, squares and gardens on the outside. And yes, Brian, it would support shrubs and even trees. No higher but hopefully much more attractive than the Churchill Square development in Brighton but in this case with the bottom level car park being designed to absorb the 20-year flood.

To address Clive Hobden’s letter, sent delightfully from Lothlorien’s twin, we believe that it is not only possible to be inspirational while being practical, it is essential. We have to ask developers and architects to raise their game generally, but especially when proposing a massive scheme within what is arguably the most important town within a national park.

When William Blake wrote “And was Jerusalem, builded here, in England’s green and pleasant land” his vision of the holy city was probably more like Tolkien’s Lothlorien than today’s Jerusalem. According to Google there are 346,000 references to houses called Lothlorien in the UK. We live in hope…

His other point was funding and for now we have only addressed funding for the North Street area (Phoenix) and then only in the broadest terms. Comparing our scheme with Santon’s as it was then disclosed, ours makes a much better use of the available site with more than twice the number of homes, more than double the number of car parking spaces and provision for a mall and community buildings as required. In addition we propose much more traffic-friendly infrastructure with a relief road to the East, crossing the river with the road within a habitable bridge. To be fair to Santon there are rumours that they are currently rethinking their proposal.

In very broad-brush terms and using a quantity surveyors’ guide (Spons) our proposed scheme would generate significantly more in development value, which would more than cover the increased cost.

We look forward to introducing more details of our vision for Lewes over the coming weeks.

Signed: A Voice for Lewes