Friday 14th November brought one of those rare occasions when one could not fail to be inspired by the vision for a better future that can be achieved when the needs and aspirations of the local community are put centre stage.
I refer of course to the presentation by Lewes Phoenix Rising (supported by many individual residents and by Lewes Green Party) of its exciting proposals for the North Street area of Lewes.
Many of us who have seen the Santon proposals are shocked by the fact that so many of the small businesses down on North Street – ones that support young people, or are part of the strong creative base of this town, or help us move towards a low carbon future and which currently provide some 450 jobs – are likely to be priced out of a development that would demolish so many low rent premises.
From a Green perspective, it also seems less than sustainable to sweep away so many buildings – like those housing the Foundry Gallery and Zu Studios – that have stood the test of time, have proven themselves to be very flexible and are an important part of our industrial heritage.
Equally many people believe that any new housing development should provide enough truly affordable housing to meet the needs of local people. We have looked in vain for any properties for social rent on land partly owned by Lewes District Council. Apparently it can’t be done – or we can have a bit of one if we forego the other. Not good enough!!
Now Phoenix Rising have brought in talented and renowned architectural support, legal, financial and planning advice - mostly on a pro bono basis - to show that it is possible to save our cultural heritage, it is possible to protect and develop the many businesses and jobs on the site, it is possible to build low cost socially rented homes that will forever be available to local people. I would advise everyone to visit their forthcoming roadshows – in the town centre and going out to the estates – to see for themselves the future the local community can envisage for itself.
There is just one rather large fly in the ointment. The land is of course owned by the developer Santon and Lewes District Council, who despite all their so-called consultations seem more about making a profit for investors in South Africa than in meeting the legitimate aspirations of the people of Lewes. They have had some discussions with Phoenix Rising, but seem determined to press ahead with their plans for a boring suburb in the heart of Lewes. Lewes Green Party therefore urges both developer and local authority to pause their planning application, to share all their information and plans with Phoenix Rising and to work towards a joint application that can meet the needs of the whole town. It also urges the South Downs national Park not to accept any planning application for the site until it is satisfied that the will of Lewes people has been properly taken into account.
Cllr Susan Murray
Lewes Green Party