Let’s find a solution before Canon O’Donnell Centre falls further into disrepair

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THE recent report in your paper on the ill-fated Canon O’Donnell Centre in Lewes does little to raise my hopes for a resolution to this problem that holds out much chance of success, I fear.

Given that once again a commercial-type planning proposal for total demolition and redevelopment of the site has been turned down, there appears to be a complete impasse between the developer/owners on the one hand and the South Downs National Park planning authority plus the conservation/green lobby on the other hand.

The insertion of the Lewes Community Land Trust into the stagnant situation may or may not achieve a solution, or at least make some progress, but inevitably they will come up against the real problem underlying the situation, which is that the present owners erroneously paid an excessive sum for redevelopment of the site from the previous church owners, only to have their expectations repeatedly dashed.

The prospect of a severe financial loss is clearly unpalatable and unsustainable, to the extent that I fear the owners may simply allow the buildings to fall further into disrepair, leading to their eventual demolition, and thus to complete redevelopment. It is difficult to escape this damaging but real possibility.

Looking objectively at the present (unlisted) group of buildings on the site, they are of very mixed quality and character, or in other words a bit of an unimpressive hotch-potch. While the side facing Spital Road has a pleasant dignified Edwardian character, the rest of the group in my view attempts unsuccessfully both to create a terminal feature and an elevation on to Western Road.

My solution to this architectural problem, so far unsolved, is to conserve the Spital Road north wing for a regenerated use, integrating it with a new well-designed south wing along Western Road, terminating in a more convincing way at the street corner than the present jumble of elements allows.

And if no suitable locally-designed solution emerges, then a design competition should take place, bringing in wider expertise. In that way, with the input and cooperation of all parties involved, a mutually agreeable and workable scheme should emerge, which enhances its urban setting, in line with the fullest concept of a conservation area, ie. not excluding acceptable change.

Michael Parfect, Lewes