Well, hurrah for the silent majority, say I - one only has to hope that it’s not the same silent majority who re-elected Margaret Thatcher or thinks that Ant & Dec are the new Morecambe and Wise... But I am relieved that I am not the only one disappointed in and hugely unimpressed by Phoenix Rising. Neither their motives or their ability to deliver are the least convincing.
I attended one of their open house events shortly before part of it burnt down and considered myself lucky to have escaped uninjured from the most casual and slapdash set of dodgy working environments I’d ever had the misfortune to experience first hand. I expect the whole ramshackle “North Street Quarter” remains a health and safety nightmare; the deeply-entrenched Lewes boho vibe is simply not conducive to safe light industrial working practices.
And as other correspondents have pointed out, the denizens of North Street do not own the land, they have no visible means of support and they clearly do not speak for the majority of Lewesians, who would just like the North Street Artsore to be put out of its misery by being lovingly levelled and then totally redeveloped.
Feel free to march up and down the High Street as often as you like, it’s a stereotypical Lewes occupation people hardly bother to take notice of – the rest of us are too busy to stand and stare, we’ve got jobs to go to and work to do.
While the Phoenix Phollies have grand visions of the Utopia they’d like to have built for them with someone else’s money on the banks of the Ouse, their wacky schemes have more in common with Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Colin Frost-Herbert wears on about not building on the floodplain (and the sad inundation of picturesque heritage pillboxes, with which I sympathise) while ignoring the fact that our forefathers did build a thriving industrial complex on the banks of the Ouse and on a known floodplain, largely out of necessity. When the river flooded, the working classes just put their wellies on, swept the mud out with brooms and then went back to work, my father and grandmother among them.
Times have changed. In the 21st century we have the construction nous, the machinery and the funding to rise above most of the problems associated with a turgid, muddy tidal river if only you’ll let developers with the money and the know-how to get on and build it, while Phoenix Hot Air Rising seem to think they can just build high-rise bamboo houses on stilts.
Your other correspondents are right to fear that if the opportunity offered by Santon is not grasped with both hands, then this decaying brownfield site will continue to fester for another generation, a shameful blot on the face of our county town. Why wail about the demolition of a few crumbly old redundant warehouses which are hardly jewels of their kind? It’s not as if Lewes is particularly short of preserved architectural heritage, is it? It would not be vandalism to pull them down but an act of mercy to put an end to their neglect – or is corrugated asbestos sheeting suddenly back in vogue?
My antipathy to the North Street Quarter as it currently stands – just – is not merely cod-aesthetic but serious and practical. Lewes always boasts of “punching above its weight” culturally but it’s much closer to the truth to say that it shouts above its weight when it comes to talking pretentious, self-aggrandising nonsense. I understand the occupants of North Street wanting to maintain the staus quo (and therefore their peppercorn rents) but really, which is worse? Santon’s development, sneeringly described by an expensive RIBA consultant as “pastiche industrial architecture” or an untidy, unsafe commune of typically fringey Lewes “pastiche creative industries”?