LETTER: Santon’s North Street claim has to be strongly challenged

Santon North Street’s claim in recent articles in the Sussex Express and Viva Lewes, that it is actively looking to rehouse those creative and light industrial businesses that will be displaced when work starts on the demolition of the Phoenix Estate has to be strongly challenged.

Moreover this offer of space by Santon has only come about after considerable pressure from a number of town and district councillors to enable these businesses to continue to operate.

We know of a number of businesses on the estate that have been served notice without any firm offer of alternative space such as Cafe des Artistes and the Foundry Gallery.

Others in the Phase 1 development area at the south end of the site such as Teknika Engineering, Zu Studios and the Foundry Workshops, which house a myriad of small businesses and studios, can expect their leases to end soon. The vast majority have had no contact whatsoever with Santon, or LDC their development partner, despite the latter’s claim in recent correspondence that there is a package of assistance being developed. The lack of positive action to provide interim accommodation during the development period is the first step in dismantling a thriving centre of employment, community activity and social enterprise that has grown in Lewes over the past decade, currently supporting over 50 businesses, dozens of workshops, 450 jobs and providing activities for 650 young people every week.

Santon says that Malling Brooks will provide 75,000 sq ft of purpose-built employment space for light industrial businesses.

But this site has yet to be built and the lease terms offered are wholly prohibitive to the local businesses we are trying to save – some of whom have only been offered space at five times the rent they currently pay.

Businesses that Lewes is set to lose because they simply cannot afford the rents demanded for Malling Brooks include bus operator Compass Travel, which operates over 500,000 rural bus passenger journeys a year from its Phoenix depot, the Dance Academy and North Street Garage to name just a few.

In our view, none of the businesses on North Street should be asked to vacate their current premises until Santon as landlords honour their commitment – and LDC as the responsible authority fulfil their duty – to provide suitable and affordable alternative workspace in the heart of Lewes.

This is the only way this unique economic hub of businesses can be protected and continue to grow to provide employment for future generations.

Alternatively they could engage with Lewes Phoenix Rising as we have long requested, and consider the retention and innovative renovation of the historic buildings of the Phoenix Ironworks.

These buildings are ideally suited for accommodating these and future small businesses and providing a vibrant centre for employment and enterprise alongside the 400+ new homes planned for the rest of the site, thus creating an exemplary and sustainable development for Lewes and the South Downs National Park.

Lewes Phoenix Rising Management Team