With the whole of the North Street site in Lewes now up for sale has the chance to influence what gets built been lost?

Now it seems we are to have an alliance of Greens, Lib Dems, Labour and independents running LDC, which means that some councillors actually representing Lewes Town may now be dealing with North Street.  No doubt the councillors will be giving the proposed contract terms a lot of scrutiny.

But in any case it seems the council officers,  whose work with Boutique Modern on housing suggests they have sound ideas about housing need, seem to have shown the Council that they should take on the ‘affordable’ housing on North St. But then the S106  did require that the provider of that housing be secured before any development began. Originally that was to have been done before any commencement, including demolition, was allowed on the site but the SDNPA agreed to allow this to be postponed while demolition remained as commencement. Hence the somewhat random demolition of some of the Phoenix sheds kept the planning permission open.  All remains therefore somewhat unclear.


But let us now look towards the future. Many people have been deceived by the misleading statements produced by Santon/ NSQ/ MAS rei who now plainly have no real interest in this site and who may disappear from view entirely if the site is sold..

It is described as having full planning permission but it is a plan totally (but not necessarily) dependent on a flood wall for which there are no detailed engineering drawings and consequently no detailed costing.  The plan for the road system is similarly unfinished.

The present planning permission also leaves the energy policy for the site, we may say, uncertain. Despite the emphasis on the need to preserve the environment and respond to climate change in the ecosystem approach of the Neighbourhood Plan, which was not merely endorsed but required by the National Park,  the latest plan for energy on this site appears to be fitting photovoltaic panels where the orientation of the roofs that were already agreed in the outline planning permission,  are suitable. In effect retro-fitting on buildings not yet built. As one or two people pointed out to the SDNPA planning committee agreeing to  the full planning permission on this whole site, this cannot be considered acceptable practice!

So the present plan is incomplete, designed to be landbanked not built,  the site needs rethinking to better serve the people of Lewes as well as visitors to the town. The South Downs National Park, as the planning authority, are at liberty to enable this.

One problem is that this plan has been designed to blend this site with what is presented as the character of Lewes, as if this site had no part in the town’s character.  One member of the planning committee even abstained to mark his objection to there being not enough white window frames, which he thought typical of the town. But this is an industrial site and has always been so. It is as much a part of Lewes as the castle. This town has always had more than one aspect, let us take advantage of this.


So let us begin to think what be done. Here are some ideas to throw into the mix. Doubtless Lewes eye readers will have more;

-This site is in a flood plan. it is now  widely understood that building flood walls, merely displacing water, is not the long tern answer in such places. But with rising sea levels the more sustainable flood resilient solutions will become increasingly necessary. So let this plan be altered, drop the too expensive underground car parks, build homes above ground level parking, as so many 1970’s townhouses did.

-Let it proceed on a piecemeal basis, as the Town itself has developed. To begin there is now a lovely cleared site on the Council’s own land which cannot be developed for some years that would be perfect for meanwhile housing.  Those providing, or hoping to provide, such housing could be invited to participate in a lived in exhibition of eco-homes.

-Some of you may have read about the Swedish town that has gone entirely waste free  see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/18/eskilstuna-how-a-swedish-town-became-the-world-capital-of-recycling  This shows what we could only see from here as their own Furniture Now.  We have the basis to do this here, and let this development expand it. The important remaining buildings of the Phoenix Works could yield workspace for the community and a fascinating destination for visitors. The old Foundry Workshop is still there to be reused as workspace for eco-friendly manufacture, reusing and recycling.

-The floor foundry building, where so much of the fine cast iron in the whole of the South East was made,  with its magnificent beamed roof with its cast iron joints, asks to be a public building. Give it one of those foldaway seating systems for performances and lectures. Maybe a gym that generates electricity rather than using it. Bicycle powered washing machines for sociable laundry! Think what could be hung from those beams?  Ropes and swings and all fold away. Everything could be lifted out of the way of floodwater or protected in small sections.

-Think what could be  built on pontoons? Or barges?  In Holland there are houses built to rise with the tide, anchored at all four corners.

There is so much here for this new coalition to enable, but all of it is achievable. We need councillors with the vision and confidence to see that it is better that the site be delayed, even for another ten years, but then yield what the Town needs for the next century than that it be built out with market housing with no benefit to those needing housing in the Town.  We need politicians who understand that their job is to plan for the future well being and prosperity of the our Town. Sustainability is not a requirement that is going to go out of fashion any time soon. This town could be exemplary. We have the skills. We can do things cheaply and flexibly, designed for need and use, not to yield profit, flexible for the needs of a future we cannot yet quite imagine.


However there remains the question of who will want to buy the site, if anyone.  Don’t forget that the new owners have the right to ask to vary the current planning permission, as Bellway Homes have done at the Newlands School site in Seaford.

article written 24/6/19