picture, for sale sign over Malling Brooks development

If you are one of the small number of readers(1)  of the Sussex Express in Lewes you probably don’t look to that paper for investigative journalism.  But you might, perhaps, expect journalists to have a look at their own back issues before  announcing that the plans for North Street had taken a “major step forward” as it did on 19th April.

The truth is somewhat different.  Below you will find information about reports from earlier editions of the newspaper which shows how the “vision” of the North Street development is slowly being forgotten.

The paper was reporting on the meeting of the South Downs National Park Planning Committee of 11th April at which detailed design details for the second and third phases of the proposed development were passed (the details of the first phase having already been agreed)

You can see a web cast of the meeting at  https://southdowns.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/397191

UP FOR SALE

As the Lewes Eye has already reported, the owners of the site, Lewes District Council and MAS Rei will now try to sell the site to a developer.

LOST VISION

 River energy will heat homes (Sussex Express 10th April 2015)

Clive Wilding of the, now disappeared, Santon company, who were then promoting the North Street scheme was quoted  in the Express four years ago as saying ‘Lewes residents told us they wanted to see a truly sustainable scheme’ and the ‘measures such as the district heating system’ would make this ‘one of the most sustainable places to live and work in the area’.

At the planning committee last week Vic Ient ,Imogen Makepeace and  Jennifer Chibnall, spoke against granting full permission because of the failure to provide an adequate energy provision in the light of climate change and noting that a number of things had ‘slipped away’ from what was first promised including the district heating system.

Apparently earlier planning conditions only asked the promotors to “look at” providing such a system.  Instead it looks as though it will be the same old gas central heating, even though the government is saying it wants to phase this out.

 A chance to reconnect this site to the heart of Lewes (Sussex Express December 18th 2015)

Clive Wilding quoted again again: ‘Working with the Lewes Community Land Trust and Lewes District housing, we will now be procuring a long-term registered housing provider to help deliver the housing and making it as affordable as possible’.  ‘Now’?

Well the legal agreement on this site (S106)  states that affordable will be defined as 80% of market rents. The Express quoted the Friends of Lewes on 1st May 2015 noting that the 40% ‘affordable ‘ homes on the site would be at levels ‘defined by national and local planning policy’ and ‘the society considered they would be beyond the means of most people who were in need of affordable accommodation.’

So far as the Eye knows, no registered housing provider (housing association) has been identified.  The original “affordable housing” quota included “extra care” housing for vulnerable older people, where rents are typically around £250 per week. This was to be provided by Sussex Housing With Care, who pulled out because they thought the scheme unviable.

DISAPPEARING COMMUNITY LAND?

The Community Land Trust were assigned some land in phase 2 which could have given a chance for some truly low Cost Housing, but this too seems to have slipped away?

WHAT ABOUT THE LEWES NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN

Ironically, at the same meeting in April this year, the South Downs Planning Committee agreed the Lewes neighbourhood plan, with its requirement that developers provide REAL lower cost housing at prices local tenants can actually afford, rather than so called “affordable” rents at 80% of the market rent.  This came too late to affect North Street.

WE ALL MOVE TO MALLING BROOKS (SUSSEX EXPRESS MARCH 13TH 2015)

Remember all the business that were on the site and creating jobs before the demolition of the site? Remember how they were all going to be offered land at Malling Brooks, keeping jobs and businesses in the Town?

The Express of March 13th 2015   reported, (or maybe reported then leader of the council Councillor Blackman as saying), that the proposals included ‘72,000 square feet of light industrial space at Malling Brooks already under construction’.

Gosnell’s, aka the soap factory, has indeed moved there. But the rest of the site (bar one smallish section) is for sale, as evidenced by our picture.

It looks like Lewes businesses could not afford the likely rents.

ENTER VAIL WILLIAMS

Vail Willams is a firm of property consultants. They are involved in the selling of Malling Brooks and are now also involved in the North Street, according to the Express. They will probably handle the negotiations for the sale of North Street.

That is, if it is sold.

Of the two owners, Lewes District Council are keen to get on with things, but MAS rei show their  North Street Land as land banked (see page 4 of the document)  They reckon it is worth over £21 million. This may be before taking into account the value of planning permission.

Land banking is a term used to describe when a body holds on to land that it has no immediate intention of using.

Getting a planning permission (for lots of housing, and all manner of good things) greatly increases the value of the land but needs no viability study (including for example a fully costed scheme for a flood wall- the costings of which the Eye has not been able to locate). But planning granted for a scheme that cannot actually built gives you a theoretically valuable site, against which you can borrow money to finance other schemes.

SO WHERE ARE WE NOW?

The site plans remain uncosted by the promotors  and, as the Eye has suggested in earlier articles are likely  to be unaffordable to the promotors.

Perhaps it will be impossible to sell the site.

There is the hopeful rumour that Lewes District Council might buy out MAS rei  and could maybe work with the strengths of the community and the Sussex Community Housing Hub, to gradually build out the site to serve local employment and housing need and not merely developers profit.

But on the other hand, Lewes Eye readers will be aware that this is now beginning to look like a familiar story in Seaford, where a site was got through planning permission with 40% “affordable housing” and then built by a major housebuilder who applied to vary the planning permission to reduce this figure to 8%.

Just as no affordable business space emerged from this programme, so it could be that there might be little affordable housing either.

THE COUNCIL AND THE ELECTIONS

Lewes District Council owns almost half the site.  This means that they are in a position of influence in deciding what happens.  There are elections for the district council in a couple of weeks.  The North Street development is in Castle Ward and the Malling Brooks site is in Bridge, but this affects everyone in Lewes.

District Council candidate Imogen Makepeace, who is standing in Lewes Priory, spoke out against the granting permission at the planning meeting.

The Eye has seen nothing in candidate’s election literature which says what they would argue for on either site if elected(2).  Perhaps readers should ask them before voting. (Subsequent to the writing of this article the Green Party sent me a copy of a statement issued the week previously calling for Lewes council to buy the part of the site they do not own).

1) We don’t know how many people read the Sussex Express because it is no longer a member of the Audit Bureaux of Circulation

2) The Eye has not seen all of the election literature. Corrections will be made to this article on the web site and on facebook if relevant election literature is sent in.

article date 23/4/19