First response to the Santon/LDC planning application for the North Street Site 17/03/15
Lewes Phoenix Rising is reviewing the planning application submitted by Santon and Lewes District Council for the North Street site in Lewes.
Our initial view is as follows:
First, we are surprised that the period for making comments on this application, the largest in a National Park in England, only extends to 6 April 2015 – particularly as there has been absolutely no public consultation for a year by Santon or LDC.
With respect to affordable housing, we welcome the increase to 40% provision in response to demands from many residents and LPR supporters. However, the definition of “affordable” and whether properties will be rented or privately owned is wholly unclear. The current government standard is 80% of market rent, which would result in a 2-bedroom flat being available for around £1,000 per month, which is not affordable to most people in Lewes. With over 400 people on the housing waiting list, this development could be a fantastic opportunity to address Lewes’ housing crisis. But it must provide property at genuinely social rents.
Third, the proposed workspace appears to consist of either expensive industrial space in Malling Brooks or small cafe/retail or office ground-floor spaces under residential buildings. In no way does this support the rich and unique network of community enterprises and small independent industries currently on the site. Just three of the 50 businesses we surveyed last year were large enough to be able to afford the proposed rents at Malling Brooks. So while the scheme may well provide 475 “full-time equivalent jobs” in retail, offices and cafes in the distant future, we are likely to lose many of the 450 existing jobs in light industrial, manufacturing, creative and social enterprises in the process. Meanwhile, we cannot at present find any reference in the application to how they will accommodate/relocate all these businesses when development starts.
Fourthly, we are perplexed by the plan to bulldoze rather than renovate the heritage buildings of the Phoenix Iron and Steelworks, against the suggestion of the SDNPA. These buildings have proven an ideal home for galleries, workshops, cultural venues and facilities for teenagers. Replacing them with a purpose built ‘arts’ space resembling the Jerwood Studio at Glyndebourne, as Santon suggests, will simply not be adequate for the needs of the town.
All in all, this is a misleading application that will not necessarily deliver what it says on the tin. It sets a dangerous precedent for Lewes heading down the road to becoming a clone town, with many residents and workers being forced to leave and close down their businesses. Equally disturbing, it looks as though the National Park is anxious to close the consultation period before the elections on 7 May to avoid this application becoming part of the election debate.
Andrew Simpson, an experienced planner and a director of Lewes Phoenix Rising, said:
“We are very concerned that the developer has failed to provide the detailed information the public needs to consider fully its proposals, such as the cost of the affordable housing and work space. It is also worrying that the National Park has given the people of Lewes just 21 days to read, consider and respond to over 823 documents in what is by far the most important planning application in living memory for the town. We have asked the Authority to extend this period to 42 days in recognition of this. Plus, their website is not working properly, with only one full copy of the application in the town at the start of the consultation period.
“At Lewes Phoenix Rising, we have viewed this site as a vital opportunity to create a ground-breaking, innovative development in the centre of a National Park. This is an opportunity to create a place not only where people on ordinary incomes can afford to live but where Lewes’ rich variety of creative, cultural and manufacturing businesses can thrive. Right now, the opportunity to create a brilliant place to live and work is being seriously squandered – we are going to continue to campaign to get the development that Lewes deserves. We also urge the LDC to act as the town’s representatives in the development of this site and not just as landowners in their joint venture with Santon.”