The summary of the history of the Phoenix in the Planning Statement which is part of this application seems only to acknowledge historic significance to the’ Victorian’ ironworks, and its evolution is seen only to produce a ‘void’. This account almost entirely passes over the twentieth century; ‘Once ‘this heavy industry evolved and the ironworks became redundant, other uses such as warehousing and small scale manufacturing filled the void with a variety of light weight industrial buildings in the 1950’s/60’s’ (p. 4).
This fails to understand the importance of the expansion of steel work and engineering by Every’s in the early twentieth century and excludes entirely the significance of the work of the East Sussex Engineering Company which is still so important in the living memory of people in the town. The industrial history of this town may be less familiar than its connections with Tom Paine but our radical tradition is due at least as much to the nonconformist ironmasters and their workers.
The expansion and continual redevelopment of the Phoenix Iron and Steel Works, in which the history of the use of cast iron and then of steel in construction can be traced, is here reinvented as merely the decline of cast iron. The National Park have a particular responsibility to make the history of an area accessible to visitors. The history of Lewes is as an industrial as well as a market town and it is this combination that makes for the particular character of the town. That the plans here submitted then substitute the actual historic buildings with pastiche ‘industrial’ buildings, such as the ‘Chimney Building’ actually confuses the understanding of the history of the site and surely cannot be considered to comply with the requirements of the National Park.
If we consider merely the summary of this planning application in the light of the requirements of the National Park it is hard to see how it can be accepted in its present state. The Park is tasked, by the Act of 1949, with ‘conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the areas’ (my emphasis). The misrepresentation of the history of this site would seem to entirely prevent the latter.
The Environment Act 1995 (Part III National Parks) also requires that the Park Authority ‘shall seek to foster the economic and social well-being of communities within the National Park’. The denial of a continuing history of manufacture seems to serve also to invalidate the continuing economic activity on the site. The further purpose established by the Act of 1949 of ‘promoting’ the ‘understanding of the special qualities of those areas by the public’ included in the Park is also ill served by the misrepresentation of this site’s history. The requirement that Parks should in the future be places where ‘sustainable development can be seen in action’ cannot be seen to be enacted by the demolition of usable buildings, most of which were themselves designed and constructed by Every’s as flexible spaces for the variety of manufacturing in which they engaged, and which are largely still used for that broad purpose.
It is also proposed that ‘the communities of the Parks take an active part in decisions about their future’ and although Santon have consulted local people the part we have taken cannot be said to be active in relation to the general desire to retain these buildings.