BBC RADIO SUSSEX INTERVIEW – SAVE LEWES ARCHITECTURE – 12TH DECEMBER 2014
BBC in italitcs:
BBC: Something we talked about before and this is the possibility of a 59 bed Premier Inn on the site of a disused Magistrates Court in Lewes. That’s now been given the go-ahead by South Downs National Park. The development will also include four shops and a café. Campaigners have fought against the plans hoping for a centre of excellence of film, tv and theatre production. Now Lewes will also get its first full time three screen cinema for forty years, built within the Harveys Depot which was also been given the go-ahead at the meeting yesterday. Vic Ient from Save Lewes Architecture which has campaigned against the plans, joins me on the line now. Now, Vic, what’s your reaction to this?
Let me say, I am not against the plans for the three screen cinema. That is an excellent proposal. But as far as the Premier Inn development is concerned on the Old Magistrates Court site, it is a sad day for Lewes, quite frankly, because the development which is proposed is going to be a lot bigger than the present building. I don’t think people quite realise that and, sadly, I don’t think the officers of the National Park quite realise that either!
(interrupting, the BBC interviewer said: Well, let us hear what they had to say. We did approach them for a statement. They said, ‘ Lewes is distinctive, vibrant. We take our role very seriously as the planning authority and they went on to say this is the third time our planning committee have considered the proposal. We have visited the site, examined the evidence, listened carefully to those speaking both for and against the application and held a lively and informed debate. They feel they are giving what the majority wants and given the right decision and clearly you don’t agree with that.
I certainly don’t! I wrote and spoke to the National Park on more than one occasion and asked them to hold a public conference here in Lewes, not over in Midhurst over 45 miles away, but here in Lewes, about what should be built on this site, and they refused point blank saying they were quite familiar with the site themselves. Let me just tell you not one single chief officer lives in East Sussex, they all either live in West Sussex or even further away. The current case officer couldn’t even pronounce Lewes!
But they have considered all the options haven’t they? Isn’t there something to be said for having a cheap hotel where people can enjoy the local areas and it brings a boost to the local economy and it’s a difficult balance isn’t it between architecture and looking to the future creating jobs, creating money coming into the area?
Look, I’m not against jobs. This site could have employed over 40 people involved in community, theatre and other activities. I have had people talking to me about a location for their dance school. All of these things could have been incorporated within this building. As it is, and I am sure you know, and may have stayed in similar hotels yourself, Premier Inn employ low paid, part time workers and very often these people don’t even live in the area and the supplies that come to these hotels come in great big articulated lorries from the other end of the country.
Interrupting, the interviewer said: That is quite a sweeping generalisation, isn’t it and I am sure one that they would dispute because they do provide jobs, they do provide accommodation for people to stay in who will then spend their money in the local area. So there has to be some economic benefit.
I don’t agree, the present hotels are not full anyway. The South Downs National Park has only just started carrying out a hotel survey in Lewes – only just started!
So what’s next then? Obviously, it’s been given the go-ahead, so that’s the end of the fight then?
I am afraid we are now going to be given what Whitbreads, Premier Inn and the developer want. We are going to have have to put up with their development. Now they could have adapted the present building. Let me give you an example; in Oxford, a planning application to tear down the old prison was refused and the hotel developer converted the prison to a hotel. Now why couldn’t the developer have done that here?
Clearly you are very upset about this. Thank you for sharing your views on the programme.