Court Road Lewes Development

The future architecture of the area around Court Road and Friars Walk Lewes, has now finally been decided. The Premier Inn replaces the former Magistrates Court, the construction of the residential building fronting the river is well underway and the decision has been reached regarding the future of the former magistrates car park in Court Road. The development of 9 houses on the site of the former car park in Court Road was approved by the South Downs National Park Authority at their August committee meeting in Midhurst. The final decision notice was issued on 30 September 2016. This is a summary of the application:

SDNP/16/01618/FUL | Erection of 9 Residential Dwellings with adjoining outdoor space, car parking and associated works | Court Road Car Park Court Road Lewes East Sussex

 To see all of the application documents and drawings visit: and enter the above-mentioned application number. Here are some extracts from the design drawings (click to enlarge) .




Sussex Heritage Awards 2016

The Sussex Heritage Trust announced the winners of this year’s prestigious Sussex Heritage Trust Awards earlier this month (July 2016).  The ‘Rusty House’ in South Street Lewes was one of the winners in the Small Scale Residential category. See photo below. The building also featured on the Channel 4 Programme  Grand Designs. Click here to see the episode  Presenter Kevin McCloud meets the couple who build the house and asks “What will the neighbours think?” I can’t find many comments on the web but here is what The Times newspaper had to say:

A house of steel in Lewes?

For more information see the Sussex Heritage Trust web site





Comments on the Santon Planning Application

Objections by Vic Ient of Save Lewes Architecture to planning application SDNP/15/01146:

This opportunity to create something worthwhile for townspeople is an exciting one but it must be approached with an eye to what is genuinely needed and what will enhance both the town and the National Park in which it lies.

National Park Duties

I respectfully remind the National Park, as listed in the Act of 1949 of its purposes:

The Environment Act 1995 revised the original legislation and set out two statutory purposes for National Parks in England and Wales:

  1. Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.
  2. Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the Public.

When National Parks carry out these purposes they also have the duty to:

  • Seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Parks.

The words ….conserve and enhance cultural heritage… and together with …foster the economic and social well-being of local communities, particularly resonate.

The words …enhance the natural beauty… as well as Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment…. are especially relevant to the river frontage.

Public Consultation

This application includes literally hundreds of documents. Most members of the public have found it bewildering as to where they start even to understand the proposals, let alone comment on them.

Santon did carry out public consultations in the lead up to the application, which is to their credit; however, with the submission of the application itself there should have been a final exhibition and conference of the actual plans & details, so the developer could fully explain their proposals and give the public a chance to directly question the developer on particular aspects of their proposals. This application should not be proceeded with without that public exhibition and conference. The SDNPA should organise a public exhibition and conference now!

There is a perfect opportunity to do this in June & July 2015. I understand that the Lewes Neighbourhood Plan Group (set up by the Lewes Town Council) is to hold a Plan ‘Visioning Day’ on the 4th June and a 3 day ‘Forum’ between the 30th June and 1st and 2nd July! The Santon application could be on exhibition during these times.

I understand that Santon, LDC & SDNPA already have a project group. I suggest that this project group sets up a ‘reference group’ of all stakeholders, including the existing businesses which operate in the North Street area. This group can be consulted with, by not only holding meetings, but by electronic means (for speed & efficiency) by using up to date internet collaborative tools. This stakeholder group can then remain in existence thought the life of the project (including the implementation stage) helping to achieve a ‘best fit’ solution for all concerned.

Apart from the major issues, like the loss of employment on the site, there are the myriad of detailed design & site layout aspects which have not been tested against public opinion or with interested parties.

The National Park should separate out principles from details. At this stage the Park should only consider the principles of purpose, key planning issues and overall architecture. Details should be considered on an incremental basis at a later stage to allow people to understand them and comment on them.

I suspect that we will live to regret the day when so much detail is passed through unnoticed amid a mass of documents and drawings. Yes, plans are on the web, and yes, one can go and see the documents, but as one council official said to me “to really understand the documents you need to set aside at least two or three days to study them.”


What is desperately needed is genuinely affordable housing, ideally “social” housing, so that the District Council can reduce its very long housing waiting list. Does the plan provide for houses to rent as well as ‘affordable housing?’

Some 400 houses are proposed. It appears that 40% are to be ‘affordable.’ But how many are designated for rental? Any planning permission should be conditional on a significant provision of rented and affordable homes. Perhaps they all should be?

Is there not an opportunity to increase the number of dwellings in some parts of the development by increasing the density per hectare more akin to what exists in Lewes already? This might allow a more appropriate level of commercial development to be provided, whilst at the same time still delivering over 400 homes on the site.

Working Together – LDC + Santon + Phoenix Rising?

This application ignores the enormous potential of the developer and the local people as well as the Council working together as a team. There is still time for the national Park to bring together these organisations to work for the benefit of the town and all concerned.

There is enough division in politics and in society – here is an opportunity to shine a beacon of light and show how major planning applications should be handled, – by working together!

Architectural and artistic heritage

Lewes has a unique and varied architectural and artistic heritage and these must not be abandoned. The key historical buildings in this area should remain and be enhanced.

The plan offered suppresses the real industrial heritage of this town, and sweeps away usable buildings. I believe this application pays no regard to the industrial heritage of this town.

Demolition of the Phoenix Iron and Steel Works

My particular concern is with the plans to demolish the remaining buildings of the Phoenix Iron and Steel Works and the loss of workspace this involves.

The existing buildings could easily be renovated to be useful and attractive to the town and a destination for its visitors, something which few new build developments could achieve.

Pastiche ‘industrial’ buildings

The developer has designed in a ‘Chimney Building.’ This resembles nothing previously built here. It confuses the understanding of the history of the site.

Please refer to the archive of Edward Reeves, the photographers established around 1855 and still continuing, provides photographic evidence of the Works and also of the variety of products made there.

Lack of innovation towards zero carbon energy and environmental goals

Santon and LDC are disenfranchising the people of Lewes and the future occupants of this development from participating in a future zero carbon society.

The provision for electric car charging points is paltry. Where are the electric van charging points?

Renewable energy is offered as an ‘also-ran.’ The developer offers a traditional approach to the prime form of heating for the development using gas. Solar seems to be offered as an option as is the possibility of using the river for ‘district heating’. Is the mention of these renewable forms of heating, just to get a ‘tick in the box’?

Santon and the LDC have a golden opportunity to install a fully functioning zero carbon heating system. If it is not done now, it never will be. Santon is preventing Lewes from taking a real step into the future. Remember these houses and other buildings are going to be here for many decades. Build for the future, not the past!

Public Transport

There are hundreds of documents submitted by the developer and I may have missed one on public transport. However, the question must be asked:

Has consideration been given to providing bus services in the site? Is there a bus turning area? Where will the bus stops be?

Increased vehicular traffic in the town?

There are a large number of documents to plough through in this application and I may have missed one concerning traffic issues across the town. Before approving this application the National Park should be assured that this development will not simply just increase vehicular traffic through the existing narrow streets of the town.

The provision of a large number of car parking spaces must not act as a magnet to draw vehicular traffic through the town. The aspect of infrastructure integration with the rest of the town has not been thoroughly investigated.

The neighbourhood plan for Lewes is in its embryonic stage but it is clear from the discussions that have already taken place that the people of Lewes want to reduce the traffic through the town, not increase it!

Continuous riverside ‘green’ walkway?

It seems that a continuous walkway with a ‘green frontage’ to the river has not been fully included in the development. This is an opportunity missed. There are steps leading down to the river at one point, but what provision is there made for some form of quay for tying up boats (always taking account of the tide, of course) alongside part of the development?

Loss of Jobs

The proposed development sweeps away virtually all of the existing buildings and with it some 400 to 500 jobs.

Yes, we need housing, but we also need jobs. Is it really necessary to take such a Draconian step to allow this development to go ahead?

There is no satisfactory alternative proposed by Santon and thus the National Park should impose an incremental approach to this development such that the sites which employ people are integrated into the development on a gradual basis. Yes, for the building construction crews this would be more difficult, but for the livelihoods of people in this town it would be a godsend.


It seems that the Santon plan provides 8,500m2 of workspace on the North Street site providing:

6,029m2 for a Health Centre
1,256m2 for Business/retail
865m2 for cultural/creative space/restaurant
300m2 for double height workshops

Has someone got the whole thing wrong at Santon?

No doubt high rents will be charged for the commercial space, which will mean that the cultural/creative space will be out of reach for artisans and small businesses. Has someone left a zero off the allocation for workshops?

A survey commissioned by Santon themselves estimated that about 5,000m2 is currently being used by the ‘creative’ workshops alone! Lewes Phoenix Rising estimates that on the North Street Estate they are using a minimum of about 10,000m2.

The National Park should require that Santon revisit their provision of workspace for this site before any application is seriously considered.
The Pells play area

Currently this area is perfectly secure so that parents can sit and watch their children using the play equipment and the grassed areas safe in the knowledge that the area is enclosed and cannot easily get out of the site except via a clearly visable gateway.

However, the proposal by Santon seems to offer an opening up of public access way out of the site towards the river. Is this necessary?

“Rain gardens” & “Swales”

The developer proposes to include “rain gardens” as part of the ‘greening’ of the site. When I visited one of the exhibitions I asked the Santon representative to explain these. He said it was to prevent the rainwater from gushing into the river and contributing to flooding. That may be a laudable effort in order to prevent flooding, but at the same time, it might be creating ‘swamp’ like habitat close to houses which will only serve to breed insect such as mosquitoes. Some people are extremely allergic to mosquito bites and with the threat of malaria getting closer to these northern areas of Europe this type of provision should be avoided.

Detailed design

It seems that part of this development is already scheduled as a detailed application, even including street names!

The external finish of the houses should be the subject of a separate application so that important details are not lost in the rush to approve the overall development. For example, in the present application it seems as though the external finish includes prefabricated window frames which are certainly not compatible with the architectural heritage of the town!

SDNPA vote in favour of theatre-cultural centre

At last the planning application by the Lewes Repertory Theatre has been put before the members at yesterday’s (Thurs 12th Feb 2015) planning meeting in Midhurst. All except one member (Alun Alesbury abstained), voted in favour of the plan. There were supportive speeches from members Charles Peck, Neville Harrison & Barbara Holyome. Thanks to those members for supporting Lewes all along!

It may seem confusing to have the planning authority approve the demolition & hotel construction in December and in February be so supportive of retaining the building. I suggest asking the Director of Planning, Tim Slaney, to explain!

Here is what Vic Ient, of Save Lewes Architecture,  said to the committee:

“I’m here before you with a heavy heart. Although this application has the support of your officers and is the ideal purpose for the building, we all know that the hotel development has been passed. I am still puzzled at the enthusiastic support by your planning officers for this and why no objections were raised by East Sussex County Council highways or the police. It should never have been a matter of just architecture which you were unfortunately cornered into at the very first meeting back in December 2013. The development flew in the face of the concept of the National Park, the conservation area of Lewes and the wishes of the local people.

It is a very great pity that the members did not have the opportunity to review the theatre application alongside the hotel development in December. However, there may be a very slim chance for this cultural centre. It could be that the negotiations between the Ministry of Justice and the overseas offshore company do not conclude. Or that Whitbread’s decide they have enough Premier Inns all round the country. It would be wonderful to see a significant cultural and arts centre spring up from the ashes of this debacle.

The application is a perfect use for this redundant courthouse. Sustainability is key. Demolition will waste all the energy already used erecting the original building. Constructing the hotel will waste energy, materials and release more CO2 all over again. Far better than just paying lip service to the sustainability of a new building. The multi-faceted use would really benefit local people. There are provisions for playgroups, music, dance and theatre facilities as well as good quality employment and training in the production of radio, film, theatre and tv programmes. In comparison to the hotel, the theatre proposal would provide more than equivalent employment. Disabled and nondisabled would develop their long-term career skills with valuable career prospects and salaries.

It would enhance the vitality and viability of Lewes benefiting those who live in and visit the National Park immeasurably. Many organisations such as the Theatre Trust and the South Downs Society supported this application as did the Lewes Town Council. It is a pity their voices were disregarded by the members when passing the demolition and hotel development.

Please approve the plan and make the conditions specific to the retention of the existing building such that the D2 classification only applies to this type of use within the existing building”.

BBC Radio Sussex interview on the court site planning decision


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.


Thank you!

To:  All those who have campaigned over the development at the former magistrates court in Lewes and to those who have supported the Lewes Repertory Theatre including signing the petition and making donations, – THANK YOU!

Join us for an early evening get-together by way of a ‘Christmas Social’ on TONIGHT from 6:30 pm at the Westgate Chapel, in Lewes High Street. Wine, beer and soft drinks will be on sale. Entrance is free – it will just be an opportunity for us to thank you for your support and for everyone to have some Christmas cheer and to socialise!

Click here for directions etc

It has been a long hard road. Sadly we haven’t succeeded as you may have seen from the Sussex Express. It seems the developer and the officers of the National Park finally swayed the members at their meeting over in Midhurst on Thursday last week. There will be important things to keep track of once the demolition and construction project starts but for now let’s turn to the festive season…..

National Park ignore local residents – Lewes SHALL have a new hotel!

Well, it is all over, and we fear that Lewes will never be the same again. Lewes residents returned from a very frustrating hearing at Midhurst yesterday where the vote went in favour of Quora by 7 to 3.

Yet again, the officers of the South Downs National Park Authority recommended approval. Only three members of the public were allowed to speak for 3 mins each. The developer responded with their speaking slots. Then the chairman selected Tom Jones (also a Lewes District Councillor and ‘Lead Planning Member) to open the discussion.  He was in full support of this development and praised the architect for all his ‘improvements.’ He pointed out that, as Lewes already had a building like Waitrose just around the corner one more won’t make much difference as Lewes is full of different styles of building anyway!  He wasn’t concerned about the waste disposal situation from the demolition. Mr Jones seems to think it a perfect solution that all the waste from the demolished building will be taken up the High Street in small skip lorries makes the whole thing ok as far as he is concerned! Perhaps he wouldn’t say the same if it was in his village of Ditching! His most outrageous comment was to say there will be no parking problem because all the visitors to the hotel development can park in the North Street Quarter where there will be parking for 300 cars!!  Our comment: i) the North Street Quarter has not yet been agreed, let alone built,  and ii) it is a very long walk with all your suitcases from North Street to get to the Premier Inn.

Tom Jones’ talk seemed to set a precedent and others then followed suit like sheep and agreed – APART from three members, – Charles Peck and Neville Harrison spoke with passion and eloquence along with Barbara Holyome.  But, it was not enough and the vote went against us – the chairman also voted against us.

The case officer, Ransford Stewart, seemed very unsure of his facts – he referred to the Fitzroy Memorial Library as the Fitzroy Hospital?! Also he was unsure of how to pronounce ‘Lewes’! This was compounded by the fact that most of the members were not familiar with Lewes!

We feel that residents of Lewes have been let down by the Friends of Lewes and Lewes Conservation Area Advisory Group (CAAG) – they both supported this latest version of the plans!

So there it is – after a long battle it seems to be all over and we have to sit back and wait for Quora, Juice Architects, Premier Inn & Whitbread PLC to ruin (and run) our lovely old town.



Another revised application!

Here we go again! It seems the consortium of big business including, Whitbread plc, Premier Inn, Quora Developments and the officers at the SDNPA are determined that Lewes will have a massive new building including a large hotel and shops (and maybe bars & restaurants?) whether the people of Lewes want it or not.

Juice Architects & Quora have modified their plans slightly to overcome objections raised by the committee members of the SDNPA. These plans are now on the National Park website. Click here to review them and make your comments. This time we only have until 3 December to get our comments in.

The latest design looks like this:

massing view





Please note – this is the architect’s drawing. The brickwork is largly grey with a grey roof. The architect cleverly avoids showing a large scale drawing in context with the grade II Fitzroy Memorial Library which in fact is right next door.  It all seems similar to the one which the members rejected.

Quite apart from the design issues, and the oversized ‘massing’ of the building, ESCC Highways officers don’t seem to be concerned about the car parking problems that some 12 shops and a 59 bedroom hotel will cause. The developer is not buying the old magistrates court car park so there is no telling what is going to happen to that. Also ESCC have ignored concernes about the problems of HGV vehicles travelling to and from the site through our narrow streets to take away the masses of rubble that will be left after the demolition. Neither have they addressed concernes about the considerable number of HGVs which will be required to bring in the materials to build the new hotel. On top of this they can’t tell us about road closures! The developer’s plan shows the project taking 18 months. So we have to to face 18 months (or more?) of HGV traversing out narrow streets!

Lewes Community Opportunity

Local ImageAs many of you may know the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) went against officers’ recommendations to approve the hotel plan at their meeting on the 9th October.

Lewes residents made a good showing in the public gallery over in Midhurst and three Lewes residents spoke against the planning application pointing out the continued litany of misleading drawings and inappropriate design aspects. Members of the SDNPA went against the officers’ enthusiastic support for the Premier Inn design and referred it back to the developer thus giving them a further bite of the cherry at a later date.

In the run-up to this meeting the planning application for the Lewes Repertory Theatre’s (LRT) re-use of the existing building was withdrawn from the agenda by the SDNPA officers saying there were objections by the ESCC Highways Department and the Environmental Health Department of the Lewes District Council. As the SDNPA officers made a fuss about these two objections LRT are now having to employ a professional planning consultant and other specialists to ensure the ‘technical’ objections are satisfactorily answered. Once these have been dealt with the LRT application will be considered by the SDNPA.

The LRT objective in making this application is:

CommunityThe building will be publically owned as a public trust or by public share subscription with multiple tenants (LRT being only one of these) serving the community in Lewes and the surrounding area. LRT are hoping that the current owners, the Ministry of Justice will support this objective so that the proposed public organisation can be formed.




In the meantime please would you give the LRT campaign a boost by doing one or all of the following things?

  • PETITION: Many of you have already signed the petition, but if you haven’t please would you add your name to the list; – just click here to go to the petition page. You can check if you’ve already signed it by clicking here.
  • PLANNING: Many of you have already written into the SDNPA registering your support for the LRT application, but if you haven’t please would you do so by clicking here and following the links.
  • DONATE: LRT and it’s supporters have had to incur extra costs to get the planning application processed. This includes the planning application fee, the cost of architectural services and planning consultants to mention just a few items. The theatre company lost its premises in a fire earlier this year at the Phoenix Centre in Lewes. Now they are incurring costs to fight this planning battle. Can you help with a donation towards the costs? Just click here to go to the donation page of the LRT Supporters Group where you can make a contribution online or get the details to send a donation.

Thank you!

Planners from Midhurst forcing hotel plans on Lewes!

West ElevationDespite all the objections to the design, disruption and a whole host of other issues from the Lewes Town Council  local groups (including The Friends of Lewes & the South Downs Society) and the public, planners want to force Lewes to have a Premier Inn hotel

The planners are at it again! They are again recommending that the former magistrates court in Lewes should be demolished and hotel plus shops be built in its place. The design includes the use of a mass of grey-blue bricks together with steel and glass awnings. The National Park’s own Design Officer has come out against the design as have the vast majority of the Lewes people.

In December 2013, the previous dreadful design was recommended by the planners to the members of the SDNPA but the members agreed with the residents of Lewes that the design should be refused. Well, the developer and the planners are not prepared to take no for an answer and on Thursday 9th October, in a few days’ time, the members will have to decide on the revised planning application.

Lewes needs to make a good showing at the planning meeting in order to demonstrate the strength of feeling of local residents. Can you join us? Let us know if you can come over to Midhurst on Thursday 9th (we are car sharing and have laid mini-bus transport). There is no charge but a donation on the day would be great! Just fill in the contact form (click here) or phone Charlotte on 01273 473250. We will be leaving from Lewes Railway Station at 8.00 am and returning in the afternoon. We will arrive in Midhurst in time to get a coffee/tea before the meeting. It is likely the Magistrates’ Court item will be over by lunch time.

If you can’t come you can still write to the planning department to make a comment opposing the demolition & redevelopment by – coping this reference:  SDNP/14/01650/FUL  and paste it into the search box at the SDNPA web site by clicking here. If you have time please also contact the Planning Dept (click here) or better still write to the members of the planning committee. Click here for details of all SDNPA members.

Thanks you!

PS: there is a further Machiavellian twist to the sad story of the old magistrates court site. You may know that Lewes Repertory Theatre applied for planning permission in back in July to convert the court site into an arts and cultural centre. The National Park had decided that this application should be heard at the same time as the building demolition and construction of a Premier Inn application. Well just at the last minute officials at East Sussex County Council and Lewes District Council have found reasons for querying the application which means that a decision on this theatre application is going to be put off. It seems that the developer of the Premier Inn is being allowed a ‘clear field’ before the theatre application is brought to committee for decision. We are unsure of what this means but it’s clearly not very fair or democratic! Read more about this on the Lewes Repertory Theatre’s Supporters website (click here)