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”.

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