The prospective redevelopment of the North Street and Phoenix
Industrial Estate area of Lewes has fuelled heated debate well before
any formal planning application has been put forward. But with a site
slap bang in the middle of a National Park, it also offers a golden
opportunity to nurture a development that leads the way in
environmental, economic and energy resilience.

The site cost
developers Santon over £5 million. With clean-up and flood defence works
rumoured (Santon can’t confirm costs) to come out at many times more
than this, the imperative to deliver a plan that will simply to maximise
commercial return on the site looks depressingly high.

Planning
of the site will be determined in part by the Core Strategy – the local
government document that sets out a vision for the town and wider
district development over the next 20 years. Public consultation on the
core strategy ended on 22 March. It’s therefore incumbent on the
District Council as well as the site’s developer, Santon, to ensure that
any development truly reflects the town’s wants and needs in social,
environmental and economic terms.

Here’s a Transition Town Lewes  ‘wishlist’ for the site:

Community & business
The
North Street site has proven to be of considerable value to the
community for many years. It has been home to a wealth of arts, youth
and community projects, which attract 5,000 visitors a month, as well as
being a seedbed for young enterprise and industries. These initiatives
have been essential to fostering livelihoods and the independent spirit
and creativity that Lewes is known for.

Any new development needs
to make clear provision to foster and protect this community unless we
want the town to lose its unique character.

Innovative flood resilience
The
area needs to be made resilient in the event of flooding in a way
that’s not prohibitively expensive (which forces up the profit
imperative),  or makes other parts of town more vulnerable.  At a Lewes
Town Planning meeting in February, Santon acknowledged the need to look
at flood resilience in more creative ways than simply ‘building a big
wall’. There is a real opportunity here to explore pioneering solutions
that could improve flood risk reduction for the whole of Lewes.

Affordable housing
The
Lewes District Plan requires developers to provide a minimum of 40%
affordable housing, and Santon has reported that public demand has been
very strong in its first consultations. The focus now needs to be on
interpretation with social rented housing, shared equity and first-time
buyer housing included in the mix.

Energy innovation
Rising
energy prices alone should be a massive commercial incentive to create a
development that’s both energy-efficient and energy-resilient. Measures
should include
•    Zero-carbon buildings  – ideally built to passive house standards
•    Designing and orienting buildings to maximise passive solar gain
•    District heating using renewable sources such as solar
•    Harvesting and re-use of waste water and run-off

The
opportunity to establish renewable power generation across the whole
site is very real and very exciting. Santon is talking to Lewes’
community-owned power company OVESCO and has indicated it is interested
in properly incorporating energy efficiency into building design, not
retrofitting ‘eco-bling’. So, we look forward to what Santon presents at
its next round of public workshops in the summer with interest.

Biodiversity
Incorporating
natural open spaces and wildlife into a commercial development have
repeatedly been shown to deliver benefits in terms of health, lower
crime, and greater well-being. Indigenous wildlife planting would
encourage birds and insects. In Lewes’ case, minimising the amount of
hard paving will also contribute to flood resilience.

Transport
One
of the proposals Santon has been most keen to use to sell the
development to local people is the prospect to create more car-parking
space – a measure that is simply like to attract yet more traffic volume
into our already overburdened roads. If this development truly wants to
be future-proof then it needs to consider how people will get around
once oil consumption is seriously curtailed. We would like to see
solar-powered electric charging points, cycle routes and cycle storage,
low-carbon public transport and community car clubs given preference.

The
best communities are those that are able to develop democratically and
organically. With intelligent, sensitive design, the North Street area
could be beacon of community-led planning that looks to the social
return on investment, not just the commercial benefit. It’s a chance –
and an incentive – to do things differently.

What would you like to see happen to the North Street development? Let us know your views– or come to our next TTL Social to discuss.