Tuesday, September 16, 2008


In recent years Lewes, like many towns around the country, has been plagued by a rash of unseemly and unsightly development projects which threaten to damage the fabric and nature of our small historic town. Small but vociferous protest groups grew up to challenge each of the major projects in turn but despite their best efforts, it seemed that the little could be done to challenge a planning system weighted towards development and a District Council that refused to acknowledge the important objections raised by the town's citizens.

The spark that started a much bigger protest movement within the town began when illustrator Jenny Mumford revived Glenda, a character loosely based on Private Eye's Glenda Slagg, who had been a figurehead of previous protests against development many years before. Jenny put up a big Glenda protest cartoon frame on the outside of her house and the Council threatened her with legal action unless she took it down. Within days and weeks, Glenda posters sprouted on windows, doors and walls throughout the town. See: Friends of Glenda

In fact, the Council backed down but it was too late to stop Glenda. She became the figurehead of a big protest march which had the effect of uniting all the disparate anti-development groups in the town. Since then, all the groups have formed a Lewes Coalition, who now meeet every month to compare information and discuss strategy and tactics. This has proved extremely effective and we now have tabs on every single development in Lewes and have managed to create a much broader awareness within the town about the scale and nature of the problem.

This was helped a lot by the publication of the New Battle of Lewes map (above) which showed people for the first time the scale and range of developments currently under consideration.

This fact has not escaped the attention of the authorities, who are beginning to realise that their every action is now under scrutiny. Also working in our favour is the economic downturn which looks set to scupper at least some of the grandiose schemes for more unsightly high-priced apartment developments.

What's happening in Lewes is a microcosm of the development picture throughout the South-East in particular and the rest of the country in general.

The issues concerned include: the loss of community buildings to commercial development; the failure of the planning system to protect the historic fabric of the town, which is designated a conservation area; allowing development on the flood plain, in a town that was severely damaged by flooding in October 2000.

One of the big focuses now is to ramp up the campaign to get Lewes included in the proposed South Downs National Park. This will automatically raise planning standards and require that any new developments meet much more stringent planning requirements.

One of the concerns amongst many about our District Council's planning system is that an increasing amopunt of planning descisions are being made, not by elected representatives who are, in principle, answerable to the electorate, but by planning officers. There have been many breaches in legal procedure which we are carefully documenting. There also appears to be a much too cosy relationship between the planners and developers.

We have also brought pressure to bear on our local civic society, the Friends of Lewes, who in their younger days were a vibrant and active force who prevented potentially catastrophic developments in the town but who in recent years have allowed projects to pass through without a murmur.

We are not against development per se. There are many things our town needs, not least affordable housing for young people and other facilities that would add value to the existing infrastructure. But part of the problem is that all planning applications are considered individually without reference to the broader picture of the evolution of the town as a whole.

The Council is currently meant to be preparing a proper overall Development Plan but their deliberations are moving at a snail's pace.

We believe that poor planning regimes flourish in the absence of active citizens, prepared to devote their unpaid time to opposing them.

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