August 13 2012.
Jo Pettitt, the organiser of the recent Newhaven residents meeting concerning the sale of the Lewes Road Rec gives Haven News an update:
It's been a busy couple of weeks since the very successful residents' meeting at Lewes Road Hut. It was great to see so many people there, but unfortunate that it was so packed that many couldn't get in, or found it difficult to hear at the back. Despite the large numbers, it was a very orderly and productive meeting with only one 'heated' moment.
For those who were unable to come or to hear, the meeting gave local people an opportunity to give their views about the recent sale by Lewes District Council of the Lewes Road recreation field and adjoining land, an area of 8.93 hectares, (which is about the size of Denton Island), for £84,000. The land was sold at the end of June to Kuwaiti European Holding Company or KEH, the developers being Round Table Entertainments, a new company that the investors have set up to project manage their plans for Newhaven.
I organised the meeting as I felt local residents had been denied a meaningful opportunity to have their views heard about the sale before it went ahead. After my introduction, Valley Ward District Councillors Steve Saunders and Julie Carr shared information from their perspectives, before Norman Baker MP briefly spoke. Local residents were then able to give their opinions, raise concerns and ask questions. The Leader of Lewes District Council (LDC) Cllr. James Page was expected to attend the meeting to answer questions but unfortunately cancelled shortly beforehand.
Whilst a very small minority welcomed a hotel development on the site as part of a huge investment in the town, the vast majority of people at the meeting felt concerned about the way the sale had been carried out and mourned the potential loss of yet another of Newhaven's open spaces. A few of the key concerns voiced in the meeting were:
- That public notices prior to the sale were inadequate and misleading. In the 14 day consultation period before the sale, the council received over 100 objections from local residents which were seemingly ignored.
- That the sale was carried out by the Leader of LDC, Cllr. James Page without even a committee meeting. Norman Baker expressed his concern at the 'Unconstitutional' and 'Undemocratic' process used to force through the sale using this 'Strong Leadership' model of governance and explained that this provision was introduced into the Lewes DC constitution for more extreme emergency decisions, rather than a commercial transaction such as this. Norman Baker stated that he intended following developments closely and would continue to make representations at senior level.
- That Lewes District Councillors for Valley Ward were not notified of the proposed sale. Cllr Carr pointed out that this was in contravention of Lewes District Council's constitution: (6.2 Officers have a duty to keep councillors informed about issues which may be of particular interest to Ward Councillors and should not rely simply on reporting items to Committees. Officers should particularly bear in mind the importance of ensuring Ward Councillors and Chairs are given early notice of something which is likely to be reported in the media imminently and in which they will probably have an interest. Officers should try to avoid the situation where the first that councillors know of a problem is when they are approached by the media for comment).
- That the land appears to have been sold without being placed on the open market and for only £84,000, when Lewes DC's constitution states that they have a duty to ensure they obtain maximum market rates for all land sales. Many were concerned that no option was given for other interested parties (including local residents) to bid for it, as previously done for Baxter's Field in Lewes.
- That the sale contravened existing policy for the area in the Lewes District Council Local Plan, in particular site specific policy NH18, which was reviewed, saved and accepted by the Secretary of State: ("Land at Lewes Road, as defined on Inset Map No 2, is allocated for comprehensive development for a mixture of uses comprising: a) A seasonal touring caravan and camping site of up to 100 pitches, on land in the north-western corner of the site b) Recreational facilities, including two football pitches, a cricket square, four tennis courts and a pavilion; a children's playground; a kick-about area; and an informal natural park, all on the former raised tip and land to the south of it c) Areas throughout the site (but particularly in the area north of the raised tip) to be managed for their ecological interest, including interpretive/educational facilities d) A well screened public car park e) Retention and planting of belts and groups of indigenous trees and shrubs along the northern and western boundaries of the site and within it.")
- That the Recreation Ground site might have been secured by the developer to allow them access to the land north of the site owned by East Sussex County Council up to the existing South Downs National Park boundary.
- That there is no suitable area locally for provision of an alternative site of equivalent community benefit.
- That any potential development will have a huge negative impact on the skyline, the volume of traffic on the C7, the wildlife on the site and the quality of life of those who regularly enjoy using the land or looking upon it.
- That a hotel development is unsuitable for this area and any planning application should be opposed.
Since the meeting, I have been busy collating written comments and outstanding questions from those who attended. They have been sent to Cllr. Page and copied to everyone who supplied their e-mail address. I'm eagerly awaiting a response from Cllr. Page and will post an update onto the Facebook page: 'Lewes Road Recreation Ground - Residents' Voice' as soon as I receive one. I've also spoken to Cllrs Steve Saunders and Julie Carr and am confident that they and others are doing everything they can to speak up for Newhaven residents at LDC as well as working to prevent unconstitutional decisions being made in the future. I look forward to an update from them and from Norman Baker MP at the next public meeting which Julie Carr suggested might be held at the Hillcrest Centre.
In the meantime though, Lewes Road recreation field and its adjoining land remain sold and its future is unknown to us residents. A drip-feed of information in the local press has revealed Round Table Entertainments' interest in eight or more sites in the town for possible development of the 'world's largest indoor waterpark' with 'Eden Project' style dome. Norman Baker stated in the meeting that the developments, if they came to fruition, would change the face of the town.
Those 'in the know' are apparently gagged by a four month confidentiality agreement imposed by the developers, Roundtable Entertainments. Where information is absent however, rumour is rife and whilst some seem desperate to embrace the advances of any private investor in Newhaven, others are cautiously waiting to find out why they're being kept in the dark. In my opinion, if the news was good for Newhaven and its residents, there'd be nothing to hide. I have e-mailed LDC this week citing the Freedom of Information Act 2000 with a request that they share what's known to them about Round Table's intentions. I believe it's in the interest of the public who live and work here to know what's being planned for their town. I'll share the response as soon as I receive it.
Like many who attended the meeting, I am not adverse to change, but I do think it's important that the town's residents are properly informed, consulted and listened to every step of the way, as matters now proceed. It is not right that we should be stage-managed by individuals at LDC who do not even live in the town.