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August 6 2015.

Rob Blackman, Leader of Lewes District Council, writes:

At times politicians need to make bold and difficult decisions, whether it is to tackle the debt and economy and return to prosperous times, or deal with the housing crisis head on.

In May 2012, LDC decided through its constitutional processes to go out to the open market with a list of sites and ask what could be done to secure much needed affordable homes for the District. That list of sites was known to all Councillors across the political spectrum including Cllr Saunders of the Liberal Democrats and that list always included Meeching Down and the Robinson Road waste depot.

I have worked very positively with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats throughout – from the inception of the idea to use our land to build new homes, to the procurement of the developer under the European Union tender process – as Cllr Saunders well knows. In fact, the former leader of the Lib Dem group Chris Bowers wrote to the Sussex Express on 29 May stating that the project has had cross-party support since April 2013.

Before signing the agreement, both I and the Leader of the Lib Dem group were briefed by the Council’s Chief Executive and Head of Legal, as required by Cabinet of the Council, which again Cllr Saunders as Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems knew. For Cllr Saunders to claim he has been left in the dark is nonsense.

We are at an early stage of the development of proposals for new homes and there is much consultation to do. We have listened to what many hundreds of people have said at events across Newhaven, Seaford, Lewes and East Chiltington and we can now develop designs which we will consult on again. I would ask Cllr Saunders and others not to write off the building of affordable homes before the final designs have even been seen.

At Meeching Down we have heard how important that green space is and we will develop designs for affordable homes which will ensure that at least 75% of the park remains, but much improved and more accessible, with greater conservation value. That is a win-win situation and I would sincerely hope Cllr Saunders will work with us to secure the best deal for Newhaven and residents of the district rather than playing a political game which does not serve anyone’s long term interests.

I am also shocked Cllr Saunders does not believe that a striking building replacing the waste depot at Robinson Road, with commercial space on the ground floor for new businesses, designed by internationally renowned architects, just across from the UTC, would not have substantial regenerative benefits to Newhaven. This will attract more investment, including businesses serving residents, and create employment. Is he against that too?

We need more affordable homes for local families and we are only using land owned by LDC to build on, which means that we have to make some tough choices, although we will try wherever we can to mitigate the loss of existing car parking and other facilities. We are already undertaking parking and traffic studies in Seaford and Peacehaven, so we can ensure enough parking spaces as well as new homes.

If we are to achieve this goal of building high quality, affordable homes for local people councillors need to work together, have the courage of their convictions and not run away from difficult decisions.