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August 6 2015

The LDC Leader's reply hasn't calmed things down. And UKIP joins the fun. And the Leader isn't finished. Or is he....?

We are building 165 council homes for local people and that is a good thing, so I would welcome working with you all to get it right for our residents.

Cllr Rob Blackman
Leader of Lewes District Council


I wish to start by saying I am ‘shocked’ with what is going on between Cllr Saunders and Cllr Blackman! I have been reading their points scoring match. They are calling in each others integrity.

There are questions that the electorate need answered with clarity. I therefore openly ask this of all those that have put in their two penneth worth so far.

The lib dems at LDC now admit they were aware of the 49 sites from the start. Has Cllr Blackman forced their hand? Cllr Saunders states ‘I and my colleagues had assumed it was the garages that were under consideration’. Everyone knows not to make assumptions. So it strikes me as very odd that not one lib dem councillor asked the tory administration to clarify the situation. Was this a grave error of judgement?

Taking into account that the lib dems knew about Meeching Down being on the list; this brings into question the recent petition that Cllr Saunders handed in at full council in Lewes. As this was ‘advertised’ as a lib dem petition, are we starting to see smoke and mirrors? Or was this a feeble publicity stunt to get public support before the truth came out?

I also attended the ‘consultation’ at the Hillcrest Centre organised by the tory administration.
The council employees were rather difficult to spot seeing as none of them were wearing ID badges. Why was this? This event was a fiasco! Commonsense would indicate lessons learnt after the Peacehaven circus previously held.

As to the awarding of the contract, was this carried out 100% in accordance with statue? How many companies went for the contract? What were the reasons that an alternative contractor(s) failed to win the contract?

Was it cabinet or the developer who chose what housing went on what site? Why hasn’t the affordable housing been distributed to all areas?

Like many, I am perplexed at whom to trust or believe. However, I can categorically state that as your local UKIP town councillor I am wholeheartedly against development on Meeching Down for reasons too long to list.

Cllr Laurence Pulling
Newhaven Town Council



What a surprise! Councillor Blackman has responded like a naughty child having been being caught out stealing the sweets, but trying to blame others to desperately try and deflect attention away from his wrong-doings.

I can assure Haven News readers that I had no indication of the proposals we are now faced with, save for a list that was proposed in Cabinet Papers in 2012. This was described as a number of under-used sites, including blocks of garages around the District. There were no plans attached showing the extent of these sites and no details of what was proposed where. With a garage block adjacent to the Meeching Down site at Newhaven and the site itself being regarded as one of special natural interest, I and my colleagues had assumed it was the garages that were under consideration.
No plans were ever forthcoming and it wasn't until after the last election that the horror of he and his Cabinet's plans were laid bare.

If I can be accused of anything myself, it is that I wrongly assumed that the Tory Council would not consider making the mistake of taking away a valuable area of recreation and open space in Newhaven only a couple of years after being left with so much egg on their faces over the Water Park debacle.

I pride myself on being able to read people's intentions and therefore trust them when they say they act in the best interests of the people that they represent, but Cllr. Blackman and his loyal entourage have made me lose much of my faith in human nature. He dangles carrots in his reply, of improvement to what he deigns to leave the people of Newhaven when he and his developer friends have finished building on land filled with wildlife and that local people so enjoy. He doesn't explain how the loss of thriving businesses in Robinson Road will continue after being forced out and having nowhere to go, as his Conservative majority Planning Committee have agreed to reallocate commercial land elsewhere into even more housing.

He offers no solutions either, over traffic, health and education infrastructure in the town. He just wants to sell off the council's silver and to hell with what the residents want. It's 'his way or none at all',  is the message that rings loudest. 

Having not consulted with the people before naively signing us up to a one-sided contract is proof enough of his intentions.

Steve Saunders
Newhaven Valley Town and District Councillor


Cllr. Blackman and I have not worked "Positively" together. His arrogance and incompetence has made that impossible. In fact very shortly after I took over the Leadership of the Lib Dems from Cllr. Chris Bowers, I called for an investigation into the conduct of Rob Blackman over his dealings with possible development opportunities at the Con Club in Seaford. The resulting independent report was critical of Cllr. Rob Blackman's involvement saying: "the close personal involvement of Councillor Blackman has made it difficult for officers to exercise effective judgement." It continues: "Emails and contacts between Councillor Blackman and officers, could be construed as appearing to place pressure on officers to progress an initiative with the club." and "by not having discussions about possible opportunities at the Club site, Councillor Blackman placed himself at risk that assertions of improper conduct could be made".

It seems to me that Rob Blackman has not learnt from his mistakes. On the 15th of July he attended a meeting of Seaford Town and District Councillors to discuss the proposed development of the Buckle car park and again appears to have given information that is not accurate and officers are now trying to rectify this by putting more information on the LDC website. 

Likewise his letter could lead to misunderstandings, so here are the facts:

The 49 sites deal was brought to Lewes District Council’s Conservative Cabinet. The Lib Dems have no seats on Cabinet and no power to overturn any decision made by them. The original report referred to in Cllr. Blackman's letter (May 2012) was an open report. However, officers advised that the list of sites be kept confidential on the basis that it was commercially sensitive at that stage and was simply a list of possible sites which merited further investigation. No detailed consideration or discussion at that time had been undertaken with prospective development partners, as to the development viability of the sites, so Cabinet agreed that it would be premature to release the list at that stage. 

The Lib Dems at that stage did not object, as it was just to consider how best to utilise LDC's assets.
However, the Liberal Democrat group remained extremely concerned at the lack of transparency around the process both at district and town level and I challenged for the Leadership of Lewes District Council twice, in an attempt to end this behind closed doors way of conducting business. Unfortunately the 2 UKIP Councillors and the Independent Cllr. Ruth O Keeffe, chose to keep Rob Blackman in power.

Then in September 2014 Rob Blackman and the  Conservative Cabinet decided to authorise the Chief Executive to conclude negotiations and award the contract (of the so called 49 sites deal). Although I was to be consulted as Leader of the opposition, this in effect means being briefed as to what is going to happen, but have no power to stop it.

Following the election I was briefed as to the final list of sites for proposed developments the day before the list was published.

Cllr. Sarah Osbourne
Leader of the Lewes District Lib Dem Group



Lets be fair, in principle,  its hard to disagree with LDC trying to find its way out of its dire economic situation by selling off pieces of land that are not used - particularly brown field sites.  Its similarly difficult to disagree with the necessity of having more housing with affordable units included. The point is, what is going on with some of these “49” sites that have been identified and why. 

LDC “acquired” many sites in the local government re-organisation in 1974. Many of these were green spaces and playing fields and the argument ran that economies of scale made it cheaper to maintain many sites than individual ones here and there. Since then many town councils, Newhaven among them, have sought to take back control of some of these.  Some in Newhaven have been “under negotiation” for at least the time I was a councillor.  Indeed, one leading Conservative suggested to me that these would be expedited now that they were in charge …and that was 4 years ago. 

In the last couple of years LDC’s Conservative administration has decided that devolving assets wasn’t going fast enough, so they would charge towns like Newhaven and Lewes “special expenses”. It seems to me that they are taxing us for their own failure to devolve assets. The blockage isn’t at the town end. Now they want to sell off things instead. After their first failed attempt to sell off Lewes Road Rec to build a water park, they are now going for every other green space to build houses on.

It doesn’t matter if it is designed by some award winning architect if it's not fit for purpose. Anyone suggesting that a flat doesn’t need a parking space is simply not living in the real world. Oh yes, planning guidance may suggest that it's not necessary for every flat to have its own space, but the reality is that most people have vehicles. Just walk down Elphick Road or any number of other streets in Newhaven after 7pm and see how many parking spaces you can find. If Robinson Road site doesn’t have enough spaces then they will no doubt add to the pressure on space in the surrounding streets. 

How about Meeching Down? “…at least 75% of the park remains…” according to Rob Blackman. So next time it will be 75% of that space and so on. Rob seems to be ignoring the fact that no houses mean 100% of it remains. I dare say the fact that land is outside the planning boundary and, in effect, would constitute “new building in the countryside” can be simply got around by the excuse that they don’t have a 5 year housing supply. In other words, doesn’t matter where you live in Lewes District, any bit of green space is fair game. 

Many planning applications for housing developments that have been passed while I was on the planning committee at LDC (in the last 8 years) have included green space for play areas and amenity. It seems like we are now moving towards a situation where those spaces can now be considered for infilling by more houses.  The industrial revolution created a situation where people simply built row upon row of houses. In the 1960’s we started to characterise them as slums and ghettos. We thought they were a “bad thing”. We wanted to be able to breathe again. We built places with more green space; left areas untouched and designated areas as “green gaps”.  Now these ideals are being trampled on for the sake of “tackling debt” and “dealing with the housing crisis”. Or put another way, to allow LDC to be socially irresponsible with the built environment. 

So far, the “consultations” do not seem to be going well. There seems to be a lack of knowledge about the specific plans and/or complete indifference bordering on arrogance by representatives of the developer. Newhaven residents have become accustomed to this. They’ve seen an incinerator built against overwhelming opposition; they saw a recreation park sold off without any consultation before the event; they’ve seen their sandy beach(es) taken away by people who just don’t want to listen.  

The difficult decisions will be around the question; “Do you want to further the aims of LDC or do you want to take notice of the local residents/people who elected you?”

Rod Main