I heard on the grapevine that the North Street area of Lewes has been sold to a foreign buyer (subject to contract). Its previous owner, Anglo-Irish Bank, who had loaned a ridiculous sum to Charles Style of Angel Properties to develop it, had repossessed it when Angel Properties went into admin. The Anglo-Irish Bank, which was heavily over-extended, in turn, went bust and was nationalised a couple of years ago so the land was until recently being held by the Irish government.
News of its new ownership must come as a blow to the Lewes Community Land Trust,
which had created a consortium of social developers including Guinness
Trust, to bid for the land. Their bid, however, was conditional and was
probably underbid by an unconditional offer, which the Irish Government
had been requiring.
What upsets me is that someone can simply buy a piece of land that’s
essential to a town’s infrastructure, and then attempt to make money out
of it, with little reference to the people who live and work there,
this history, the culture, such as we saw with Charles Style’s bizarre
Phoenix Quarter – brilliantly subdued by Lewes Matters five years ago.
At the moment, North Street is experiencing a small renaissance, with
individuals and small groups of people renting the warehouses to make
goods and run services. It’s probably quite a significant source of
self-employment and employment in the town, precisely because there are
no corporate logos to be seen, but under-valued as a result. The myth
still prevails in town planning that large employers are the biggest
source of revenue for a town, when the opposite is often true.
Is the 22-acre land being landbanked as part of a wealthy foreigner’s
property portfolio with the tenants in long-term uncertainty and unable
to invest in infrastructure? Or will Lewes residents once again be faced
with staving off someone else’s self-wealth-creating ‘vision for North
St’? We shall see. I look forward to a future where once again Lewes is run by and for local people, looking after each other in the complex web of interconnectedness that creates real abundance and resilience.