Canon O’Donnell Hall, Western Road, Lewes

Originally used as a hall by firstly the local C of E church and more recently by the Catholic church it has hosted many community functions down the years, there are few Lewes children who will not have gone there at some point.

After decades of use, it was sold to a property developer  who closed the building and it fell into disrepair. In 2009 a planning application was made to demolish it and turn it into flats. This was opposed and turned down

At this point, strong opinions were expressed in the local paper and on-line:

“English Heritage have acknowledged the merit of this significant building, and just because it isn’t listed now, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be. The dereliction the owner has allowed makes it hard to imagine how fine it should look, and it is a very well thought out, and cleverly designed structure in a tricky space. Just look at the unusual lines of the roof line when driving past from the prison. It is very modern indeed.”

“It is an example of an Arts and Crafts building – rare in Lewes – and it sits well on a difficult site without dominating: unlike the proposed, brash new flats. The varying roof line along Western Road  is, I think, irreplaceable; apart from the obvious community issues it is part of the streetscape and its history.”

In 2011, another application was made for demolition and the building of fewer flats. Friends of Lewes objected and this article appeared in the local paper:

Friends of Lewes object to Hall plans

The Friends of Lewes have objected to Lewes District Council about recently re-submitted, significantly revised plans for the redevelopment of Canon O’Donnell Hall on Western Road. Once gain these were turned down by the District Council who, following the establishment of the South Downs National Park Authority, were acting on their behalf in determining the application.

The Friends would accept redevelopment of the site if it is to a really high standard of design, and it isn’t possible to find a use for the existing building.  Their concerns about current plans for this key wedge-shaped site on Western Road include the following:

  • The changes to earlier proposals are so great that a fresh application, allowing more comment, would have been more appropriate than an amendment.
  • Insufficient consideration has been given to the alternative of repair and refurbishment.
  • The drawings and visualisations are inadequate for such an important site.
  • The design now proposed is out of character with its surroundings, with fussy details and too wide a range of materials. Some key elements of detail  (e.g.: rainwater pipes and refuse storage) are missing.
  • The proposals for car-parking are likely to prove inadequate and will lead to the loss of two on-street parking spaces.

Documents show more than three years of design development and on-going consultation with both Lewes District Council and East Sussex County Council as Highway Authority.  The Friends of Lewes say  “It is very disappointingthat an adequate solution has not been achieved in this time. However, the South Downs National Park Authority, as the planning authority say they will consider the preparation of a planning brief which would be based on retaining the existing building.