The Courthouse, Friars Walk, Lewes: Friends of Lewes statement

The Friends of Lewes sent the following statement to the South Downs National Park Authority in July 2014 regarding the developer Quora’s revised plans for the former Magistrates Court in Lewes:

SDNP/14/01650/FUL   The Courthouse, Friars Walk

The Society has carefully considered the revised plans for this site. It maintains the view that the site is appropriate for a hotel and retail development and that the existing Magistrates Court building cannot be adapted for such use. It does not object to the principle of demolishing the former Magistrates’ Court provided it is replaced by a worthy successor, a really outstanding overall design which has been very well detailed and superbly executed.

The Society acknowledges that the applicant and their agents have engaged in discussions with it and incorporated some of the changes it proposed with respect to moving the northern elevation so that it is not so close to Fitzroy House, fenestration, roof ridge line and the façade. Its representatives have also been shown additional information which is not at present in the public domain.

However, given that this is a “full planning application” the level of detail provided on the SDNP web-site is woefully inadequate for one of the most important sites in the very centre of Lewes, surrounded by listed buildings. The current application documents provide insufficient detail to properly assess whether or not the proposal is of sufficient merit to justify the grant of planning permission and therefore the current scheme, as presented, should be refused.

Drawings to a scale of 1:200, with a few very general notes on materials, fall far short of what is required. Detailed drawings (1:50 scale and larger) of the various elevations with precise information on the materials are essential. Although the improvements to the relationship of the proposed building to Fitzroy House are welcome there are no long sections to explain this relationship in detail. Two sections are needed, one through Fitzroy House and the other through the access passage between Fitzroy House and Lloyds Bank.

In light of the fact that the National Park Authority’s Planning Committee unanimously refused the previous application for this site because the design, materials and massing would result in a building lacking in local character and distinctiveness that does not preserve or enhance the historic character and appearance of the Lewes Conservation Area or the landscape character of the National Park, the Society recommends that the application should either be refused, or deferred, to enable the applicant to supply further supporting material, including CGI aerial perspectives, external finishes and detailed sections as part of the formal planning application, that will show that these points have been addressed.

If the National Park Authority’s Planning Committee is minded to support the application before such material has been received and instead conditions are imposed on these detailed issues, the Society considers that the Authority would be putting itself in a weak position to ensure good quality whilst the outcome could be difficult to enforce.

On specific issues arising from the application documents on the website, the Society has the following points:-

1. One of the design changes has been to introduce pitched roofs in recognition of the “historic roofscape” of Lewes. Whilst this is welcomed, the very shallow pitch shown in the application drawings is an unsatisfactory and an alien feature in Lewes. It does not help to achieve the architect’s stated objective of “….creat(ing) a building that will fit well within Lewes….”.  Indeed, the shallow roof pitches on the adjacent High Street precinct development is one of its most unsatisfactory features.

2. The car park elevation seeks to reflect the character of the riverside warehouses and they should be the guide for an appropriate pitch for slate roofs. The asymmetrical roof pitch at the northern end of the Friars Walk elevation is particularly incongruous. The same pitch should be adopted for all roofs.

3. The Society considers additional car parking spaces for hotel customers should be provided as part of the scheme. This could be achieved by the applicant gaining control over the existing gated car park that has previously been associated with the Magistrates Court.


Friends of Lewes Society
July 2014

See also FoL’s previous comments on proposals for this site:

FoL Chairman’s speech and FoL press release, Dec 2013
Friends of Lewes response Oct 2013
FoL’s initial formal response of June 2013, and
FoL’s Comments on Quora’s proposals of April 2013


List of Friends of Lewes Society responses to consultations