OUR COUNCIL is being asked to look again at its attempt to provide affordable housing, and to explore options which would create increased provision across an entire district to assist those most in need.
The ruling anti-Conservative coalition at Lewes District Council is proposing to develop a derelict site in central Lewes but has been criticised for a change of tack which will result in fewer affordable homes and at a greatly increased cost of £300,000 more than previously agreed.
The criticism came from Conservative group leader Cllr Isabelle Linington at a meeting of the Policy and Performance Advisory Committee whose role is to scrutinise proposals and decisions by the council’s ruling Cabinet.
It had been previously agreed to redevelop Saxonbury House in Southover, Lewes to provide 12 new homes in a mix of low-cost, shared-ownership housing and half the apartments sold on the open market to generate funds for the local authority to create a range of affordable housing across the entire Lewes district.
The listed building in Juggs Lane, on a former Anglo-Saxon burial ground, at one time provided shelter for the homeless but has been empty since 2015. In an about-turn, the council’s ruling coalition now wants to abandon plans for any private-ownership homes on the site, reducing the income it will generate.
“We have a duty to spend public money wisely and for the benefit of as many as possible across the entire district”, said Cllr Linington. “It is clear that additional affordable housing for rent or shared ownership could be created, in several locations across the district, under the original scheme, and that must be the correct way forward.”
There have also been difficulties over appointing a contractor to undertake the building work because the council failed to attract competitive tenders to meet its own procurement procedures. The ruling Cabinet wants to abandon the normal process but this was also criticized by members of the scrutinising committee which has asked them to think again when the matter is discussed at their meeting on 11th June.
“There is time to re-tender on this landmark project”, Cllr Joe Miller (Conservative, Peacehaven West) told the committee. “The previous tender was issued well before the Covid outbreak and many construction companies are now eager to start new projects”, he added. “We might well find a builder who has exciting plans for the site which we’ve so far not considered.”
This week’s [11 June] meeting of the council’s ruling Cabinet will be asked to agree the recommendations approved at the Policy and Performance Advisory Committee which ask the Cabinet to review the recommendation for the new scheme against the financial case for the original scheme, or any alternative schemes, before making a decision while going back to tender for the project in accordance with the council’s approved procedures.
The Policy and Performance Advisory Committee was formerly called Scrutiny Committee. Its role is to scrutinise the council’s ruling Cabinet. It is chaired by Cllr Joe Miller.