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A27 Dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate

Maria Caulfield MP, Chairman of the A27 Reference Group, has announced that a business case to dual the A27 is ready to go before Government Ministers.

The Friends of the South Downs have expressed their concerns about the proposal to put a motorway-style road in between Lewes and Polegate near Eastbourne as it will destroy the beautiful countryside and be visible from the South Downs and the South Downs National Park.

It will be a scar across the countryside whether you’re standing on Mount Caburn near Lewes or whether you are on Firle Beacon on the South Downs.

Spending an estimated £450 million, at more than £50M/mile is a huge amount of tax payers’ money to allow people to drive a bit faster over the 9 or 10 mile stretch of road. This stretch of road is often slow, due mainly to the single lane traffic. READ MORE…

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National park Friends group welcomes rethink on A27 Lewes to Polegate

On 26 September Highways England announced its proposals for improvements to the A27 east of Lewes, having consulted last autumn on various bypass and junction options. The Society has issued a press release welcoming the announcement, text below.


National park Friends group welcomes rethink on A27 Lewes to Polegate

The South Downs Society has broadly welcomed the latest proposals for the A27 between Lewes and Polegate.

Highways England, responsible for managing and improving the trunk road network, has announced measures to reduce congestion and accidents following public consultation last autumn. Junction improvements at Polegate, Wilmington and Drusilla’s roundabout are included in the announcement but controversial plans for a Selmeston bypass through the South Downs National Park have been dropped.

Says South Downs Society chairman David Sawyer, “The options for Selmeston would all have been very destructive to the national park for no tangible benefit so we’re delighted that scheme has been abandoned. The measures to improve safety at the difficult Wilmington crossing look like a good attempt to solve an awkward problem and we’re particularly pleased to see the emphasis on extending the cycle and pedestrian route alongside the main road. That will help more people enjoy the very special qualities of our treasured landscape without destroying it.”

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Society’s support for the Lewes neighbourhood plan

After submitting our comments on the draft neighbourhood plan for the town of Lewes, we have written to local press as follows:


The South Downs Society warmly welcomes the Lewes neighbourhood plan recently out for consultation. The town council and the plan team are to be congratulated in so clearly identifying what makes Lewes “Lewes” and coming up with a set of draft policies — all of which we endorse — aimed at conserving and enhancing those special qualities while producing  what appear practical proposals for the town’s economic and social vitality and its need for genuinely affordable housing.

As the “Friends” group for the national park the Society has a particular interest in its biggest town and the role it plays as historic and architectural jewel, focus for creativity and nonconformism, key service centre and destination for tourists and visitors.

We have reservations about one or two of the proposed sites for new housing, required to meet demanding government targets and genuine local need, but the plan team have worked well to identify “brownfield” sites already or previously built on and protect the open downland around the town from development. They should be supported.

Some of the sites put forward for new dwellings are currently in use for car parking. While we wholeheartedly back the plan principle that cars should not take priority in the town over walkers and cyclists, there will need to be provision for parking in the right areas and we note the intention in the plan to adopt a comprehensive, rationalised approach,

The neighbourhood plan has a number of hoops still to be negotiated but this Society feels that a significant and positive step has been taken.

Steve Ankers, South Downs Society and Lewes resident.

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The Society’s response to the Lewes neighbourhood plan

The Society has submitted comments on the draft neighbourhood plan for the town of Lewes as follows:

Lewes Neighbourhood Plan

These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park.

The Society regards the neighbourhood planning process as a key element in setting the statutory planning framework for future decision making. With Lewes being the largest settlement in the national park, a coherent neighbourhood plan is essential for the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of this part of the national park.

The Society recognises the considerable work that has gone into the preparation of the draft plan, and the efforts made to engage the public in and around the town in the process. The key document produced is attractive and accessible and the Town Council and the plan steering group are to be congratulated.

Plan summary

We welcome the emphasis in this brief summary on low-cost housing, green spaces and the natural environment around the town.

Introductory remarks and vision statement

These are a welcome identification of what makes Lewes “Lewes” – its history, geography, built heritage, creativity and non-conformity. It is right that these characteristics of the town should run through what follows. We endorse the vision statement and supporting text and note in particular such phrases as:

“acknowledging the part that the historic and environmental setting of Lewes has played in shaping our town”

“brownfield sites should be developed to avoid greenfield development especially on downland.”

“wide range of housing and work space options”

“resilient to the effects of local and national climate change”

“improvement of access to the town, particularly for pedestrians in the central area, and the development of routes for walking, cycling and public transport to service outlying areas and to connect with the town centre”


The Society welcomes the concept of “Lewes low cost housing” (p.27) and the contribution it can make to providing new housing that is genuinely affordable for Lewes people.

Plan policies

The Society supports all of the draft policies as being appropriate for the special circumstances that obtain in the town. We will not list them here: they seem well thought through and reflect the special qualities of the town “going forward”.

We note with approval draft policy PL2 Architecture and design and the comment (p.84):

“Lewes has a unique position in the South Downs National Park because of its attractive Medieval and Georgian central area and largely unaltered Victorian and Edwardian residential streets. New designs need to take heed of the reason why Lewes was included in the South Downs National Park”

And we note with interest draft policy HC2 (p.42) and its proposal to reconsider the use of the Phoenix iron foundry within the North Street development. As this Society sought consideration of the retention of this element of the Phoenix site in its response to the planning application for North Street, we would support this policy.

We note (p.54) that “during the plan period, Lewes can meet its housing needs within the settlement boundary without recourse to greenfield sites beyond”.

Two key questions arise from this welcome statement:

  • Can sufficient sites be developed from those possibilities outlined in the draft plan to meet the target of 220 dwellings? If some prove undeliverable on practical or physical grounds or as a result of valid objections, will the above statement of intent hold good? This Society regards that intention as imperative.
  • Is the 220 target likely to be affected by current legal uncertainty over proposals elsewhere, in particular at Old Malling Farm? Again, it is imperative for the integrity of the neighbourhood planning process that all of the good work carried out to date is not rendered irrelevant by decisions made elsewhere.


Allocated housing sites

This exercise appears to have been carried out with skill and sensitivity. We have studied not only those sites allocated but also those considered and discounted. While other organisations and individual respondents may present valid concerns about specific sites, this Society finds little on which to express concern in terms of meeting national park purposes.

We do however raise a strong query about the Spring Barn Farm site (PL1 50) which would constitute an unwelcome development almost in open countryside and an unhappy incentive to farms and other rural businesses to erect non-residential buildings with the prospect of securing residential value at a later stage.

We also note that a number of sites allocated for housing are currently used for car parking. If these are lost as parking spaces, there will need to be a compensatory and comprehensive approach adopted across the town to rationalise provision. This appears to be recognised in draft policy AM3.


Appendix 5: Key views to be protected

This is a welcome appendix to the plan and we are very pleased to see the iconic views identified.

Appendix 6: Contributing organisations

A useful list but could we please be given our correct title of South Downs Society?




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A27 East of Lewes

Highways England, responsible for improving and maintaining the trunk road network, have been consulting on a range of possible schemes aimed at speeding up journey times and reducing accidents on the A27 between Lewes and Polegate. Here is a link to the consultation “paperwork”:

….and here is the Society’s response:

A27 East of Lewes improvement scheme

Comments of the South Downs Society

The South Downs Society has nearly 2,000 members and is the recognised national park society for the South Downs National Park. Its focus is the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of the park and their quiet enjoyment. Our comments will reflect this focus.

Rationale for the scheme and general comments

The objectives of the scheme as outlined in the consultation are to:

  1. Improve journey time and reliability
  2. Support walking, cycling and other non-car travel
  3. Improve safety
  4. Reduce community severance
  5. Minimise environmental impact
  6. Respect the special qualities of the national park


  1. Improve journey time: No information is supplied to indicate the scale or nature of journey time as an issue, other than to refer to “below average journey times”, which is presumably an error in presentation. We note that the greatest predicted shortening of journey time for any of the schemes presented appears to be a maximum of 90 seconds in the case of Drusillas roundabout and one of the Polegate options, with 30 or 60 seconds more common. While acknowledging that the benefit of any reduction in journey times for large volumes of traffic will add up, we question the overall value being attributed to this scheme benefit. It would also be helpful to know how journey time reliability compares with dualled stretches of the same road nearby. We are aware from personal experience of major holdups on the dualled Brighton bypass immediately to the west, less so on the single carriageway stretch now under consideration.

We would also query the potential impact of additional or “induced” traffic likely to be generated by any scheme and the extent to which this has been factored into the scheme evaluation process. We have previously requested, and been promised, in relation to A27 schemes at Arundel and Worthing/Lancing, the outcomes of origin and destination surveys, mobile phone data and traffic modelling in order better to assess these impacts. We will continue to press for this information to be made available in a timely and publicly accessible form in order to inform responses.


2           Support non car travel: We welcome moves to improve access to and within the national park by means other than private car. We will consider the options in this light, though always balanced against other environmental issues such as visual impact. We note with great disappointment that reference to non-car travel in the consultation does not appear to include bus or train. We have previously stated, and will repeat, our dissatisfaction with the narrow scope of this exercise. To consider costs and benefits of highway schemes without consideration of the rail alternatives greatly diminishes the value of the consultation. If schemes proposed here were implemented, and if they were sufficient to encourage a shift from rail use to car between Eastbourne and Lewes, the implications for traffic and car parking in the latter could be significant.

Provision of laybys on the A27, suitably located, may help to encourage walking and cycling.


  1. Improve safety: The Society welcomes moves to reduce accidents, and the risk of accidents, to both motorists and non-car travellers. No information is presented to indicate the nature and scale of this issue and whether, for example, incident rates are above average for trunk roads with similar traffic patterns, or how these rates compare with other parts of the A27.


  1. Reduce community severance: This may be an issue at Selmeston although almost the whole of the village is located north of the road. We welcome in principle moves to reduce the current impact of the road on the village, subject to other environmental considerations like the visual impact of any changes. Severance appears to be a more substantial issue at Wilmington which these proposals scarcely address.


  1. Minimise environmental impact: This is a major consideration for this Society. We will consider options against a range of criteria including visual and aural impact during both night and day, effect on wildlife and the special qualities of the national park, both in the short and long term. This will include the potential impact within and close to the park of any additional, induced or diverted traffic on the A27 and other roads nearby.


  1. Special qualities of the national park: This is the “core business” of this Society and we will comment on the options in this light. The National Planning Policy Framework places the highest level of protection on national parks, requiring any scheme to meet high standards of design, implementation and mitigation and, in particular, indicating that planning permission should be refused for “major development” except in exceptional circumstances. Any diversion of the trunk road around Selmeston and passing through the national park would need to meet this stringent test. Any implemented scheme must be subject to appropriate landscaping and subsequent maintenance, especially as existing vegetation will be affected and the noise and visual impact may well be increased by higher speeds and traffic levels. If necessary in order to achieve this, additional land may need to be acquired.


 Walking and cycling path

Any proposal to extend the walking and cycling route along the A27, with safe crossings of the trunk road and other highways, is welcomed in principle.

Reconnecting foot/bridle paths truncated by the road schemes also needs to be addressed.


Selmeston options

 The identified benefits for all options, and benefit to cost ratio, are identified in the consultation as slight and are lower than for the walking/cycling route.

Options 1 and 4 offer scope for reducing traffic impact on properties and businesses on the A27 itself and the main village may benefit from a reduction in traffic noise. It is not known whether the pub will welcome the removal of passing traffic. Option 6 may achieve minor benefits in terms of road safety but will have little effect on journey times or on improving the amenity of the village.

Options 1 and 4 involve in varying degree new road construction within the national park and constitute major development. The acknowledged “large adverse and long term effects on the character of the surrounding landscape” and “large adverse long term effects on views from the national park including the South Downs Way and Firle Beacon” of any southerly bypass passing through the national park, as acknowledged in the consultation material, are not outweighed by evidence of benefits submitted in the consultation. Hence, pending the availability in digestible form of evidence to support the case for the improvements, we object to options 1 and 4. Option 6 involves a smaller degree of road construction in the national park but its visual impact and, as with options 1 and 4, the effect on rights of way, will nevertheless be significant and negative.


Drusillas roundabout

 We welcome this scheme. It appears to facilitate walking, cycling and particularly horse riding routes across and along the A27 while also achieving the stated objective of reducing journey times for road traffic, at relatively modest cost.


Wilmington options

 We recognise the current difficulties for walkers, cyclists and horse riders seeking to cross the A27 at this point, as well as the problems facing motorists in certain manoeuvres. There are significant current issues of severance of the Wilmington community by the A27 and its traffic which the new proposals are only able to address in a minor way. Both options would be highly visible and would damage the village green with little scope for mitigation. Option 2 appears to offer greater benefits in respect of achieving a safe crossing for vulnerable users including horse riders but, in disagreement with the findings of the consultation documentation, we feel this is at a significant adverse cost to the appearance of the landscape owing to the need for major ramps, steps and other infrastructure associated with the proposed underpass. While option 1 also entails the creation of discordant urban features in the landscape and may yield lesser benefits in terms of road safety, we would express a guarded preference for this option over option 2, which seems to involve more highly visible, intrusive infrastructure. If a scheme can be devised that achieves some safety improvements without widening the highway and introducing visually intrusive elements to the landscape, we would be more prepared to support that.


Polegate options

 Where widening of the road is envisaged, as with the existing dual carriageway north to Cophall roundabout, substantial existing planting may be lost and this will impact on views from the national park. This will need to be replaced. Otherwise, we do not believe that the options identified will have significant impacts on the national park other than in respect of the effect they may have on traffic levels along the A27 and nearby roads as outlined above under point 1, Improving journey time.


Prioritising investment

 It follows from our comments above that the development of a continuous walking and cycling route alongside the A27, together with appropriate crossing points, is our highest priority. We also support improvements at Drusillas roundabout, prefer Option 1 to Option 2 at Wilmington and object to the published options at Selmeston.










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Lewes farmland in the national park lost to housing

The Society has issued the following press release on 30 March:


Lewes farmland in the national park to be lost for housing

 Despite the best efforts of local environmental groups and concerned residents, a government appointed planning inspector has ruled that quality agricultural land at Old Malling Farm in the Ouse valley in Lewes can be developed for housing.

Says the policy officer for the South Downs Society, Steve Ankers, “This is a real kick in the stomach. Initially neither the South Downs National Park Authority nor Lewes District Council wanted to see the Old Malling Farm site developed but the planning inspector firstly told them that this site should be considered, then, after listening to our arguments decided that he’d been right all along! And this despite a report that he requested from Lewes District and the Park Authority that showed sufficient land was already in the planning pipeline to meet short term housing needs.”

After considering evidence at a reopened public inquiry last December, in his report dated 22 March the inspector appointed to examine the “Lewes District Local Plan Joint Core Strategy” has concluded that:

‘The need to deliver additional housing over the plan period, particularly to help meet local needs in Lewes, notably for affordable housing, has led the Councils to allocate an additional strategic site. A 10 hectare greenfield site at Old Malling Farm on the northern edge of the town, between the Malling estate to the east, the Malling Deanery Conservation Area to the south and the River Ouse, railway and Landport estate to the west, has accordingly been selected. Although it is mainly of grade 2 agricultural land quality, with some ecological and potential archaeological interest, the location is a sustainable one with reasonably good access and proximity to the town centre. Moreover, its development would not materially extend the built up area of the settlement further into open countryside than the existing housing to the east and west.’

 Organisations like the South Downs Society and Friends of Lewes are fully aware that, with the town firmly embedded in the national park, its pressing need for new houses must be met partly within the park boundaries but believe that this is best done by recycling previously developed “brownfield” sites.

Says chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, “This is a hugely disappointing decision. We must make sure that it doesn’t set a very dangerous precedent for building on other open countryside in the national park. Both the Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society will carefully consider any detailed plans put forward for Old Malling Farm to ensure that the design is appropriate and there are adequate measures to landscape the development in what is a prominent position in the National Park. We won’t be letting up in our efforts!”



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No need for Lewes housing site?

The Society has just issued the press release below concerning pressure for new housing around Lewes:

No need for Lewes housing site?

Newly produced papers reveal that pressure may be off for releasing a greenfield site in Lewes for new housing.

The public inquiry into the “core strategy” jointly prepared by Lewes District Council and South Downs National Park was reopened in December to hear evidence on whether a site in the Ouse valley on the north side of Lewes should be allocated for development.

The site, known as Old Malling Farm, lies between Landport and Malling and had been suggested as a possible location for 200 houses earlier in the inquiry. But the two local planning authorities, Lewes District and the National Park, have submitted an eight page statement to the inquiry inspector demonstrating that house building rates in recent years and the prospect of more in the pipeline mean that the Old Malling Farm site will not be needed in the near future.

This evidence has been warmly welcomed by both the South Downs Society and the Friends of Lewes who have campaigned against developing this highly sensitive site in the National Park.

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “The planners are obliged to show there is a five year supply of land available for housing, without which permission is more likely to be granted on unsuitable sites like this one. Happily, the work that Lewes and the National Park have just carried out demonstrates that –counting planning permissions granted recently, including North Street and Southdowns Road in Lewes, and the progress being made on the national park plan and neighbourhood plans —  the housing targets for Lewes are being met without the need for the Old Malling Farm site.”

Chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, agrees. “The evidence shows that the planners have been doing their job. We all recognise the need for some new, affordable housing but we don’t want to see development on this scale on greenfield sites. The town of Lewes and the South Downs National Park are very special places and we will continue to work to protect them. This new evidence is very positive news.”



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Hands off Old Malling Farm!

Hands off Old Malling Farm!

“80 new houses in Lewes at Southdowns Road behind Tesco and 400 more at North Street – we have no problem with either of those in principle, both on brownfield sites, provided the mix of uses is right and the design and layout are good enough for Lewes and the national park,” says Robert Cheesman, chairman of Friends of Lewes, “but turning good quality farmland into 200 more homes is simply unacceptable.”

The Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society – the “Friends” group for the national park — have joined forces to fight a proposal to build 200 new houses on a greenfield site in the heart of the Ouse Valley between Landport and Malling.

This is a site already considered for development, and rejected, by the South Downs National Park Authority but its future is back in the melting pot following a public examination of the draft local plan for Lewes (covering land both in the national park and outside) last January. The planning inspector concluded that the plan would yield insufficient new dwellings to meet local need and suggested that land at Old Malling Farm could be developed to make up some of the shortfall.

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, says, “We are in total agreement with the Friends of Lewes on this. The national park was designated to ensure the protection of its special qualities and there’s nowhere in the park more special than Lewes and its setting. Both societies want to see affordable housing available in and around Lewes on brownfield sites but development at Old Malling Farm would be a very worrying precedent for building on other greenfield sites on the edge of town or anywhere else in the national park.”

A further round of consultation on possible changes to the plan is taking place until 2 October, with a likely reopening of the public inquiry in December to consider comments on this site. The Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society have submitted a joint response strongly objecting to the proposal to develop Old Malling Farm and highlighting the impact on landscape quality, views across and into the site, tranquillity and dark night skies, archaeology and the vital green finger of land reaching into the heart of the town.

Details of the proposals are available on Lewes District Council website:

And the joint submission from the Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society is available on their own websites:



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Save Our Green Fields

The Society and Friends of Lewes have jointly issued the following press release under the above title on 12 August 2015:

Two local environmental campaigning groups, Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society, are joining forces to fight a proposal to build 200 new homes on a greenfield site in the heart of the Ouse Valley between Landport and Malling.

The independent planning inspector, who conducted a public inquiry in January into the latest stage of the local plan covering the whole of Lewes district including that part in the National Park, concluded that the plan would yield insufficient new dwellings to meet local need. He suggested that land at Old Malling Farm in Lewes could be developed to provide more houses. But this is a site already considered – and previously rejected – by the South Downs National Park Authority.

Said Chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, “This must be resisted. The designation of the National Park, and the decision to include the town of Lewes within it, was to ensure the protection of our precious landscape, the downland setting of Lewes and its cultural heritage. All of these are seriously threatened by the proposal to build 200 houses on quality farmland at Old Malling Farm which is highly visible as well as having historic associations and archaeological significance.”

Says Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, “Both societies want to see more affordable housing available in and around Lewes on brownfield sites but, as the official Friends group for the National Park, we very much share this opposition to any new housing estate at Old Malling Farm. Development there would be a worrying precedent for building on other greenfield sites on the edge of town or elsewhere in the National Park.”

 A further round of consultation is taking place between 7 August and 2 October, with a possible reopening of the public inquiry in the autumn to consider comments on this site. While the Societies will be putting forward a strong objection to the 200 houses proposed for Old Malling Farm, it is vital that members of the public make their views known.  Details of the proposals are available on Lewes District Council website:

Send in your comments by emailing or by post to Lewes Planning Department at Southover House, Lewes.