2 Feb 2007
Using Visioning as a Powerful Protest Tool.
If a developer wants to take perfectly good light industrial area and replace it with a new urban centre, on a floodplain, with buildings up to 6 stories high, on average 4 stories, with 750 residential units, a shopping centre, cinema complex and so on, how should the community respond? They could write angry letters, organise a protest, rally people to fight against it. Or, perhaps, there might be another way to approach it. This is happening in Lewes, and people are not happy about it. The Transition Town Lewes group have come up with a great way of responding to this, with a positive vision of how the site could be. Based on Tom Atlee’s idea of a Futures Gazette, they have written a newspaper article (by the brilliantly named journalist ‘Mavis Happen’) from an edition of the local paper in 2017. Read on…
**A Transition Town Lewes (1) Vision of the Future**
By Mavis Happen. Sussex Express, 1 February 2017
Last Saturday Lewes celebrated winning the 2017 Synergen Town of the Year award with a festival at the North Street Centre that included a Southern Solar (2) disco and a local produce feast. Lewes was among 965 entrants for the award, for the ‘most creative energy descent programme (3) and improvement of living standards’. The judges were particularly impressed with the depth and effectiveness of the town’s ‘2020 Vision’, which was adopted unanimously by the council in 2008, along with the Climate Change Strategy (4), written by the Sustainability Team in 2006 and Zero Waste Target (5) reached in 2012.
‘We’re really proud of our achievements,’ said Cllr Billie Turner of the transition committee. ‘It’s been a lot of work, but exhilarating. Of course, the floods of 2000 and 2008, and the hurricane of 2010 really helped focus our minds. That and oil prices hitting $350 a barrel a while back.’
Jewel in the crown of the town is the North Street Centre, five hectares of land at the heart of Lewes’s 2020 Vision. Youth worker Toma Stevenson pointed out the riverside ecovillage. ‘They’re on stilts to be flood-flexible. All 200 houses sold really fast. It was the first development in the UK to be a fossil-fuel neutral build (6), and because half were affordable housing, many of the people living there work in the North Street Centre too.’ There’s now a 10 year waiting list for the car-free ecovillage (7): a recent survey put residents at the top of the UN Happiness Index (8).
‘The biomass plant over there was put in around 2015 to turn fast-growing willow from the floodplains into electricity,’ Toma continued. ‘That willow soaks up the flash floods we were starting to get a few years ago. The launch of the community wind farm (Lesco – Lewes Energy Supply Company (9)) made us one of the first towns to export electricity to the national grid.’
‘Over there by Furniture Now (10), Plumpton has an urban agriculture training centre (shown above). Those raised beds have been producing 40 tons of food per hectare for 8 years now. Most of it goes to the big weekly riverside market and the dozens of local produce shops around town, and any surplus goes to Lewes Preserves. This, along with the twenty-odd CSA (Community Supported Agriculture (11)) farms in the area, Lewes Allotments 2020, and the council’s Home Grown intitiative means that 75% of Lewes’s fruit and veg is grown (12) within 5 miles of the town, just as it was this time last century. The jury’s still out as to whether Tesco will win their legal action against smallholders preferentially supplying the local markets.’
The North Street Centre has become the transport hub for Lewes, linking the biodeisel bus station, cycle station (12), working horse stables and car club depot. Car ownership (13) in Lewes is now well below the national average ratio of 1:4.
‘Ten years ago, we had had a developer (14) pitching to build intensive high-rise housing, car parks and a chain store centre in North Street. Our progressive council ran a weekend Appreciative Enquiry (15) summit for that site, and found that people were very concerned about the environment. That form of effective consultation resulted in our 2020 North Street vision for a transition future with low-impact development that allowed the possibility of flooding.
‘Fortunately, our district council unanimously adopted that 2020 Transition Strategy for North Street at the end of 2007. Things could have looked very different!’