Lion Street School Saved

Rye’s Own Has Always Fought to Keep  Community Assets for the Use of Ryers

Regular readers of “Rye’s Own” will know how this magazine has always fought for keeping community assets for the use of Ryer’s, often against great pressure and determination of elected and unelected bodies who have had ‘other plans’ for our precious land and buildings. We challenged the South Coast College “Done and Dusted” lady who wanted to sell off the Lion Street School. (which had been left for the education of the children of Rye ‘in perpetuity’ by the Meryon family 140 years ago).

Fortunately there are good men and women in Rye today who were as incensed as we were by the conduct of South Coast College in wanting to sell off ‘our’ Further Education Centre to be converted into ‘Luxury Flats’ and at the words of members of elected and unelected bodies who were seemingly supporting them.

Lion Street School
Lion Street School


Rother District Council rejected the plan to turn the old Library building into executive housing and the Art section into a small block of expensive flats built next to the church and Town Hall back in January after Rother District Council Officers had fought, right up to the end, to get the decision deferred rather than refused.

What was behind this rear-guard action? Why were Rother officers intent on getting this focal point of Rye’s educational and social life converted to expensive dwellings? Answers are called for! The first hint that the F E Centre, which everyone in Rye thought was only ‘in trust’ to the then Hastings College of Further Education, came in November 2004. Hastings College in conjunction with the Rye Partnership announced plans to sell the Library section and despite Rye Town Councils objections, the District Council gave planning permission for this part of the building to be converted into luxury flats, subject to the signing of a Section 106 agreement guaranteeing the FE Centre community use. What a cheek, the land was given to the people of Rye in 1874!

As none of the applicants ever put pen to paper on the Section 106 agreement it could be construed that the remainder of the building was, at least, a tentative target for future planning – Perhaps the Rye public would not notice! But the Rye public did take notice and the whole scheme has been described as “Grossly misleading”.

Plans were put forward to move the Library to the old Central Garage site in Cinque Ports Street. The partnership arranged a £100,000 plus grant to clear the site. This was done but the project came to nothing and £100,00 of public money went ‘Down the Drain’.

Finally, East Sussex County Council have acquired a lease on the Woolworth Building and moved the Library there. South Coast College, Principal, Sue Middleton, claimed at a Rye Town Meeting, that she had already signed the paperwork allowing for the sale of the whole Lion Street building telling the meeting that it was all ‘done and dusted’ and that the Section 106 obligation to keep part of the site for community use was obsolete.

The people of Rye were angered by her words and attitude and started a campaign to save The F E Centre. Over 1000 signatures were gathered a within days on a petition that called for the buildings to be used, as they were intended, for the education and leisure of the people of Rye. The F E Campaign, supported by Rye Town Council Rye Conservation Society, the Victorian Society, Amber Rudd MP and English Heritage, eventually saw the planning application thrown out. “The saving of the Lion Street site, comprising the old library, art block and community education centre became a victory for the people of Rye” claimed one of the F E Campaigners.

He went on to say “What of the future? South Coast College Hastings (which is said to have bought the site for just £ 1994), locked the doors at the end of January 2011. At the time of writing they are about to accept a joint offer by St Mary’s Church and the Fletcher Group. St Mary’s would use the end building as a church hall and Further Education centre; The Fletcher Group plans to build a state-of-the-art cinema in the further buildings, (a facility which Rye has not enjoyed for half a century). But let us never forget: the land was given by the Meryon family to the people of Rye in the 1870s. They surely never envisaged that future public bodies would turn from being trustees of their gift into property speculators out to make a fast buck”.

Today  (23 March 2011) – Just as we go to press, “Rye’s Own” has received the following email :-

Dear Editor, I’ve just heard this afternoon, by word of mouth via a very reliable lady, that the Church/Fletcher grouping have actually secured the old Library and F.E. buildings The financial requirements have been met, and the ‘dream’ plans set out in an article in your lovely “Rye’s Own” a few months back could now materialize

Alan Bolden

“Rye’s Own” April 2011

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