Lewes gets a cinema

July 4, 2017

A quick glance through Depot cinema’s new visitors’ book shows how well it’s been received in its first month. It’s a credit to the developers and architects but also to the unseen work of the National Park Authority planning team.

On Thursday 25 May 2017 Depot, a new community cinema opened in the town of Lewes, East Sussex, on the site of part of the old Harvey’s Brewery depot.

The cinema’s original building is a familiar landmark in a prominent location by Lewes railway station. Constructed as a utilitarian brick Post Office sorting office, it later became part of the Harvey’s Brewery and lies within Lewes Conservation Area – surrounded by listed buildings covering a variety of architectural styles across the ages. While not in itself of very high architectural value this building is an important part of the story of the town’s development.

With their first designs underway the new cinema’s owners decided to approach the National Park Authority for pre-application advice. This is something we encourage on all applications as there are so many benefits for both the applicants and the National Park. Our planners can help explain what issues might be taken into consideration when an application is determined; suggest ways that the application could be changed to add value to the local community and wider National Park; identify potential problems such as noise or traffic; and encourage higher quality applications that are faster to process and lead to better outcomes for the National Park.

Pre-application advice for the Lewes cinema plan was first sought in July 2013. These plans involved removing the old depot entirely and replacing it with a modern three-storey building. This was a chance for us to get our Design Review Panel and conservation and design officers involved. Our advice was that the original building needed to be retained and reused but with sympathetic modern additions and the introduction of greener and more sustainable infrastructure. In short we recommended that the applicant needed to go back to the drawing board.

Our planning team were also able to recommend the local and amenity groups that the applicants should be talking to and consulting with in advance to get the best development for the community.

In March 2014 the applicants put forward an entirely different scheme, designed by Burrell Foley Fischer, for pre-application advice. The new plans included proposals for a slightly smaller cinema which kept the old building, but also included new public space and made environmental improvements – such as a green roof and solar power. The National Park’s design offer at the time stated: ‘This is now a real exemplar of a design that’s risen to the challenge set by the National Park context.’

By the time the formal planning application was submitted in April 2014 officers were confident that there was a strong application to present to the National Park Authority planning committee. Concerns from the Highway Authority led to an amended Transport Statement with increased space for bike storage, real-time bus and train information and a community bus to neighbouring villages to encourage more film-goers to leave their cars behind.

The application was approved by the SDNPA planning committee in March 2015 and we’ve been very pleased to see happy comments about the design and use of the building appearing amongst those praising the comfort of the seating. We are so proud of this project that we have submitted it for the Royal Town and Planning Institution (RTPI) Excellence in Planning Awards. Fingers crossed!

Elegantly designed cinema complex, but at the same time functional. The space is so intelligently made and it is simply a super building.’

“The architecture and layout of the place shows the hard work and funding that has gone into it which I appreciate very much. Staff were friendly. Looking forward to more trips to the pics here!”

“The after-screening drink in an exterior seating area gave us a chance to appreciate how attractive the whole development is: contemporary, stylish and well laid out. Looking forward to this becoming a regular haunt!”

“Welcoming, stylish venue next to railway station… Screen studios have state-of-art technology and generous, comfortable seats and screen layout while set into this charismatic traditional, yet with a modern twist, warehouse setting that makes your visit a pleasure.”

Find out more about Depot cinema

Photo by Ming Cheng/ Burrell Foley Fischer LLP