Progress by the Phoenix Project Lewes

12 November 2023

Stimulating Presentation on 7th November

The Society organised a presentation from Human Nature the developers of The Phoenix Scheme, which is seeking permission to create a new neighbourhood on a 7.9HA site on the banks of the River Ouse, in the centre of Lewes.  The Phoenix aims for a development that “responds to the climate and natural challenges we all face by turning these challenges into opportunities for better design, better placemaking and healthier living”.   It is aimed at revitalizing an old industrial quarter of Lewes on the banks of the River Ouse.

The Scheme has many interesting features including:

  1. The extensive local engagement exercise that has been conducted.
  2. The building technology proposed - structural timber - which will be used on all new buildings on site, with one exception.
  3. The economics of novel construction.
  4. A site plan with cars kept on the borders of the site.
  5. All housing is planned to use the latest heating and cooling technology.
  6. Retention of quality older buildings for commercial use.

It is planned to provide 700 Dwellings, 3,300 Sq/M of workspace, a £15M contribution to Flood defences, 17% of the housing will be affordable, and include a new pedestrian bridge over the river. 

(Note: Like Guildford Lewes is under pressure to take more housing, a recent decsion by Lewes Council has resulted in the proposed Eton New Town project, aiming to introduce up to 3,250 new homes near Plumpton 4 miles from Lewes being not included in the Local Plan.  The propoessed development was due to be on land owned by Eton College near East Chiltington).

Human Nature

Human Nature, the developers has an unusual background. The two founders were directors of Greenpeace back in the 1980’s. Human Nature has worked with major businesses, investors, international agencies, government, and local authorities, which has resulted in pioneering work on green buildings, energy, and sustainable construction. Human Nature has now moved into development.

The company believes that new approaches are needed to create better places, social inclusion, and development.  Better designs, economic models and protocols are needed to support the required shift to sustainable ways of living.    

Planning Progress.

The Phoenix Project is awaiting determination by the South Downs National Park (SDNPA) (Lewes is within the South Downs National Park). 

An initial hearing public meeting with the South Downs National Park Authority met at County Hall in Lewes recently to discuss and debate the Phoenix application and hear representations from the public. The leader of Lewes District Council and a representative of Lewes Town Council both spoke in support of the scheme.  Members of the National Park voted for a deferral, allowing time, over the next four months, to resolve outstanding issues addressed in the planning report and on the day.  

Human Nature have since the meeting set up a programme of activities to address technical issues, working closely with statutory bodies, which in some cases have caused amendments to be made, in others issuing more information, with work continuing in a number of areas.

A recent meeting with the SDNPA’s planning team in Midhurst, West Sussex discussed the potential scale of the design changes requested, and to set out a programme for a return to committee.  Human Nature were encouraged by the positive mindset displayed in the meeting, and that the SDNPA considers the Phoenix to be an exemplary scheme.

The Design and Access statement for the scheme can be read as a PDF at this link 

The South Downs National Park has registered the scheme (SDNP/23/00526/OUT) and all information is lodged on the SDNP website although the committee report (2/10/23) recommending deferral appears to be missing.

Human Nature have a prepared a brief document in response to the deferral that can be read at here.

Presentation 7th November

The presentation to the society and Guests on the 7th November covered a wide range of subjects, a selected number of points of interest are below summarising the points made by human Nature and some of the queries raised by the audience..

The Circle of Impact

Human Nature has developed a bespoke framework for strategy, planning, design, goal setting, measuring, monitoring and learning to achieve regenerative, impacts. 

This framework covers many issues for a development and its potential impact on the wider area.  The Framework extends into areas such as can food production be made an asset for the community and locale, supporting employment etc. 

The health benefits of good development, which includes aspects such as jobs and access to good food was highlighted by the speakers. Note: - Historically you can trace many of these ideas to Aneurin Bevan & William Beveridge who recognised the role of good housing to support health.


Housing Technology.

The project aims to build all its housing using Timber frames and if possible using local resources both for the timber and build a woodworking capability. A simple diagram of how Timber enables CO2 reduction was displayed see below.

The timber construction is due to use a combination of solifd timeber for the lower building s and engineered timber (GULAM beams) for higher buildings.  the


It was confirmed the site is planning to create a sitewide heating and cooling system based on heat pump technology.



It became apparent that although the scheme is aiming for Passivhaus standards it is not committing to totally achieve these standards.  This was the subject to a lively debate at the meeting.

Viability and Funding

Human Nature are accessing a variety of funds to support the development.  In part these are not conventional, as an example the site has been acquired by a small group of Lewes residents from the previous owners. Human Nature wouldn’t discuss other funding sources but it was clear that funding organisations are becoming keen to support Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) measures and that funds for these types of development are becoming available.

Human Nature did mention that Timber Building at present is more expensive than conventional techniques but feel the benefits are worthwhile.

Design and Layout

The layout is pedestrian centric will all motorcars parked in a transport centre (which includes a new bus station) on the southern edge of the site.  (Note on a smaller scale this is an appropoach proposed for the Law College Development Insert Link, and at the Colchesther Development Insert Link)

The proposed plan has been created by Arup’s. It was questioned in the meeting as whether the plan and design adopted for the site was radical enough.  The society prior to the meeting at a discussion with Human Nature has also raised the issue of the the multiplicity of architects involved with the scheme.

During the presentation architect Peter Barber was mention several times, below is the link to his lecture given as part of the Architecture Lecture 2023.


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