Many of us were there to hear the Principal of the Sussex South Coast College promise to use funds from the sale of Lion Street to improve education in Rye. And I’m afraid some of us were tempted to hollow laughter.
The Meryon family originally gifted the Lion Street land and building to Rye in the 1800’s for a school that was eventually taken over and administered by East Sussex County Council – as were all ‘Board’ schools in the County. But when, a hundred years later, the (putative) ownership of the freehold and building was passed to the South Coast College for that £1, the transfer of ownership was never registered because East Sussex had never actually owned the property in the first place. Lion Street (school or library) had continued to belong to ‘the citizens of Rye’ ever since that original gift had been made; and Rye was not amused when the Fletcher Group and the Diocese had to raise upwards of £250,000 to reclaim what had always been their own.
But then this was only the latest in a series of ‘betrayals’ by whichever of the education institutions have held sway in Rye.
Not long before the Lion Street debacle, East Sussex had come to some deal with Rother District Council over allotment land annexed for the building of the Junior School - A successful and much praised Junior School, but unfortunately built on a flood-plain campus hardly large enough for its own purpose, certainly too small to allow any expansion (the school is now full).
For, notwithstanding new homes actual and proposed, East Sussex have always denied there is, inconveniently, a growing population in Rye.
There was also the former junior school, known as the Lower School site – unlike the new junior school, a decent size of campus, but kept derelict for many years because it had been earmarked to make money as a supermarket sell-off. Except of course that also went very pear-shaped. East Sussex washes its hands and blames Tesco and Sainsbury’s; but the combination of supermarket catastrophe and an education planning disaster is one of their very own and truly unique achievements.
And what does the future hold? Better look the other way and pray that the selling of Tilling Green School honours the promises made about a community centre. There’s been no commitment to a minimal size or specification for such a centre.
Dare we also mention Freda Gardham, once the river defences are improved? A new school? New housing? A supermarket? A shopping mall?
Rye certainly won’t be let into that secret until all is done and dusted – UNLESS we specify in the Neighbourhood Plan how Rye herself wishes to use that land.
John Howlett, Chair of the Campaign for a Democratic Rye.