Green Economic Recovery - Lewes District Council

Lewes District Council adopted a new corporate plan in February 2020, following the declaration of a climate emergency in July 2019. The corporate plan, ‘Reimagining Lewes District’, set out the council’s ambitions to achieve net carbon zero whilst continuing to embed community wealth building principles within the district. This case study sets out how delivery has progressed since.

The challenge

The past two years have been a challenging time for the local economy. The pandemic resulted in the closure of businesses, particularly in retail and hospitality. Lewes District’s economic make up is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and a high proportion of self-employed many of which were hit hard by the pandemic. Parts of the district (in particular, Newhaven) had been in dire need of regeneration for some time before this.

The council was determined to use the community wealth building and green principles embedded in their corporate plan to drive forward a sustainable approach to recovery.

The solution

The council has taken a new approach to local regeneration through community wealth building (CWB). This takes a people-centred approach to local economic development, which redirects wealth back into the local economy, and places control and benefits into the hands of local people. Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) has supported the council in the development of its approach. From January 2023, a dedicated Project Officer for community wealth will join the council to support this work. This post will work closely with CLES to ensure the council’s approach benefits from learning from others doing similar work elsewhere.

CWB is underpinned by five principles. This case study will take each in turn and show how they are being used in practice to support a green recovery.

CWB focuses particular importance on the role of ‘Anchor Institutions’. These can be defined as bodies which have an important presence in a place, usually through a combination of: being large-scale local employers, the largest purchasers of goods and services in the locality, controlling large areas of land and/or having relatively fixed assets. Examples include local authorities, NHS trusts, universities, trade unions, large local businesses, the combined activities of the community and voluntary sector and housing associations.

The council has embraced its role as an anchor institution, is looking to engage others, and is working to make its spending power work strongly to support the local economy.

Progressive procurement of goods and services

We are adopting new procurement strategies to maximize opportunities for buying locally and supporting SMEs. 

Traditionally councils consider outsourcing as a way of creating efficiencies. CWB takes the opposite approach, looking to insource as a way of ensuing jobs are offered to local people, that those jobs are subject to good local government terms and conditions, and that none of the benefits end up channeled away to distant shareholders. Since the previous case study was written, the council has insourced its public convenience cleansing service and also its office cleaning contract.

In addition we have moved to more local providers for some aspects of our housing repairs, so that more local businesses are benefitting from the delivery of this work for the council.

Our progressive approach to procurement has taken a significant step forward with a framework agreement we have designed and established following a competitive procurement process for the provision of modular housing. Following the successful sustainable affordable housing units we delivered in Newhaven, local contractor Boutique Modern have, through this framework, been able to establish a substantial pipeline programme of works. This has been not just for Lewes District Council, but for Eastbourne and Hastings councils through the same framework agreement. Any other council in East and West Sussex is also able to make use of the same framework, and a number are already signed up for its use. The benefits to date have been; that we have been able to develop new sustainable and affordable units quickly, that we have used a local provider to do this and thus assisted their long term viability, and that other councils have also been able to benefit easily from this local, sustainable approach.

When we started working on CWB in 2020 one key strand was to look at the decarbonization of our council housing stock. Working with Brighton University and experts within the energy efficiency/decarbonisation field, work has been done to show the benefits that can be achieved if Local Government collaborates on a regional programme of housing decarbonisation work. A more certain programme means businesses will invest in technology, ramping up capacity, and colleges will gear up green skills courses. We are currently focusing on photo voltaic panels which was assessed as a ‘no regrets intervention’– where costs are not prohibitive and we are in discussions with local providers to look at ways they can scale up to respond.

As part of this we are working closely with a local college – East Sussex College Group – who are now offering a new green Training Hub, located in a council owned building, in partnership with OHM Energy (a local SME) at Hampden Retail Park in Eastbourne. The College was selected to establish this as one of five new decarbonisation academies across Sussex to support the development of skills in retrofitting and green energy installation.

Socially productive use of land and property

One of the key components of the council’s CWB plans was to ensure that council land and assets are ‘socially productive’ where possible. In essence this meant that we would look to ensure that all our assets in some way generate wealth or other benefits for local people. To this end, we undertook a review of all our council owned land and buildings and looked to determine where there were opportunities for transfers or disposals that would enable community use and/or ownership, or deliver other community benefit, such as through increasing the supply of affordable housing.

The results of this work are ongoing, but already a number of land packages have been identified for new housing. In addition, in Newhaven there were various under-utilised buildings in the Town Centre which are now under re-development, subject to an updated business case, as a health and wellbeing hub for the town. This innovative scheme will make use of two large former retail sites and bring them together with improved leisure facilities to provide an integrated health and wellbeing hub. As well as providing a high quality public facility it will also aid footfall into the town centre area, which should bring wider economic benefit to the town.

Alongside this, assets being given ‘meanwhile use’, include; in Lewes an arrangement where over the past two years Lewes Community Volunteers (a new organization that started during the pandemic) and Lewes Climate Hub have benefitted from ‘meanwhile use’ of a vacant council building; and in Newhaven a longer term meanwhile use has been given to The Sidings, a bistro style waterside café.

Where disposal of an asset is an option, the council is keen to ensure that any capital receipts secured are then used for community wealth building and, in particular to support our sustainability objectives.

Plural ownership of the economy

CLES assert that "locally owned and socially minded enterprises are more likely to employ, buy and invest locally. For this reason, community wealth building seeks to promote locally owned and socially minded enterprises by promoting various models of enterprise ownership that enable wealth created by users, workers and local communities to be held by them, rather than flowing out as profits to shareholders".

One method of delivery that the council has worked hard to promote is Community Land Trusts (CLT). We have had one trust, in particular, which is has been very successful in developing and delivering local housing. We are using this trust to develop a case study of what good practice looks like and will be publishing this to assist other CLTs in their endeavours. Alongside this we are funding a local specialist organisation to support the council in developing further CLTs with the skills and expertise needed to build more homes in the future.

Also, to assist the council’s house building aspirations, we are looking to establish a modest, repayable loan fund available to relevant community and CIC groups. On provision of a suitably robust business case, the council would loan funds to enable new community-led housing to be developed in the district.

Through the Getting Building Fund we have successfully delivered a new creative workspace in partnership with the Werks Group. This is providing business space for local micro, SME and startups in Lewes and is now fully occupied. 

The same Getting Building Fund has helped us to take over the running of ‘Marine Workshops’ (previously a vacant University Technical College building). This large building, a key location in Newhaven will open at the start of in 2023 as a marine, commercial and public space. As well as providing a new office base for council staff, the building will provide accommodation for a local college and will be a ‘blue space/climate hub’ for aquaculture and marine based industry and training.

Following concerns for the viability of local small businesses during the pandemic, a Makers Directory was set up with funding from Lewes District Council and has been very successful in enabling local creative businesses to promote their wares. The directory has been a very effective resource to bring the work of local Lewes independent traders together in one place and enable them to raise their profile and further develop their businesses.

Making financial power work for local places

At the start of the council’s work on CWB, we held a series of ‘recovery summits’ by video conference, bringing together representatives of local anchor institutions, to share CWB thinking. In the context of COVID-19 recovery, we explored how agencies could work collaboratively for local economic benefit. Following this we are now working to establish a anchor network to take this forward.

The council has successfully used its influence locally to shape the economic recovery plans of both the South East Local Enterprise Partnership and the Greater Brighton Economic Board to embrace aspects of CWB.

There is a strong commitment to supporting community green energy schemes locally, with the aid of council loans where appropriate. This has allowed the council to achieve the combined benefits of building community wealth and reducing carbon.

We are also in the process of establishing local climate bonds, which are regulated investment products to provide cost-effective funding for specific decarbonization projects. This will offer local people an opportunity to invest in their area in a way similar to crowdfunding and to make a return from doing so.

In light of the cost of living crisis, work is currently underway to develop low cost loans to homeowners in partnership with Lendology CIC. This will enable people to access affordable loans for home improvement works providing them with green energy solutions for their homes.

Fair employment and just labour markets.

The council has introduced a pilot local labour policy for large planning applications in Newhaven to ensure employment and training opportunities on construction sites and subsequent operations. This draws on best practice from other areas and the intention remains to roll this out to the rest of the district over the coming years.

Our LEAP programme continues to provide free business startup support and advice for local residents. It has helped more than 100 businesses start in last 7 years.

Newhaven – Community Wealth Building in Action

The final case study we would like to share, we feel brings together all aspects of CWB in an innovative project in Newhaven, funded through government ‘Levelling Up’ monies. Called ‘Capturing the Value of the Catch’ this project has three aspects;

  • the catch – funding two new fish landing stages, working with the crews of local fishing vessels working together as a CIC
  • processing – a new seafood processing plant, auction room and local marketplace
  • retaining – establishing a new quayside fish restaurant and community destination.

The combined effect of these three initiatives is to increase the levels of local fishing activities and to retain more of the financial benefits of this locally in Newhaven. Although not yet a completed project, we feel that this is really demonstrating in a practical way how our CWB approaches are making a difference in our area.

The impact

The impact of this work, is already proving to be wide ranging and we are confident it will be long lasting. The benefits are measured in relation to economic resilience in the district, particularly in the SME and community sectors but also in terms of sustainable job creation and a higher-skilled population base. We also hope that this approach will see us move further along the road to net carbon zero by 2030.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The Anchor Network will be key to sustaining this approach in the district. We have already been very successful in embedding CWB principles in key multiagency plans and strategies. Our community leadership role as a local authority will be central to this approach delivering real results.

Lessons learned

When we wrote our first case study, 18 months ago, CWB was only just starting to be understood in the district. Since then it has become more and more embedded in the council’s thinking. As can be seen from the examples above, many of the ideas discussed in our previous case study have now come to fruition, and more are now under development.

The challenge now is to further communicate our vision to other anchor institutions. Building on the work we have done with local voluntary organisations, and with East Sussex College Group, we need to engage further with other partners to fully achieve wider buy in for the Lewes district.

Relevant resources


Jo Harper, Head of Business Planning and Performance, LDC
[email protected]

Cllr Zoe Nicholson, Leader, LDC
[email protected]