Green Economic Recovery - Lewes District Council

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 it has started to deliver this, within the challenges of the pandemic.

Lewes District Council adopted a new corporate plan in February 2020, following the declaration of a climate emergency in July 2019, under a new Green/Lib Dem led ‘co-operative alliance’. 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 it has started to deliver this, within the challenges of the pandemic.

The challenge

The pandemic and resultant lockdowns have taken a significant toll on the local economy with levels of unemployment rising and increasing reliance on state benefits.  The Lewes District’s economic make up is dominated by SMEs and a high proportion of self-employed many of which have been hit hard by the pandemic.  Parts of the district (in particular, Newhaven) have been in dire need of regeneration for some time. The council’s Green/Lib Dem/Labour/Independent ‘co-operative alliance’ has been 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

Right from the start of the pandemic, there has been a commitment for the district council in Lewes to drive forward a new approach to local regeneration. This approach is called community wealth building (CWB) and is about 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. The concept of CWB was developed by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) which has supported the council in the development of its approach to build on existing activity.

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.

Making financial power work for local places.

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 largescale 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 and is looking at ways in which it can make its spending power work best to support the local economy. Examples of this are set out in the sections below.

Alongside this, the council has held a series of ‘recovery summits’ by video conference, bringing together representatives of other local anchor institutions, to share CWB thinking, in the context of covid recovery, and explore how agencies can work collaboratively for local economic benefit. An Anchor Network is being established to progress this dialogue.

The council has 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.

The council is keen to stimulate other local financial mechanisms to support the local economy.  It is looking to work collectively across the county with other key anchor institutions to explore the potential for a regional Community Bank/Mutual and to promote the East Sussex Credit Union, helping it to grow and develop.

A further way in which financial power can be used, that is being explored by the council currently, is be becoming an investor in local green community energy schemes, achieving the combined benefits of building community wealth and reducing carbon.

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, subject to the policy’s success, it is intended to roll this out to the rest of the district over the coming years.

Our LEAP programme provides free business startup support and advice for local residents. It has helped more than 100 businesses start in last 7 years. We are now looking to encourage focus on social entrepreneurs in particular and programme delivery has been rapidly adapted to reflect the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

We are also looking to develop a good employment charter which we can commit to ourselves and then encourage others to sign up to as well.  This will draw on the good practice already developed in Manchester.

Progressive procurement of goods and services.

We are adopting new procurement strategies to maximize opportunities for buying locally and supporting SMEs.  An example of this is the partnership we have developed with a local modular housing manufacture, Boutique Modern. This partnership relationship has enabled the council to quickly deliver a range of highly sustainable affordable housing units in the locality, one example being Palmerston House in Newhaven.

The council has a history of retaining most of its services in house, and, indeed is now starting to insource some of the few previously outsourced functions as a way of protecting local jobs and keeping wealth local. 

We also have an ambitious programme to decarbonize our council housing stock.  We recognize that to do this, we need a well developed green supply chain.  In order to develop this, we are encouraging other local stock holding authorities to partner with us in this venture.  Offering larger contracts to work on the stock of multiple authorities, we hope, will give local traders the incentive to invest in the equipment, skills and training needed to become green retrofit specialists. 

Socially productive use of land and property

One of the key components of the council’s CWB plans is to ensure that council land and assets are ‘socially productive’ where possible.  In essence this means that the assets in some way generate wealth or other benefits for local people.  To this end, officers are considering all council owned land and buildings over time to determine where there may be opportunities for transfers or disposals that would enable community use and/or ownership, or deliver other community benefit, such as through increasing supply of affordable housing.  Some assets are being given ‘meanwhile use’, such as short term lets to voluntary and community groups, whilst longer term regeneration and other plans are under development. This includes Railway Quay in Newhaven – funded by an Accelerated Towns Fund grant, a container-based meanwhile use development is under construction with social enterprise and local businesses primed to operate the new facilities.

Where disposal of an asset in 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’. As an example of this, the council has been enabling communities to have direct management of assets through transferring land to Community Land Trusts

The council is currently exploring the opportunities to invest in local community based green energy schemes within the district.

Through the Getting Building Fund we are delivering a new creative workspace in partnership with the Werks Group. This will offer new business space for local micro, SME and startups in Lewes.  The same fund is enabling us to establish, working with local maritime operators, a hub to support existing industry in Newhaven.

At the start of the pandemic, the council quicky implemented ‘EatLocal’ and ‘ShopsLocal’ websites to promote local suppliers, producers and independent retailers.  A ‘MakeLocal’ site is now also under development to support the local creative and manufacturing sectors.

The impact     

The impact of this work, we hope will be wide ranging and long lasting.  The benefits will be measured in relation to the speed of economic recovery 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

CWB was a term unheard of in the council and in the district 18 months ago.  It has taken 18 months of engagement within the organisation and with partners, driven strongly by the Cabinet for this concept to become embedded in the council’s thinking.  It will take continued focused communication and engagement with partners to fully achieve the wider buy in we need for CWB to gain further traction.


Jo Harper, Head of Business Planning and Performance, LDC

Cllr Zoe Nicholson, Deputy Leader, LDC

Links to relevant documents: