THE COUNCIL’S handling of the Wish Tower cafe should be the subject of a public inquiry, according to the chairman of the local neighbourhood panel.
Last week the Herald revealed that the cost of taking over the seafront eatery and its mooted demolition was set to cost the tax payer upwards of £90,000.
This figure comes from £52,000 earmarked for the wrecking of former cafe and a controversial payment of around £40,000 made by the council to the previous tenants in order to terminate the existing contract.
Now, having been spurred on by the revelation, Roy Peacock – who chairs the Meads Neighbourhood Panel – is demanding answers from Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC).
Speaking this week he said, “A public enquiry is needed to get to the facts before EBC proceed further.
“The residents of Eastbourne deserve honest answers to why they are picking up yet another, to all accounts unnecessary, large bill.”
Mr Peacock urged the council to open up its books.
He questioned why regular checks on the condition of the dilapidated building were not carried out and why the tenants were not forced to foot the bill for the necessary improvements under the condition of a full repairing lease.
Mr Peacock criticised the decision to compensate the tenants despite the fact the Wish Tower had been allowed to degrade so markedly.
He added that it seemed no full structural survey had been carried out prior to deciding to demolish the cafe – a move which also attracted criticism from opposition Conservative councillors during a recent town hall meeting.
Mr Peacock said he remains hopeful that the Wish Tower can be saved.
Far from pulling down the entire building, one solution, he said, would be to replace the more sea-salt weathered section nearest the shoreline.
“The property is in a conservation area and adjacent to a heritage site,” he said. “Surely, these factors influence a demolition decision.
“Great care had to be taken when excavating and constructing the present building and it was partially funded by a benefactor and intended to serve as a lasting memorial to the fallen Eastbournians in the wars.
“Why was it not suitably maintained? How come it has all been allowed to go wrong?
“Eastbourne probably cannot afford a new modern design [in its place].
“The existing building was very acceptable when built; it was of its time, simple and functional.
“Unless a new design is to be very well built, whatever goes up now will be replaced in the next boom period.
“So, why not virtually repair/replace the original: if a simple structure is provided for the next use, what is wrong with that?
“Of course, people will say that there ought to be a competition, employ the best architects, the best modern materials etc, but EBC has been trying to generate interest for months without apparent success.
“If no hotel or restaurant group has jumped at the chance, surely it must be obvious: the chances of anyone, including EBC, wanting to spend huge sums of money in the hope of a good return on their capital are very remote in the present climate.”
The local authority has repeatedly defended its stance on the demolition, arguing that the alternative to the £52,000 bill would be an outlay of more than £500,000 to bring it back into use.