THE COUNCIL has defended its handling of the Wish Tower site saga.
The authority has come in for harsh criticism for not acting quickly enough to take possession of the building from lessees and for forking out £37,000 of council tax payers’ cash in compensation to them.
Questions have also been raised as to why environmental health officers did not take action and why the lessees were not forced to repair the building.
This week Eastbourne Borough Council leader David Tutt said the authority was “acutely aware” of the importance of the Wish Tower site.
He said that was why it had terminated the former lease and was planning for the future. Demolition work is due to start soon.
Councillor Tutt said, “The existing café is in a poor state and it is simply not viable to refurbish it.
“The cafe was built more than 50 years ago. The old lease, signed in 1989, required the tenants to repair and sustain the building, not to materially improve it or extend its lifespan.
“Had we forced the tenant to make repairs to the building, for example by replacing the plastic roof, we would have been required to pay more in compensation and would still have had a tired 1960s building that does not match our ambition for the site.
“As we have said before, the former tenant had a statutory entitlement to compensation.
“Claims as high as £155,000 were made however, the council successfully argued in court that due to rent arrears and the condition of the building, the tenant was entitled to substantially less.
“The court ordered the council to pay approximately £38,000.
“We consider this to be an excellent result for the town, saving the tax payer £117,000 and returning a prime site on the seafront to the council’s control.
“Our plans for the site will deliver an exciting and vibrant new tourism facility in line with our vision for Eastbourne.”
Councillor Tutt also said that the council’s environmental health team inspected the Wish Tower café in March 2010 and it was classified as “poor” in terms of food safety.
He said, “Subsequent visits were conducted on a monthly basis to monitor the situation and each visit showed a slight improvement.
“A full inspection was carried out in March 2011 and the principles of Safer Food Better Business, a system designed to assist food businesses to put in place food safety management procedures and to comply with food safety legislation, were being maintained.
“There were some minor cleaning issues which were dealt with at the time of the inspection however no structural issues were identified which were critical to food safety.”
The council leader also said the council would honour the bequest made by the Foyle family.
He added, “The redevelopment will also reflect the gift made by the Foyle family in the late 1950s, which helped build the Wish Tower Sun Lounge and Café, and we will ensure that a lasting memorial to those killed and injured in the Second World War is created.”