A row has erupted between hoteliers and council planners in Eastbourne after councillors were accused of “having outdated views” and “in need of training”.
The claims were made by the head of the Eastbourne Hospitality Association Darren Weir who said this week tensions had been rising between hoteliers and the council’s planning authority for some time and matters had now come to a head.
Mr Weir said he was treated with disrespect at the meeting by councillors and has filed an official complaint, which the council is investigating.
The row has been ignited by what the association sees as a disregard for the hoteliers’ views by councillors and town planners and fuelled by two recent controversial decisions – telling a seafront hotelier to take out newly installed UPVC windows and replace them with more costly wooden ones; and a plan to convert the 45 bedroom Courtlands Hotel in Wilmington Square in to a flats and a boutique guesthouse.
Mr Weir, who runs the Mowbray Hotel, said this week, “A retrospective planning application for PVC windows at the East Beach Hotel was opposed by officers and was unanimously refused by the planning committee despite there being no policy preventing PVC windows on the seafront.
“Despite a plea from the owner and the EHA saying there needs to be a radical change in thinking by planners, committee members continued to claim wooden windows could be replaced with like for like wooden windows easily while missing the point that these windows are very expensive, will deteriorate and will require higher maintenance which the industry cannot afford.”
It was however, said Mr Weir, the councillors’ “disrespect” in relation to the second application regarding the Courtlands Hotel which has “left the EHA fuming”.
Councillors originally turned down the Courtlands application but a government inspector ruled against the planning committee at an appeal and ordered the authority to stump up £15,000 in costs because it had “unreasonably contested the matter against the weight of material”.
Mr Weir said that at Tuesday night’s meeting of the planing committee when councillors met to debate the Courtlands application again, he was stopped by the committee chair Jim Murray, from speaking any further when during his allocated three minute speech, he highlighted what he called the committee’s failings concerning the tourism industry.
“Let us make this clear,” he said. “The EHA largely supports many tourism initiatives by Eastbourne Borough Council. However, what we do not support is the planning committee’s views on what they think is the best way to support tourism.
“It is clear these members are unwilling to alter their outdated views, despite the mounting stack of evidence against them which can only be interpreted as arrogance.
“The fact of the matter is the members had clearly failed to read the judgment in the Courtlands appeal, thus their suitability to continue to practise in their roles must be questioned. Because many members of the planning committee have worked together in an isolated bubble for over 10 years they are out of touch with an industry that has changed dramatically in the last five years.
“I was astounded by the disrespect and arrogance of this planning committee. To be cut off while telling them some home truths as we saw it in areas where we say they have gone wrong was truly astounding.
“This group of people genuinely believe they know best and that they are always right. The East Beach Hotel result was expected and is a case that will be taken to the Secretary of State – again, with the likely result of more expense for the residents of Eastbourne.
“But what they said and did in relation to the Courtlands Hotel was truly astonishing. We have to remember initially the planning officers supported the application and the tourism department supported the application.
“On top of that there have been numerous reports commissioned – by the planning department itself and the strategy they urge us to follow is a readjustment of our bed stock – which will involve slight reductions.
“The experts, the planning department’s policy team and the council’s tourism department, acknowledge this but not it seems do these eight anachronistic members of the planning committee, who continue to plough on in their own direction rather than within the remit and wishes of the governing council, or for what is best for tourism in the town.
“To be given a lecture by eight out of date councillors, some of whom are failed hoteliers, when I have just won Les
Routiers Guest House of the Year was pretty insulting.
“The planning committee risks alienating the hospitality industry, which puts an important partnership at risk. Don’t forget for example it is the hoteliers who through membership and conference commissions pay for the staffing of the council’s conference sales team because the council cannot afford it.
“I also believe all members of the planning committee need to have some in-depth training into the current situation of Eastbourne’s tourism industry – something which can be delivered in partnership with us. If they are not prepared to listen and be so trained then they must be asked to resign.”
A spokesperson at Eastbourne Borough Council said, “In view of the nature of the complaint the matter has been referred to council’s monitoring officer and there will be no further comment at this stage.”