Herald Opinion: Eastbourne needs a landmark building for its seafront

TURN the clock back 11 years to a planning brief prepared by Eastbourne Council which said, “The restaurant is in a key location and plays an important part in extending the facilities for tourists and local residents.

“However, the existing building is of little architectural merit. Redevelopment or significant improvement of the site will therefore enhance the character and appearance of this part of the seafront.”

Not much has changed since 2000 for the Wish Tower Cafe which has lurched from crisis to crisis over the past decade to a situation now where this prime-positioned building is going to be demolished.

The building is now in a sorry state of repair since it was handed back to the council by tenants in October after a long and bitter legal battle.

The decay is quite unbelievable.

Questions have to be asked about how this building was allowed to get into that state, and what checks were made by the council prior to the tenants leaving, particularly from environmental health?

Little wonder the Eastbourne Borough Council decided this week to bear the brunt of a demolition bill from creaking council coffers.

The cost of refurbishment would have been an eye-watering £400,000.

So what now for the Wish Tower Cafe’s future? A couple of years ago, there were fears that the building would be demolished to make way for flats and a petition was raised to fight off the spectre.

Opposition Conservative leader David Elkin hit the nail perfectly on the head when he told councillors this week, “The seafront is Eastbourne’s front of house and we need to ensure that the front of house doesn’t stay half made for too long.”

It was back in 1960 when the trustees of Chatsworth Estate gave a licence for the building of a cafe and sun lounge beside the site of the Martello Tower. It was built with the aid of a Deed of Gift by the Foyle family.

Now any redevelopment will need the consent of the Foyle Family, English Heritage and the Chatsworth Estate.

What is needed for Eastbourne is a cafe or restaurant which adds value to the seafront, a landmark building which is visually sympathetic to this archaeologically-sensitive area, and which provides an added focal point to the coastline.

Of course the key element here is cost – what can be realistically afforded in this tough economic climate. Will the council have to forge a partnership with private developers in order to fund the building of a new cafe or restaurant? Echoing the words of Cllr Elkin, what needs to be avoided is an eyesore overlooking the seafront once the Wish Tower Cafe has been demolished, so for years the site remains undeveloped and vacant.