Threat of demolition faces ‘ugly monolith’

Resident David Shivers and mayor Carolyn Heaps in the church's shadow
Resident David Shivers and mayor Carolyn Heaps in the church's shadow

AN ‘UGLY and imposing’ church which dominates Eastbourne's skyline looks set to be demolished rather than developed.

Residents living in the shadow of St Elisabeth’s Church in Victoria Drive were jubilant on Tuesday evening after town planners threw out the latest plans by developers HOP Construction to re-develop the dilapidated church.

Campaigners are now hoping the listed building will be de-listed and demolished by the Church Commissioners to make way for housing.

Both council planning officers and architects had worked together on an ambitious plan to save the church by converting it into 25 apartments and putting an extension to the roof to provide luxury penthouse flats.

But the plans were met with outrage from residents in Baldwin Avenue and Victoria Drive who said the church was already an ‘ugly monolith’ and joined Eastbourne’s mayor Carolyn Heaps in a campaign to get the controversial plans rejected.

The church was built in 1936 through a generous bequest from a local parishioner but has always been shrouded in controversy because of its domineering position within the town.

It is even believed that when Winston Churchill came to Eastbourne after the Second World War and was told the town was one of the most bombed in the south east, he said he wasn’t surprised because of the ‘armaments factory’ up on the hill, and laughed when he was told it was a church.

Both English Heritage and the Church Commissioners say since it was built the church has suffered from major construction faults.

When it closed for worship in 2002 and was de-commissioned as a church, it fell victim to vandals and needs millions spending on it to restore it to its former glory.

At a packed meeting of Eastbourne Borough Council’s planning committee, Councillor Heaps who represents Old Town on both the borough and county councils, said she did not want to see another South Cliff Tower in Old Town.

“This development is quite simply wrong,” said Cllr Heaps, “I urge the committee to adopt a common sense approach and throw it out.

“If the developers do not get planning permission by April 2011 it will leave the way open for the church commissioners to demolish the building.

“This would allow a more suitable development to be planned for this site.”

Cllr Heaps was given a round of applause at the meeting as were all those who spoke against the proposals.

Mike Williams, who lives in the area, said residents found the proposals ‘totally unacceptable’ and said, “Many of the homes and gardens in Baldwin Avenue and Victoria Drive currently enjoy seclusion and peace and quiet but if these proposals go ahead, the building will become an ugly watchtower.”

Members of the committee voted unanimously against the proposals.