Villa demolition plan sparks controversy

Former Swanley Court Hotel in Trinity Trees July 9th 2012 E28083N
Former Swanley Court Hotel in Trinity Trees July 9th 2012 E28083N

A HISTORIC Eastbourne villa is at the centre of a planning row.

Developers want to knock down the former Swanley Court Hotel in Trinity Trees and build in its place a six storey block of 46 student study rooms.

But the planning application has been dogged by controversy. First Eastbourne Borough Council’s planning department mistakenly said any comments on the plans should be with them by June 14 – two days after the meeting on June 12 at which a decision was due to be made.

The application should also have gone before the Conservation Area Panel but didn’t. Then the Victorian Society criticised the plans saying the historic 19th Century villa, which is in the town centre conservation area, should be saved as did the Eastbourne Society.

Now the plans look set to be withdrawn because of what are being described as “serious inaccuracies” in the application.

Developers Hanlon Rhodes Partnership was behind the application to demolish the former hotel and build the new block, which include communal kitchens and dining areas.

It is not certain when the original building was constructed by experts believe it was in the late 1800s, after Holy Trinity Church opposite was completed in 1838.

Planning permission has been given in the past to convert the building into flats but this is the first application to demolish – which has sparked an angry response from the Victorian Society, the national charity campaigning for the Victorian and Edwardian historic environment.

James Hughes, the conservation adviser for the society said, “The proposal is to demolish the villa completely and replace it with an undistinguished apartment building. Yet the impressive late-Victorian villa, lately the Swanley Court Hotel, lies in the Eastbourne town centre conservation area.

“It is a striking and attractive building and its loss would harm the historic character and stylistic quality of the area, which is defined by buildings like this.

“The council is obliged to ensure than any work to a conservation area enhances or preserves its character. This proposed demolition would instead erode its quality and special significance. Despite its bad state of repair the villa is structurally sound and readily convertible. There is no compelling justification for its demolition.”

Meads councillor and leader of the Conservatives David Elkin said he was concerned at the application from the offset.

“It’s extremely worrying that a planning application that appears to have been rushed through the planning system and is recommended by the planning department for approval, is subsequently rejected because of serious inaccuracies.

“Residents will be rightly extremely concerned that issues they had rise from day one turned out to be true.”

A spokesperson for Eastbourne Borough Council said, “Due to an administrative error the Swanley Court planning application has been deferred to a later date and has not been rejected. Since the deferment of the case it has become apparent that there are land ownership issues which has meant that the application is now invalid pending the resolution of the ownership issue. If there is no resolution by Friday July 13 then the application will be withdrawn. If the current application is withdrawn then the applicants would need to apply to council under a fresh application for any future development of the site.

“While none of the parties have been disadvantaged by this change of date or the potential withdrawal of the application, the council would like to apologise for any inconvenience it has caused.”