Wish Tower cafe to be reduced to rubble

The seafront with the Wish Tower
The seafront with the Wish Tower

The historic Wish Tower restaurant will be demolished despite vociferous objections from local people.

Amid a flurry of accusations that Eastbourne Borough Council had made up its mind long before the matter made it in to town’s planning committee earlier this week, councillors gave the go-ahead to knock down the seafront eatery.

A busy public gallery reacted angrily to the decision to reduce the 1960s building to rubble, with the panel’s Lib Dems united on party lines to block attempts to defer a decision until every alternative avenue had been explored.

Councillors Pat Hearn, Harun Miah, John Ungar, Jon Harris and Jim Murray voted in favour of demolition, while Conservative counterparts Barry Taylor, Annabelle West and Sandie Howlett tried in vain to delay the destruction of the once popular cafe until at least after plans for a replacement building have been put in place.

It emerged during Tuesday’s heated debate that the local authority, which owns the restaurant, has planned to demolish the building for more than a decade, having signalled its intent to knock it down back in 2000.

The hope, according to the council, is that by creating a blank canvas to offer potential developers, the town can attract an iconic and prestigious restaurant or venue to what is widely considered one of the most attractive spots on the south coast.

However, there has been no shortage of concerns raised by residents.

Once such local was John Foyle – whose father helped pay for the original building as a lasting memorial to the people of Eastbourne who died during the Second World War.

This week he urged councillors to delay signing off on the demolition order.

He said, “My father’s vision was that the building should stand as the only memorial to those who died in Eastbourne during the many air raids of the Second World War and those residents who with fortitude remained in the town and survived.

“He also saw that the building would realise his dream for residents and visitors to have free access to read books in a sun lounge with outstanding views.

“The building is of historic importance and should receive protection from demolition. In any case it should not be demolished unless and until the council can bring forward the planning permission for an entirely suitable replacement. My concern is that, if the present building is swept away and the council then finds that no commercial developer is prepared to build a replacement which reflects the vision of my father, there will no opportunity for repairs and restoration.”

It was a sentiment shared by many who gathered in the town hall for the debate during which councillors were repeatedly reminded that the only consideration which could shape their decision was whether or not the demolition would have a negative effect on the appearance of the conservation area the Wish Tower sits in.

However, the estimated cost of potential refurbishment could not be ignored. No full structural survey has taken place – much to the chagrin of the anti-demolition lobby.

Council officers have suggested it could take as much as £800,000 to bring the existing building back into use after it suffered substantial weather damage and had its inside ransacked by metal and lead thieves.

This figure compares to the low price of demolition, which experts suggest would be nearer the £50,000 mark.

The planning committee’s chairman John Ungar said, “It has now got to the point where it [the building] is an iconic blot on the seafront.

“What effect will it have [knocking it down] on the conservation area? I think it would actually improve it.”

Douglas Murray, another pro Wish Tower campaigner disagreed. He said, “Give the performance of Eastbourne Borough Council I can this being demolished, there not being the money to replace it and we will be sitting here in ten years time wondering what we are going to do.”

He also said there was the danger that once a building was knocked down in a conservation area, it may be difficult to convince English Heritage of the merits of putting up a replacement.

Nevertheless, permission was granted.

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