Plans to convert an Eastbourne cinema into shops have been given the go-ahead by town planners.
On Tuesday (November 20), Eastbourne Borough Council’s planning committee approved two applications, which are expected to see the Cineworld at the Sovereign Harbour Retail Park stripped out and transformed into shops.
The applications – which included proposals for an internal extension to a mezzanine floor within the building – were lodged by site owners, Prudential Assurance, as the cinema gets set to move into the refitted Arndale Centre next year.
Before making a decision, the committee heard from planning agent Peter Wilks, who argued for more lenient planning conditions to allow developers to divide the building into units smaller than the 1,500 sq.m recommended by officers.
Mr Wilks said: “When Cineworld relocates, effectively we will have a large void on the retail park which I believe wouldn’t meet the objectives of [Eastbourne’s planning policies] in that it would undermine the vitality and viability of the district centre.
“If you split [the unit] down the middle and don’t have any mezzanine floors we would be at 1,300 sq.m, so would be in breach of the conditions anyway.
“Realistically the unit can only be subdivided in two, but it might be one larger unit and one smaller. That’s why we want [the minimum unit size] to be reduced to 750 sq.m at ground floor level.”
Mr Wilks added that the owners plan to market the units to a toy and a sportswear retailer, with planning documents listing the potential occupiers as Smyths Toys and/or The Range.
In light of this, Mr Wilks asked the committee to remove another planning condition requiring the tenant to be named and approved by the council if they plan to sell fashion, footwear, sportswear, children’s wear or food.
The committee, however, had reservations about altering the conditions from those recommended by officers.
Committee chairman Jim Murray (Lib Dem – Hampden Park) was among those to raise concerns about reducing the minimum unit size. In doing so, he highlighted the case of the former Blockbuster store, which is currently in the process of being refitted after a long vacancy.
He said: “What we are trying to do is get big out-of-town retailers if we possibly can, but we haven’t got anybody lined up at the moment.
“My concern is that if we could get somewhere like Blockbuster, which has got quite a small floor space, that has been empty for so long because it is not worth anybody going in there as it is too expensive for that particular area.
“My feeling is that a smaller unit in the cinema area could cause the same sort of problems.”
Following a discussion the committee agreed to approve both applications with the stricter planning conditions but to allow officers to continue further negotiation with developers about the minimum unit size.