A replacement to the Wish Tower Cafe has been approved by Eastbourne planners despite criticism over the final designs.
At a meeting on Tuesday (August 28), planners signed off on an application to build a new restaurant building on the former site of the Wish Tower Cafe on Eastbourne seafront.
The single-storey building, designed by architects Levitt Bernstein, is expected to be leased by French restaurant chain Bistrot Pierre once construction work is completed.
Before a final vote, criticisms were raised by Conservative councillors Barry Taylor and Colin Murdoch over both the process leading to the application as well as the final designs.
Cllr Taylor said, “People may want an ‘iconic restaurant’ there, but it is not going to prove to be something that will be used by all visitors, local residents and promenaders going for a cup of tea. I think something better could be done.
“It is no good for me to go harking on about what was there - that is what people say to me at least. It is gone now, it went five years ago, but when will we learn not to preempt and demolish something without thinking about what we are losing.
“I’m not convinced that this is what the people of Eastbourne want.”
Cllr Taylor also said he and other Conservative councillors had not been presented with evidence that the original Wish Tower Cafe was ‘unsafe’ and asked for the committee to refuse planning permission.
He also requested a recorded named vote as the committee decided on the application.
Concerns were also raised by Cllr Margaret Robinson (Lib Dem - Upperton) over the loss of the current cafe.
Cllr Robinson said, “I agree with Cllr Taylor to a certain degree. I have no problem with it being a really good quality restaurant but… it is a pity it can’t have a wider use.
“It was a bit like a community hub before and I have to say it is going to lose all that. It is not the case that it is for all the people of Eastbourne and tourists coming, it could end up being quite an expensive restaurant that only certain people can afford to go to. It will exclude a lot of people.”
Cllr Robinson added she neither liked or disliked the proposed design, but questioned whether it would be appropriate in such a ‘prominent location’ in the town.
However the plans were also praised by several members of the committee, including Cllr Janet Coles (Lib Dem - Old Town) who praised the ‘juxtaposition’ of the old and new and compared it to the currently under-construction Devonshire Quarter project.
Cllr Coles said, “When the Devonshire Quarter is up and running, I envisage that what you will have is a straight run through from there up to the seafront where there will be the restaurant waiting for them.”
Committee chairman Jim Murray (Lib Dem - Hampden Park) also gave his support to the scheme but acknowledged some of the criticisms of the design. He said: “As a construction worker I can see the complexities of the restaurant design itself. What they are actually doing is quite difficult.
“Potentially the design could have been a little bit better, but we are always working on a compromise between what we want and what we can afford. I think that has come into this in a certain way.
“One of the overwhelming things everybody said when we flattened the Wish Tower Cafe five years ago - because it was unfit for purpose - was that they wanted it back in a similar form.
“We’ve listened to them and we’ve got a design which is similar to what we had but with a new modern twist to it.”
The final vote saw the plans approved with four votes in favour, two against and one abstention. Councillors Janet Coles, Sammy Choudhury, Harun Miah and Jim Murrary voted in favour while councillors Colin Murdoch and Barry Taylor voted against. Cllr Margaret Robinson abstained.
Reacting to the news, leader of the council David Tutt said, “I am absolutely delighted that we are now one step closer to the destination restaurant that a seafront location of this prominence and importance demands.
“Rob Beacham and his team at Bistrot Pierre will create a dining experience that will be heralded a triumph by residents and visitors alike.”
Building work is expected to begin later this year with the restaurant set to open in March 2019.