Conversion plans for Eastbourne’s former telephone exchange building refused

Artist's impression of the scheme proposed for the former telephone exchange building site in Moy Avenue, Eastbourne
Artist's impression of the scheme proposed for the former telephone exchange building site in Moy Avenue, Eastbourne

Controversial proposals to convert the former BT telephone exchange building in Eastbourne into flats have been refused by planners.

Developers had been seeking permission to build up to 85 flats on the vacant site in Moy Avenue, after a previous application for 95 units was rejected by Eastbourne Borough Council and then dismissed on appeal by a planning inspector.

While the revised application had been recommended for approval, the council’s planning committee refused the application due to concerns it would be an overdevelopment of the site on Tuesday (October 23).

Leader of the council David Tutt, one of the ward councillors for St Anthony’s, said: “We are not looking at a group of residents who oppose residential development, they support that as do I. The question is whether or not it is overdevelopment and I believe that it is.

“This is a very busy area. It is an area which serves at least one, if not two, schools and children walk around here regularly. The site is already very congested and to have a blind turning in or out of that development is one, I believe, will lead to an accident in the not so distant future.

“In conclusion, I believe this is an overdevelopment of the area. I believe it will impact adversely on the quality of life of residents of Moy Avenue and Waterworks Road and I ask you to refuse it.”

Cllr Tutt also highlighted how residents support the building of a 36-house scheme on the site instead, which was granted planning permission in 2015.  

The committee also heard arguments against the plans from neighbour Ann Clarke and Nicola Mason of the Roselands and Bridgemere Residents Group. Both raised further fears around the potential loss of privacy from the development.

However Simon Bareham, a representative for the developer, highlighted how the scheme was designed to overcome reasons for refusal identified by the planning inspectorate on an earlier scheme. He also pointed out how the application had been recommended for approval by council planning officers.

He said: “The scheme before you is a very well-designed scheme which will make a contribution to the supply of both open market and affordable housing in Eastbourne.

“Members will be aware that, [since] a more intensive scheme was subject to an appeal decision back in 2017, officers have worked in close consultation with the applicants to provide a revised scheme that addresses comments made by the appeal inspector and results in a positive improvement to the area.

“The scheme revises the design and positioning of blocks to the rear of the site to ensure an acceptable impact on the outlook and privacy of residents.

“At the previous appeal scheme, the inspector noted that the scheme’s scale and appearance would be appropriate for the surrounding area. Such an assessment would also be true therefore for the current application as the overall height and appearance is the same as before.”

He added that the scheme would ‘make a weighty contribution’ to the supply of housing in Eastbourne and bring ‘significant’ economic benefits.

Council planning officers spoke in support of this view, saying the previous scheme had only been refused due to a now-removed element of the scheme. Officers also warned that the developer was likely to take the decision to appeal and said the council may end up being liable for costs.

Despite the views of planning officers, the committee came to the view the scheme would be an overdevelopment of the site with several councillors raising concerns about the impact on neighbours.

Councillors to speak out against the scheme included Janet Coles (Lib Dem. – Old Town), who said: “I think that a scheme like this is definitely going to have an effect on the character and the appearance of the surrounding area. It is also going to have an effect on the living conditions of the occupiers of the neighbouring properties.

“When I looked at our agenda and at the computer-generated images we have, I was astounded to be reminded of how big this is.

“It is just so large and so overbearing that I can’t help thinking that it would be better if it was smaller.”

Colin Murdoch (Con. – Ratton) also spoke out against the plans. He said: “Looking at it, I’m not happy at all. I know it is a development which has been changing and changing and changing, but it all seems to be developing around what the appeal inspector says.

“It is all alright saying the appeal inspector will allow this but at the end of the day it has to be a development which fits within the area and I believe its impact is going to be very detrimental to the area.

“When I saw it first of all I thought it was like shipping containers all stuck together to make it look like a building. It is trying to cram as much as possible into as small a space as possible without thinking of the impact on the people who will live there.”

Following a short discussion the application was unanimously refused by the committee, which said the scheme would be ‘unneighbourly and overbearing’ due to its ‘mass, scale and height’.

For more details of the proposals search for application number 180006 on the Eastbourne Borough Council planning website.

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