Dismay over Eastbourne appeal decision approving former hospital’s demolition
Councillors and campaigners have expressed dismay with a government inspector’s decision to allow the demolition a former Red Cross hospital in Eastbourne.
In a decision published on Monday (July 15), the Planning Inspectorate overturned Eastbourne Borough Council’s refusal of proposals to demolish Kempston in Granville Road and build a new block of 16 apartments in its place.
The decision has been met with heavy criticism from both councillors and campaigners, who had hoped to give the building greater protection from demolition by including it within the town’s College Conservation Area.
Critics included Meads Community Association (MCA) chairman Dennis Scard, who said: “We believe that the decision flies in the face of Eastbourne Borough Councils Planning Committee and the many residents of Meads who campaigned to preserve this historic and architecturally important building.
“[We consider] the planning inspector’s decisions in relation to the demolition and the redevelopment to be contradictory in that they recognise the existing building could remain as separate apartments while siding with the developers to demolish and redevelop.
“Scant attention has been given in the inspector’s report to this part of Meads, which is recognised as a unique area that deserves to be preserved.
“A fundamental question arises in that a single planning inspector can override the unanimous decision of democratically-elected councillors and local residents, who seek to control planning policy for the benefit of the town and individual areas.
“Where is the local democracy in this?”
Similar concerns were raised by ward councillor Robert Smart (Con, Meads).
Cllr Smart said: “We are being very badly served by the planning system and it is beyond belief that the planning inspector has been hoodwinked by a brief and superficial inspection of the property.
“The decision highlights the failure by Eastbourne Borough Council to review the boundaries of the relevant Conservation Area for the past 30 years.
“I have been pressing for the extension of the College Conservation Area over the past year, and although the proposed extension includes Kempston its expected adoption in a few months time will be shutting the stable door after this horse has bolted.”
In coming to their decision, the planning inspector concluded that council planners had acted unreasonably in refusing the application, saying they had failed to ‘clearly demonstrate on planning grounds why a proposal is unacceptable and provide clear reasoning to substantiate its reasons’.
As a result the council has been ordered to pay full costs and expenses to developer Associated Property Owners Ltd – a sum expected to run into the thousands.
Planning committee Jim Murray, however, hit out a developers over the failure to find a compromise.
Cllr Murray (Lib Dem, Hampden Park) said: “As a responsible planning committee, working alongside local historians and our own Conservation area committee, we are keen to preserve these areas within the town whenever we can.
“We have areas already in the town which are protected from overdevelopment and we are constantly reassessing these areas to make sure that we do capture all that is great about the town.
“We work very closely with local developers when looking to build, improve our housing stock and on the whole this works well and we have a nice compromise between what the town would like and what developers need to do to meet their budgets.
“It is always unfortunate when this compromise does not work, we did say to these developers at Kempston that they could have the extension and build the extra flats but could they keep the existing building.
“They chose not to go down this route, which is why we are in this position.
“Over the last few years we have had a very good relationship with our local inspector and they have, on the whole, agreed with our decisions, in this case they have decided against us and after reading the report, I can understand why they have come to that decision.
“The fault is not with the inspector, the fault is with the developer, who was unwilling to compromise.
“I apologise to the local people for the outcome, on behalf of the committee and officers, we did our best to come to a more amicable agreement.”