Mixed views on plans to convert ‘horrendous’ Eastbourne office block into 22 flats

An artist's impression of the redeveloped Eastbourne House from Gildredge Road
An artist's impression of the redeveloped Eastbourne House from Gildredge Road

Plans to convert an Eastbourne office block into flats have received a mixed response from a committee of planning advisors.

At a meeting on Tuesday (January 8), Eastbourne Borough Council’s conservation area advisory group considered an application to convert 1970s office building Eastbourne House into 22 modern apartments.

Eastbourne House (photo from Google Maps Street View)

Eastbourne House (photo from Google Maps Street View)

The building falls within the Eastbourne Town Centre Conservation Area, as it sits on the corner of Gildredge Road and Hyde Gardens, making the group responsible for determining if the proposals would preserve or enhance its surroundings.   

In discussing the proposals, group members criticised the current building’s appearance, describing it as ‘horrendous’ and as ‘an ugly duckling in the conservation area’.

They included Meads councillor Robert Smart (Con.) who said: “It is a very central and key location and arguably the design has no consistency with anything. It is just a building.

“This [proposal] is a marginal improvement on what is there at the moment but I must admit I feel rather uneasy.

“In general terms I would say it doesn’t enhance, but I suspect you could persuade me, that because what is there at the moment is so ugly, anything is better than it.”

While the group was unanimously critical of the existing building, they were unable to reach a consensus on whether the proposals – involving the construction of a surrounding shell – would benefit the town.

During the discussion, Ratton councillor Colin Belsey (Con.) argued that there were few options for such a large and prominent site.

He said: “It is an improvement on what is there. You either do that or you knock it down and rebuild it.

“Needless to say the cost of knocking it down would be tremendous and then you are probably only going to get something like a nursing home or sheltered accommodation to do it.”

Other committee members, however, argued the design should be considered on its own merits, rather than what it would be replacing.

The group’s chairman Pat Rodohan (Lib Dem – Upperton) said: “Personally I think it is an opportunity lost.

“The difficulty what it is replacing is of little value in terms of aesthetics however I personally think that the [design] we are looking at will be detrimental, particularly to Hyde Gardens.”

Meanwhile Nicholas Howell of The Eastbourne Society, who sits on the committee as a non-elected advisor, argued that the design could quickly go out of fashion.

Mr Howell said: “The other aspect that needs to be considered is how long this will last as a contemporary design. They seem to date very quickly.

“This idea of putting frames around things is very ‘now’ but I wonder if in ten to 15 years time it will look a bit naff.”

While the advisory group was unable reach a consensus, officers were informally asked to approach developers to see if they would consider submitting a more traditional design.

As part of its application, the developer has submitted a design and access statement which discusses the potential impact on the Town Centre Conservation Area.

In the statement, a spokesman for the developer said the design would ‘juxtapose the locally listed buildings on Hyde Gardens … in a way that respects the existing built form without mimicking its qualities.”

For more information about the application, search for reference number 181104 on the Eastbourne Borough Council planning website.