Seafront hotel: Sheer arrogance
JOHN LEE, chairman of the Save Our Seafront Campaign, writes:
IN September the Observer published a letter in which I explained to our supporters why we had agreed to participate in the Community Enquiry on regeneration and the basis on which we had decided to do so.
Much of the process is now complete although we have reservations about its conduct.
In its account on October 15 the Observer reported Malcolm Mitcheson as claiming the revised regeneration plan presented last week had demonstrated that Sea Space had listened - although he did not say to whom!
One can really only deride such a claim in the circumstances. It typifies perfectly the disingenuous nature of the entire consultative process to date.
In March, electors were faced with a Sea Space proposal to construct an hotel, shops, offices and apartments on the West lawn of the Pavilion, six months later, we are still faced with a Sea Space proposal to construct an hotel on this site. (Although it is apparently to be camouflaged beneath a gigantic grass hump!)
The remaining structures are to be more widely dispersed and imposed now along the south side of Marina, no doubt to the abiding pleasure of the residents of Marina north side, Marina Court Avenue and Channel View West. Not much evidence of listening there. (We are seeking to get architects' drawings and projections published so that electors and residents can more easily see the full implications).
Our concern to protect the west lawn of the Pavilion to the fullest administrative and legal extent had nothing ever to do with building design but everything to do with its highly valued and long established status as a public amenity site much loved by residents and visitors alike who prize it for what it is. There can be no design solution to this fundamental objection.
For Sea Space to persist in seeking to erect an hotel there displays either a total lack of awareness of its public amenity value or an obstinate quest for a trophy site.
Mr Mitcheson is then reported to have described enthusiastically the northern aspect of the revised plan and particularly the "big increase in town centre off-road parking" to be built over the railway, the relocated railway station and the linkage to improved shopping in Town Hall Square.
These are all developments which as a group we have advocated ourselves and would welcome.
What Mr Mitcheson carefully omitted to say, however, is that we were all subsequently very disappointed to be firmly told at the final meeting that all the proposed northern developments, including the major off-road car park, could only be regarded as "aspirational" and within a context of a 30 year vision!
So, we are left therefore with (surprise, surprise) only one fundable option which just happens to be essentially the same Sea Space proposal as before, albeit with a revised layout.
The consultation process still requires that a public meeting be convened to consider and discuss the plan. We are pressing for this to be announced soon and hope that as many of our supporters as possible will attend.
By the time this happens, electors and residents should have seen the full array of design elevations and projections overlaid on a plan of the proposed site and we predict an interesting meeting. Some questions which might arise could include:
Why is the De La Warr Trust now saying it will not be financially viable without an hotel adjacent? Was this ever a consideration when the case for a Trust was discussed? There are other hotel options.
If the council is in charge of its own affairs why does it not, through the Task Force, direct Sea Space appropriately?
Our MP, who is a Taskforce member has said publicly that an hotel would be built on the seafront only over his dead body!
Our council leader, also a Taskforce member, has given repeated public assurances that there is absolutely no intention to build an hotel on this site. It was apparently a design exercise to provoke debate and architectural competition. Why did Seaspace not seem to know this?
To permit construction it would be necessary to transfer 284 surface DLWP car parks spaces into a proposed underground car park although it was stated that 284 places could not be guaranteed. The proposed commercial developments are forecast by Sea Space to generate 600 jobs in that area.
The capacity of the Pavilion is of the order of another 600 or so and there is the hotel. What is the parking plan?
Although no data was offered to justify the claimed beneficial economic effects of the proposed south side developments, we do not necessarily challenge these benefits.
Our concern is with the siting, scale and appropriateness of the proposed plan and our strong belief that no serious consideration has really been given to the genuine alternative or compromise solutions available in or around the town. Indeed the town centre seems to have been totally overlooked.
We are concerned, too, at the shrill cries from Mr Mitcheson and others for "firm civic leadership".
This is shorthand for ignoring the electors and residents which in my experience is usually associated with desperation or arrogance!