Plans to redevelop an eyesore former hotel and pub have been agreed by councillors – against the recommendation of planning officials.
Battle-based Fondare Developments has been given permission to convert The Sussex Hotel in London Road into office space and 10 self-contained flats.
Planning officers argued it was an unjustified loss of an employment/tourism facility as it hadn’t been proved that the venue was financially unsustainable.
But councillors on Rother District Council’s planning committee disagreed and voted 9-4 in favour of the scheme being given the go-ahead.
Councillor Christine Bayliss, speaking as lead member for regeneration, said the site looked ugly and was having a negative impact on the area.
“Given that we are in a recession, this is exactly the type of project that will help economies like Bexhill get going,” she said.
Councillor Gary Curtis agreed. “It’s an ideal opportunity to improve this absolute eyesore that’s at the gateway entrance to Bexhill,” he said. “It’s derelict and looks dreadful.”
However, not all councillors shared the positive outlook.
Councillor Gennette Stevens agreed with the planning officials. “Any building in the right hands can be successful,” she said. “If you did this lovely building up and ran it properly. You need budget rooms as people sometimes just want a one night stop and not always a luxury hotel.”
Councillor Richard Thomas recalled it being a “thriving and popular music venue” and insisted the viability of the premises depended on the quality of the management.
“If this pub had been taken over by Basil Fawlty it would have been managed better,” he said. “It was indifferent to customers’ needs, and they were careless about the appearance and smell.”
However, Councillor Sam Coleman insisted that the pub’s problems couldn’t be totally blamed on previous bad management – and supported the proposed redevelopment.
“We need housing and this provides 10 flats,” he said. “We also need to encourage jobs and the office space allows for their development.”
Fondare, which bought the freehold of the property for £450,000 in November 2018, had applied to change the use of the site and build a three storey extension at the rear.
It wants to use the extended ground floor for offices and then the enlarged first and second floors to house 10 one-bedroom, self-contained flats.
However, officials had argued there hadn’t been a comprehensive or sustained marketing campaign to support claims that there wasn’t enough demand for a pub/hotel.
“Neither has enough financial information been submitted to demonstrate convincingly that the use of the premises as a public house/hotel is not capable of being financially viable,” they added.
Fondare’s planning application was supported by a report from Savills, the estate agents, which had marketed the property from February 2018.
It had received 14 enquiries – all from developers looking at the site for residential development – and none from pub users or groups wanting to create a community facility.
James Greenlees, a surveyor at Savills, wrote: “We are not aware of revenue that the venue was generating at the point of sale but it was clearly insufficient to sustain the business, hence the reason for sale.”
The Sussex Hotel, which was popular with locals, had featured a pool table, two darts boards, gambling machines, and a raised music stage.
It could cater for around 55 diners inside and a further 12 outside. Upstairs, there were 10 ensuite bedrooms, along with a two-bedroom manager’s flat.
It closed last summer. According to evidence sent to the planning department a year ago, the property was repossessed by Fondare after rent payments from the leaseholder managing the pub had become late – and then sparse.
In a letter, Byron Lear, a Fondare director, said the pub’s existing landlord had signed a five year lease, prior to the acquisition. This was then taken over by another businessman in early 2019.
Mr Lear said the pub had appeared to thrive on its ‘weekend endeavours to supply live music’ but was receiving little to no holidaymakers.
“It is clear following repossession of the building that the rooms were being utilised for longer lets,” he wrote, adding it was subsequently boarded up for insurance and security purposes.