The artist Christo stunned the art world when he wrapped the Reichstag building in fabric in 1995. In Hove in 2012 a building that has become infamous has been wrapped in fabric and the owners are going to go one better than Christo by making it disappear. Not a moment too soon.
It is not exactly a ‘major’ development but that doesn’t mean that it is unimportant. In a city with a housing problem the provision of any new affordable homes is welcome but the Gala Bingo saga also holds important lessons about development in the city.
Gala Bingo Hall in Portland Road in Hove was built as the Granada Theatre in 1933. It became the ABC Cinema in 1935 and finally, like many theatres before it, a bingo hall in 1975. It finally closed its doors in 2003.
The first planning application to redevelop the site was submitted and rejected shortly afterwards setting the tone for nearly a decade of applications and relentless rejections; all for a great many reasons but almost none to do with the benefits, or otherwise, of the applications.
Downland Housing Trust eventually got consent via appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in September 2010 to demolish the building and replace it with 38 apartments and a new GP surgery to service the immediate area.
So bruising and tortuous was the process that the registered social landlord vowed never to work in Brighton & Hove again saying, “. . . . . it seems as though the delivery of much-needed affordable homes is now almost impossible and as a result we are reviewing our future development plans in Brighton & Hove. This is not something that we take lightly given the significant need and the number of people on the housing waiting list”.
The opponents of the scheme were also vocal with local MP Mike Weatherly condemning the Appeal decision as "a disgrace" saying that if it had been submitted a year later it would have been automatically rejected due to the coalition government's proposed Localism Bill.
In fact the number of formal objections to the scheme was almost equally balanced by those in support, especially businesses in the immediate vicinity who felt that their trade was being damaged by the slowly deteriorating eyesore. Portland Road has become a vibrant and eclectic mix of largely independent shops over the past decade serving a reasonably affluent catchment in Poet’s Corner and New Church Road.
Now the building will be knocked down and the site brought back into use serving the local community with housing and a much-needed super surgery. But I doubt that the developers have made a profit. That is always a risk that developers take but of course housing associations use their profits to build more affordable housing; their loss is ours as well.
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Downland Housing Trust