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The Saga of King Alfred

 

It's Go for Gehry!

On Friday, 23rd March 2007 the Council's Planning Committee approved the planning application for the King Alfred redevelopment on the the casting vote of the chair of the committee.

King Alfred
Piazzas Included
An Edwardian Dress?

The King Alfred, Hove's council-owned ailing sports centre, has been in desperate need of refurbishment, even rebuilding, for many years. But where was the money going to come from. The council doesn't have it. Almost all its considerable annual budget is earmarked for the delivery of statutory services, such as education and social services. Frivolous things such as sports centres come way down the list of priorities. So for years now it was clear if anything was going to happen it was going to be a joint venture between the council and private capital.

What does the council have? Answer: a prime seafront building site. The council also has a pressing need to see more homes built. And property would provide the profits to subsidise the new sports centre.

Another consideration: for a long time those who know about such things have lambasted the city for its appalling architectural monstrosities, mostly from the brutalist period of the 1960s. Churchill Square before it was redeveloped was a prime example. That concrete box on the corner of West Street at the seafront is another.

So there was a general agreement that the city needed some prestigious new architecture. And what better way to justify a return to the tower block than to have them designed by likes of the world famous architect, Frank Gehry, buddy of Brad Pitt.

Of course, not everyone is happy with Gehry's plans for the redevelopment of the King Alfred site. Local residents who are happy and content with the status quo are up in arms. They will agree that the King Alfred needs refurbishment, but not at the price of a high density housing development on the site, including two "oversized" towers. The King Alfred is in Tory-controlled Central Hove ward. So it's no surprise that the Tories have been staunch opponents of the scheme.

After much toing and froing (Gehry won the design competition as far back as 2003) it looks as though the development will go ahead. The council is involved in two capacities: one, as landowner of the site and buildings; and, two, as planning committee. The first is handled by the council's Policy and Resouces Committee, and the second by its Planning Committee. Ideally, these two committees should not have any overlapping membership, but that's not the case in Brighton & Hove. The planning committee, although made up of councillors, is required to act in a non-political, quazi-judicial manner; that is, councillors are supposed to make decisions in accordance with planning law and regulation. In fact, they sit like a lower court, and any decision they make can be appealed to the Planning Inspectorate.

 

This is not to say that councillors on the planning committee do not act politically, but they're not supposed to, and when they do for reasons of political expediency and in contravention of planning law, it often costs the taxpayer money because the council will suffer the inevitable costs of fighting and losing an appeal.

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