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COST OF PRESERVING THE ROYAL ALEX

The Argus : 2 December 2008
Malcolm Dawes, Chair, The Brighton Society

THE PLANNING COMMITTEE of Brighton and Hove City Council will be considering the fate of the former Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital on December 3 when it will be advised by planning officers that it should support the demolition of the buildings as conversion would be too expensive for the developer.

This recommendation comes from the conservation officers who have used a valuer’s report to conclude that conversion is uneconomic.

The Brighton Society along with many other societies and individuals have objected to the demolition of this historic building and we have supported proposals for conversion of the principal southern building that is such a landmark in this part of Brighton.

The building is in a sound condition as until recently, it was used by the children’s hospital.

We have had successful conversions of similar Victorian buildings in recent years – the technical college in Richmond Terrace, Brighton, and Hove General Hospital in Sackville Road are two examples. Conversion is therefore a realistic future for the building so we are shocked that the conservation officers should use perceived inadequate profits as a basis for allowing demolition of this important building.

We have contacted a number of planning authorities and they have all expressed surprise that the conservation report refers to the economics of reconstruction as this is outside the remit of such reports.

Conservation officers should only consider the architectural value of the existing building, the quality of any proposed building and the effects of demolition or new buildings on the conservation area.

The Brighton and Hove Plan, which is the definitive document for planning issues, states: “The planning authority will not grant consent to demolish a building in a conservation area simply because redevelopment is economically more attractive.”

Taylor Wimpey may have purchased the hospital buildings at too high a price and it has been reported in recent weeks that the company is alleged to be in economic difficulties. The site, with permission for demolition and detailed planning approval for a new building, would overnight become a great financial asset for any developer.

For the council to assess an acceptable level of profitability for the developer in these circumstances is an exercise fraught with difficulties. To do so leaves the council open to accusations that the planning process is being skewed in favour of the developer.

We do not want to lose this handsome and historic building which has played such an important part in the lives of so many local children and their parents. We certainly don’t want its fate decided on a basis that in planning terms is questionable.

Malcolm Dawes, Chair, The Brighton Society, Rugby Road, Brighton