Property developers are being invited to take part in a beauty parade with the King Alfred site in Hove as the winner’s prize.
The prospect of a new seafront leisure centre on the site of the King Alfred is about to move another step closer. Property developers are being invited to take part in a beauty parade with one of Brighton and Hove’s seafront pearls as the prize.
At stake is the chance to build a gym, sports halls and swimming pool. The chances are that it will be a 25-metre pool although plenty of people believe that this is our best chance to have a 50-metre competition pool like the K2 in Crawley.
If pools are a potential financial drain, the reward comes in the form of 400 flats – the enabling development. The public spaces are paid for from the profits of new homes, with high hopes that 40 per cent of those homes will be for poorer people on the council waiting list. Inevitably, hundreds of flats – several storeys high – will attract local and vocal opposition.
They will also attract investors. At a developers day last November, 65 people went along for 40 organisations as part of 29 teams. In the coming months a shortlist of two, three or even four companies or consortiums is likely to be drawn up and whittled down until a preferred partner is picked.
Among the names in the frame is Cathedral, the company behind the scheme at the old fruit and veg market on Circus Street, Brighton. The scheme was granted planning permission last week. Cathedral is also working with the council on plans for Preston Barracks in Brighton.
Another potential developer – with strong local roots – is Rob Starr, from Hove. After leaving school he started an insurance business from scratch and turned it into one of the country’s leading brokerages. His vision is for an integrated arts and leisure centre known as The Lyrics. He has learnt from others’ mistakes and already shared his plans widely, carrying out considerable early consultation.
“Key decisions are unlikely to be finalised this side of the elections next May”
This is not the first time that Brighton and Hove City Council has tried to tackle the dilemma of the King Alfred. Frank Gehry, the architect who designed the widely lauded Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, was involved in the last attempt, led by local developer Karis.
The £300 million scheme included more than 700 flats. Planning permission was granted but the credit crunch and a changing political climate locally put paid to the project.
Feelings ran high on both sides of the debate. The experience may well have coloured the careful approach being taken this time. A cross-party group met just over a fortnight ago and an update was presented to the council’s Economic Development and Culture Committee last week. Some suspect key decisions are unlikely to be finalised this side of the elections next May. But the foundations are being put in place.
A project spec is ready to discuss with developers. It’s not set in stone. There is still pressure from some for an Olympic-size pool and from others for a destination in keeping with our seafront string of pearls. To mix metaphors for a moment, there is a risk that the end result will be neither fish nor fowl.
The council is also aware of the knock-on effects of building 400 homes on the site. At one of Rob Starr’s consultation events, it was summed up by one of those attending, who said: “The elephant in the room is transport links.”
Council officials are taking a fresh look at how people move along the seafront between Shoreham Harbour and Brighton Marina.
There is at least one more elephant in the room in the form of school places. Demand will be even greater if the council HQ at nearby King’s House is converted into housing, and hundreds of homes in the area around Hove Station are built.
One solution may be to put housing on the King Alfred site and build a pool somewhere else – perhaps near the station or on the Sackville Trading Estate. It would complicate the picture and delay the date on which the first spade hits the ground, but may ensure a prize-winning result.
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