An historic seafront landmark in Hove may be bought by Brighton and Hove City Council – but not yet.
Instead the council will keep applying pressure on the current owners of Medina House, in King’s Esplanade, to maintain the site.
Council leader Jason Kitcat refused to rule out the use of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) but said that it wasn’t warranted at the moment.
Councillor Kitcat was responding to a petition organised by the conservation group Save Hove and presented by its leading light Valerie Paynter.
The petition, with 444 signatures, was presented to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee when it met at Hove Town Hall yesterday afternoon (Thursday 19 March).
Valerie Paynter told the committee: “Following on from our 2013 success in gaining a planning brief for Medina House by petitioning in 2012, we come to the council once again, this time seeking compulsory purchase of Medina House and we hope you will agree the reasons are now compelling.
“Since Sirus Taghan bought it from Hove Borough Council, the building has been neglected, has entertained, firstly, high-minded artist squatters but more recently, a so squalid crew of campervan squatters that we were collectively forced to lean on the council for enforcement, which was actioned after a useful round-table meeting with officers which Councillor (Andrew) Wealls organised for us.
“The online planning history contains 17 entries since 1999, including consent for demolition of the poolhouse and unused consent for two houses on that part with conversion of Medina House itself into flats.
“I counted 10 more applications for demolitions and new builds that were all either withdrawn or refused and including one failed appeal.
“The applications show complete disregard for overshadowing impact on the teensy Victoria Cottages and Sussex Road homes directly behind Medina House and even include two 18 and 16-storey designs.
“All the applications have disregarded impact full stop, either visual, historic or physical.
“One proposal tossed out to the media that never made it to the submitted planning application stage – known as the spinning plates – was rumbled as having been from an already existing seafront scheme in Scandinavia. Was he teasing us?
“The building has also suffered two arson attacks, the most recent on (Saturday) 20 December last year, complete with severed roof trusses.
“What has that cost the taxpayer in police and fire resources used?
“On the other side of the balance sheet, support for retention of Medina House has been significant and persisting.
“It includes Amy Frankie Smith’s academic fellowship study of its bath house history and bespoke Royal Doulton tilework, a tremendously detailed historic account from Judy Middleton, which went online yesterday, along with the Save Hove-led campaigns by Esplanade residents for enforcement, a planning brief and now this petition seeking compulsory purchase which has been supported online by noted conservationists from other groups as well as Peter Marrocco.
“In 2012 Medina House was sold in two parts to two people in Mr Taghan’s circle for the combined price of £275,000 – what he paid for it originally.
“If compulsory purchased for this amount and sold by competitive tender, there is a profit to be made by the council while also steering its future use, which has always been commercial.
“In 2004 these people also bought number 3 Victoria Cottages and I’m told created an access point into the Medina House pool area.
“Maybe this too should be CPO’d and brought back into housing use.
“A total of 444 people have signed the online and paper petition and trust the council to see CPO as both a solution and an opportunity to secure the future of Medina House.”
Councillor Kitcat said: “The city council obviously greatly regrets the current unsightly appearance of the Medina House site and would welcome an approach from the owners for a well-designed and appropriate development coming forward at the earliest possible opportunity.
“While the council does not rule out the use of compulsory purchase at some time in the future, it does not appear that the circumstances of Medina House warrant such action at this time.
“The relevant legislation is to be found at section 226 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and there is also useful guidance in circular number 06/2004.
“Officers have reviewed the requirements of the act and consider that the onerous requirements are not met at this time.
“And in that light it is also worth welcoming the Chancellor’s review of (the) compulsory purchase system in the budget which could make it less onerous in the future but that’s not the case at the moment.
“The council has no resources identified to purchase this site and any decision to purchase would require a business case to be in place which identifies that both sufficient funds are available and demonstrate that it would be a financially viable investment for its future operation.
“Despite the non-listed status of the building, since the fire we have written to Mr Taghan and applied some pressure requiring remedial works to be carried out to the building.
“We asked for the following works to be undertaken
Repairing and resecuring timber hoarding around the site and securing the building from any unauthorised intrusion
Securing windows on the western elevation to prevent water ingress and protection from the elements with immediate effect
Repair and replace windows on the western elevation including replacement of glazing
Repainting the western elevation of the property to match the previously painted elements of the property
“We’ve been in constant communication with Mr Taghan since our first letter on (Tuesday) 30 December and we last visited the site on (Tuesday) 3 March and the above works were being well progressed.”
The committee noted the petition.
The petition said: “In the dying days of Hove Borough Council, late Victorian Medina House (1894) was sold to Sirus Taghan.
“Some 16 or so years on, and many failed planning applications later, the last saltwater bath house standing has also suffered two unexplained fires on its top floor.
“The second of these fires occurred on the evening of (Saturday) 20 December 2014 and was extinguished without the roof being breached or damaged which the fire service feared could happen.
“Medina House sits in the Cliftonville Conservation Area and is on the local list of buildings of local importance but it is not a listed building which many think it is.
“Its Royal Doulton tiling has been removed/vandalised. Its pool infilled with concrete.
“It has survived two fires under its roof and, with the surviving cottages of Sussex Road and Victoria Cottages abutting its back wall area, it forms a single, untouched and unified heritage unit up to the Kingsway and Victoria Terrace which is grade 2 listed.
“It was built as a bath house. It was used for diamond cutting before it was sold to Sirus Taghan.
“Ideas for conversion have included art gallery, boutique hotel, housing and a spa.
“As a result of a Save Hove petition and campaign, a planning brief was created by Brighton and Hove City Council which recognises its worth as a building to retain.
“It is time this building was restored and brought back into use and the present owner refuses to do it.
“Before any more damage accrues, the time has come for Brighton and Hove City Council to step in and buy it by compulsory purchase order.”
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