Hove pharmaceutical firm wins planning permission to turn former Brighton bingo hall into factory

Posted On 11 May 2016 at 6:37 pm

A Hove pharmaceutical business has been granted planning permission to turn the former Beacon bingo hall in Moulsecoomb into a factory and research centre.

Custom Pharmaceuticals, of Conway Street, Hove, plans to adapt the existing single-storey warehouse-style building, on the Fairway Trading Estate, in Moulsecoomb Way.

It wants to put in doors and windows on the 31-year-old grey brick and corrugated metal building – and a mezzanine floor.

The company bought the site – once a Texas Homecare DIY store – for £4 million after a five-year search for new premises so that its pills and powders business could grow. It plans to make and package tablets and capsules and carry out research and development at the site.

The old Beacon bingo hall in Moulsecoomb - Picture by Hassocks5489 / Wikimedia Commons

The old Beacon bingo hall in Moulsecoomb – Picture by Hassocks5489 / Wikimedia Commons

The £20 million scheme was granted permission this afternoon (Wednesday 11 May) by the Brighton and Hove City Council Planning Committee in a meeting at Portslade Town Hall.

Custom Pharmaceuticals employs about 200 staff and hopes to employ 50 more within a few years. That figure could reach 300 if the business keeps growing.

The jobs range from entry level packaging to postgraduate research chemists and most staff live locally.

The company hopes to start work on the site as soon as possible and to start moving work from Hove to Moulsecoomb in about a year’s time.

It has a lease until the end of 2019 on its Conway Street base which is owned by Matsim Properties, the developer planning the £80 million Hove Gardens scheme by Hove Station.

Planning officer Kate Brocklebank told the committee today that the Beacon bingo hall closed in February. It was a Gala bingo hall before that.

She said that he old Custom Pharmaceuticals premises in Conway Street would become part of the Hove Station regeneration project.

An artist's impression of the proposed Hove Gardens scheme from Ethel Street

An artist’s impression of phase 1 of the proposed Hove Gardens scheme from Ethel Street

The planning permission allows for Custom Pharma to use the building for manufacturing, offices, warehousing and research.

The firm has agreed a travel plan with the council which includes easier access to the site for pedestrians and cyclists. It will also pay for a real-time bus information display in the building to help staff see when the next buses are due.

Chief executive Nigel Richardson, who has run the business for nearly 40 years, said that the company would work with the neighbouring business, the housing contractor Mears, to help with parking. The plans indicate that there will be almost 140 car parking spaces on the site.

Three people objected to the scheme and one of them, Nicolas de Conde, told the Planning Committee: “This will take away facilities in the area that are sorely needed. Not everyone can afford the expense and time to go to the centre of Brighton.”

It would be a good site for the Bridge Community Centre and local shops, he said, with good parking facilities and ease of access.

Mr de Conde said: “The bingo hall provided a social service to the area and to replace it with a factory would be ludicrous.”

He spoke about the need for social cohesion in an area that desperately needs it and raised concerns about extra traffic in Lewes Road.

Nigel Richardson

Nigel Richardson

Councillor Maggie Barradell asked about chemical fumes while Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty asked about noise and the scheme’s environmental credentials.

Mr Richardson said: “There are no external emissions. We use a HEPA filter. There will be nothing but clean air coming out.”

Custom Pharma’s head of projects John Scott said: “We’re planning to put all the noisy equipment in the basement.”

There would be some extraction units outside but the noise would be minimised by an acoustic barrier, he said, adding: “We have an existing facility in the area … We haven’t had any complaints.”

He said that Custom was investing £20 million in this facility. It represented 25 per cent more than Custom’s annual turnover and ten years of profit.

Councillor Barradell said: “The loss of the bingo hall is a loss to the community but it’s not a loss caused by this application.

“I am reassured by the applicants that there will be no emissions of smell and pollution.”

Councillor Maggie Barradell

Councillor Maggie Barradell

Councillor Michael Inkpin-Leissner said: “It’s a shame that there is a loss of community space.”

It was a deprived area, he said, adding: “I would encourage the developer to put a little bit into the community.”

He also urged the company to give jobs to people who live in the local area.

Mr Richardson said after the meeting that Custom Pharma would help fund community youth work through the Trust for Developing Communities.

In response to the remarks about losing a community facility, Councillor Julie Cattell, who chairs the Planning Committee, said: “There is a leisure centre just over the road.”

Councillor Adrian Morris said: “I welcome the business that is going in there and which has many links with Sussex University and Brighton University and will provide jobs to people coming out of there.”

Councillor Carol Theobald said: “It’s a shame that bingo halls are in decline. But it is good news that one of the city’s top 30 private sector employers is moving there.”

Councillor Julie Cattell

Councillor Julie Cattell

Councillor Cattell said: “One of our key planning policies is aimed at retaining current jobs and creating new ones. This is a big local employer which we can help expand further by allowing this change of use.

“I’m pleased we can help end the company’s five-year search for premises and at the same time free up an important development site near Hove station.”

While Brighton University already offers degrees in pharmacy, Sussex University is due to take its first pharmacy students in the autumn.

Clare Mackie, the pro vice chancellor for teaching and learning at Sussex, and herself a pharmacist, said last month: “We are aiming to produce highly qualified practitioners with superb skills in applying pharmacy in research and clinical settings, who will form strong partnerships with other healthcare professionals and patients, to ensure innovative delivery of care and treatment to an increasingly ageing population.”

Professor Mackie is a pharmacist by background.

Fellow Sussex professor, Laurence Pearl, the head of the university’s School of Life Sciences, said: “We believe our considerable research strengths in cancer and neurosciences and our commitment to translation of our discovery research into new medicines and treatments allow us to develop a very distinctive pharmacy training.”

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