Historic Worthing buildings saved from demolition for now as £4million redevelopment is rejected

A £4million redevelopment, which included the demolition of historic Worthing buildings, has been sent back to the drawing board by councillors.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 9:29 am
Revised plans for Colonnade House, Worthing

Worthing Borough Council’s planning committee on Wednesday (October 20) rejected an application to demolish and redevelop 52 Ann Street and 2 to 7 High Street to create five emergency accommodation flats.

The project includes the expansion of the existing creative and digital hub at Colonnade House next door to include a cafe, office and meeting space as well as art studios and exhibition space.

The committee approved an application in April, but permission was never formally granted.

The council then came back with a revised scheme which would have seen the number of flats reduced from the original six to five – in order to comply with new fire safety regulations. 

Without the reduction, council officers said around £700,000 would be added to costs.

But on Wednesday the planning committee ultimately objected to the loss of heritage buildings.

Louise Murphy (Con, Offington) said the scheme ‘brought together the old and the new’ but she wanted to know how it was financially viable.

Council officers said that ‘ordinarily it would not make commercial sense’ but said the site was in such a state of disrepair that it would unlikely attract other developers. 

They added that the scheme could bring value in terms of space for arts, businesses and emergency accommodation.

They said, in any case, that: “Original architectural features of the building, including the colonnade which gave the building its name, have disappeared over the years.”

‘I have the political will’

Helen Silman (Lab, Heene) said she was ‘not enamoured’ with the stark contrast between the proposed development and existing buildings. 

“I don’t know if all avenues for funding to restore the building have been tackled,” she said.

“If we knock them down, they’re gone forever; there’s hardly anything left in this town of character from 100, 200 years ago.”

She said it was a ‘fine balance’ and did not dismiss the importance of emergency accommodation. 

Jim Deen (Lab, Central) said he was ‘really disappointed’ that he was ‘having to ask this council to preserve two very important buildings’.

He added: “I take everything that has been said about them being in a dilapidated state. But there are buildings up and down the country in a worse state, that their councils have felt are worth preserving.”

He disagreed with the Worthing Society who said there was a ‘lack of political will and funding’ to save the buildings, saying: “I have the political will.”

The society was consulted over the plans and said it was ‘wholly exceptional’ that it did not object to the loss of Georgian buildings. 

“These heritage buildings were very sadly neglected to a significant degree and left to deteriorate,” the group explained, “The political will and funding is apparently not in evidence to carry out a thorough restoration.

“We do appreciate that all the buildings on the site have been significantly altered over time, having lost many of their historic, architectural features. 

“Nevertheless this locally listed group of buildings do still contribute positively to this part of the South Street Conservation Area.”

The society added that the choice of materials for a new building would be ‘paramount’.

‘Shame’ about modern external materials

Designs for part of the building showed a change from brickwork to render.

Karen Harman (Con, Castle) said the material was ‘quite modern’ when compared to Warwick Street and said it was ‘a shame’.

But council officers argued that ‘a lot of consideration’ had been given to materials by the architects and said the new building would be more energy efficient with solar panels and a heat pump.

One member of the public also sent a statement to the committee, outlining their upset at the demolition plans.

“Anyone driving down the high street towards The Steyne cannot but fail to notice the corner of this Georgian building, with gentle curve and sash windows looking on to the remains of Ann Street,” they said.

Some were supportive of the plans, including existing occupants of Colonnade House who were hoping for more space. 

The Council for British Archaeology also said it was ‘broadly supportive’ of the redevelopment but objected to the ‘quantity of demolition’ proposed.

If approved, no demolition would have taken place until a contract had been let to secure the redevelopment and a ‘heritage board’ would have been installed outlining the history of the buildings. 

It remains to be seen what will happen now the plans have been rejected by the planning committee, which has seen its membership change since April.