Battle firm waiting to hear if ambitious redevelopment will get the go-head

A Battle company will find out tomorrow (Thursday 13th August) if it will be allowed to transform an eyesore former hotel and pub.

Fondare Developments wants to convert The Sussex Hotel in London Road, Bexhill, into office space and 10 self-contained flats.

But the scheme may be thrown out as planning officials don’t believe Fondare has proved the venue, which closed last summer, is financially unsustainable.

In a report to Rother District Council’s planning committee, which will debate the issue, they said the proposed changes of use were unacceptable.

“It is recommended that planning permission be refused on grounds that the proposal would result in the unjustified loss of an employment/tourism facility,” they said.

Fondare, which bought the freehold of the property for £450,000 in November 2018, has applied to change the use of the site and build a three storey extension at the rear.

It wants to use the extended ground floor for offices and then the enlarged first and second floors to house 10 one-bedroom, self-contained flats.

However, planners don’t believe there’s been a comprehensive or sustained marketing campaign to support claims that there isn’t enough demand for a pub/hotel.

“Neither has enough financial information been submitted to demonstrate convincingly that the use of the premises as a public house/hotel is not capable of being financially viable,” they added. 

The side and rear view of the property

The Sussex Hotel, which was popular with locals, had featured a pool table, two darts boards, gambling machines, and a raised music stage.

It could cater for around 55 diners inside and a further 12 outside. Upstairs, there were 10 ensuite bedrooms, along with a two-bedroom manager’s flat.

According to evidence sent to the planning department a year ago, the property was repossessed by Fondare after rent payments from the leaseholder managing the pub had become late – and then sparse.

In a letter, Byron Lear, a Fondare director, said the pub’s existing landlord had signed a five year lease, prior to the acquisition. This was then taken over by another businessman in early 2019.

Mr Lear said the pub had appeared to thrive on its ‘weekend endeavours to supply live music’ but was receiving little to no holidaymakers.

“It is clear following repossession of the building that the rooms were being utilised for longer lets,” he wrote, adding it was subsequently boarded up for insurance and security purposes.

Fondare’s planning application was supported by a report from Savills, the estate agents, which had marketed the property from February 2018.

James Greenlees, a surveyor at Savills, wrote: “We are not aware of revenue that the venue was generating at the point of sale but it was clearly insufficient to sustain the business, hence the reason for sale.” 

Marketing document showing how the site looked in 2018

While 14 enquiries had been received, all were from developers looking at the site for residential development.

“We received no enquiries from pub users,” he added. “This is clearly an indication that the pub is not an attractive enough proposition to administer an ongoing public house.”

There was also no interest from the community or any other service providers looking for an alternative social or community facility. 

According to Mr Greenlees, lifestyle changes and the highly competitive nature of some managed house pub chains and casual dining restaurants, have affected the viability of such venues.

Market conditions, he suggested, remained indifferent, due to competition from supermarkets selling cheap alcohol and branded restaurants offering deals and discounts.

“These factors have resulted in a large number of public houses / restaurants coming to the market due to publicans and restaurateurs failing to make a viable living from their businesses,” he wrote.

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