Eastbourne windows row - it's no open and shut case

As the row deepens over whether to allow one Eastbourne hotelier to replace wooden sash windows with modern UPVC ones, a stroll along the town's seafront reveals a mix and match of old and new that is set to spark even more controversy.
The East Beach Hotel which is at the centre of the latest row between hoteliers and council plannersThe East Beach Hotel which is at the centre of the latest row between hoteliers and council planners
The East Beach Hotel which is at the centre of the latest row between hoteliers and council planners

While some hotels and homes have retained the old fashioned box sash windows, others have installed up to date ones which will only serve to plunge the debate between hoteliers and council town planners into fresh levels of disagreement.

The row stems from the council’s planning committee and officers last week refusing retrospective permission to the owner of The East Beach Hotel, Heidi Cowderoy, to keep a number of UPVC windows on the front and side of the Royal Parade building which replaced single glazed timber sliding sash windows.

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Council planners say the Victorian building is designated as a “building of local interest” in the Eastbourne Townscape Guide and also falls within a town centre and seafront conservation area.

Conservationists and planners are united in the view that the windows – installed last year without planning permission – are out of keeping with the surrounding area resulting in a loss of “historic fabric” with the latter saying an enforcement notice should be served ordering Ms Cowderoy to reinstate more suitable ones.

But Ms Cowderoy – and the hoteliers’ group the Eastbourne Hospitality Association – argue that new timber vertical sliding sash windows are far more expensive – up to six times more costly – and not as long lasting in properties constantly being battered by increasingly strong weather as storms and winds on our shores become more frequent and powerful.

Hospitality association chair Darren Weir believes that not only must seafront properties – which he says are premium and key to the success of our tourism economy – be fit for purpose, furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, there is no policy locally or nationally that prohibits UPVC windows in a conservation area.

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“There is only national ‘guidance’ and with respect this guidance is more directed at truly historic buildings that are protected and are of unique character,” said Mr Weir.

“The East Beach, although an attractive property, does not have such a high status. While we appreciate it appears somewhere on some ‘local list’ that was created in 2014 – as an industry we don’t even know about the existence of this list; we have never been consulted about such a list and question the weight and legality of such a list.”

The association also says there has been complete inconsistency over recent years from the planning department in relation to PVC windows.

“We understand the reason why this hotelier felt the need to take urgent action was because of the lack of a consistent approach and because the windows were getting so bad that there was little choice.

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“There comes a time when these factors coupled with environmental concerns have to take precedence over having ‘wooden framed windows just because our Victorian forefathers made them’ and we must be able to invest in our properties with the long term in mind.

“Many hoteliers in this town want to invest in this way into their properties but again the attitude, or at least the perceived attitude, against PVC on the seafront prevents it.

“Having looked at the building before and after, the alterations made have made a significant improvement to the building. The proportions of the front elevation have not been altered by the replacement windows in any way.

“The fact of the matter is that the average tourist does not study with a fine tooth comb each individual window from the outside. The tourist who stays wants to be able to open the windows with ease when traditional wooden sash is too heavy.”

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A council spokesperson says of the case, “The windows on The East Beach Hotel are considered to be important architectural features on this unlisted building that define its appearance and how it is read in the surrounding townscape context.

“Prior to the installation of the unauthorised UPVC windows, the building predominantly had characteristic single glazed timber sliding sash windows. The materials, design features, method of opening and glazing pattern were all features that helped to define the external appearance of this substantial Victorian building.

“The larger glass panels on the first and second floor levels were a reflection of the importance originally assigned to the first and second floor levels of this building in terms of the overall hierarchy of rooms within the building itself.”

They continued, “While there are a number of examples of UPVC windows that have been installed within buildings on the seafront within Eastbourne, in this case the building is part of a townscape group where very few of the original timber sash windows have been replaced, from first floor level upwards.

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“The replacement windows that have been installed at The East Beach Hotel are characteristic examples of modern UPVC windows, and clearly perceived as such in both short and long views. The frames are considerably larger and the opening mechanisms differ, opening outwards as opposed to a traditional sliding sash mechanism.

“Features such as the decorative horns are not replicated in the new windows. The result is windows with an alien and contemporary appearance, resulting in the loss of historic status and interpretation of this building, the group of buildings it sits within, and the wider seafront.

“The harm created by the replacement windows to the heritage asset and surrounding conservation area is considered to outweigh any environmental or economic benefits of the proposal. It is considered in the specific circumstances of a landmark building such as this, the broader public interest is served through the conservation of the historic environment, with its associated economic and social benefits including the wider regeneration of the Devonshire area.”

The whole sorry saga with The East Beach Hotel may have hit the headlines in recent weeks, but it’s not the first time the windows debate has reared its head.

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Only this week another seafront hotel, The Claremont Hotel opposite the Carpet Gardens, is having to rip out what is believed to be more than 50 newly installed UPVC windows after being served with an enforcement notice by council planners.

A council spokesperson said, “The listing of The Burlington and Claremont Hotels in May 1949 as a designated Grade II* Listed Building was an acknowledgement of the quality of this terrace, which is a prominent and significant heritage asset on Grand Parade, Eastbourne.

“Although built between 1851 and 1855 it has a character that appears to be 30 years earlier, and it is of the Regency style, which is unusual in Eastbourne. As such The Claremont contributes a significant representation of architectural style, not represented in such a pure form elsewhere in Eastbourne, as represents a unique piece of urban architecture in the borough.

“It is considered the installation of replacement UPVC windows to the front and side elevation of the property has had a material adverse impact upon the historical integrity of this building and as such impacts upon the visual appearance.”

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And in 2008, after an appeal against a council enforcement notice, the owner of the Grand Parade’s Mansion Hotel, Abid Gulzar – the new owner of the pier – was forced to reinstate traditional windows after replacing rotting wooden ones on the Hartington Place side of the Grade II Listed hotel with UPVC units.

The East Beach’s Ms Cowderoy is now also planning to appeal to a Government inspector to make a final decision in her case. That is sometime off in the future but one thing is for sure: the windows row is certainly no open and shut case.

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