Flats plan for '˜white elephant' office site

A Durrington office block could be converted into scores of flats after London investors submitted plans to Worthing Borough Council.

Columbia House. Picture courtesy of Google Street View
Columbia House. Picture courtesy of Google Street View

Columbia House, in Columbia Drive, could house 102 flats, almost entirely comprising of studio and one-bedroom properties.

Worthing mayor Sean McDonald announced the application had been lodged at full council last Tuesday, speaking positively about the potential for ‘affordable’ housing.

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Speaking after the meeting, the Northbrook ward councillor said: “It is a bit of a white elephant.

“It is regeneration, like the Lloyd’s building which was sitting half empty – and the flats have been taken up straight away. I am sure this will be just the same.”

The application was lodged by agents James Lloyd Associations on behalf of Flemyn LLP – a business founded by two former directors of Citigroup.

The main building, originally built for Nissan, will be converted, with the applicants indicated redevelopment of the main site could follow.

Councillor Bryan Turner, cabinet member for regeneration, said the council had little say over the plans, as the application was a ‘notice for prior approval’.

He said: “Office owners have permitted development rights given to them by the Government, so that they can turn their offices into residential. As a council, we can’t really do anything about that.

“The Government has taken the powers away from local government.”

Mr Turner said the policy placed emphasis on the need to provide more housing but councils also needed to protect employment spaces to ensure a vibrant economy.

But he added many office spaces were currently of poor quality.

The planning documents stated the proposals were ‘specifically designed’ to meet the expected shortfall in meeting demand for new housing in Worthing, with a ‘focus on affordability’