On Thursday (October 7), Wealden District Council’s planning committee south considered a change of use application connected to The Bay Hotel in Pevensey.
The hotel had been seeking permission to convert and extend its ground floor, replacing an existing bar and restaurant with a new convenience store.
Before making its decision, the committee heard from Mauro Dias, one of the hotel’s directors, about the reasons for the proposals.
He said: “On acquiring The Bay Hotel [in 2018] we invested more than half a million pounds on restoring the building to its former glory; replacing its old roof, refurbishing hotel rooms, the bar and the restaurant.
“We invested in new staff, a well-thought marketing campaign and a management team to transform The Bay Hotel into a destination and a restaurant for the local community and visitors.
“Unfortunately our attempt to reposition the hotel and facilitate more sustainable and viable prospects with more balanced distribution of income has struggled.
“In March 2020 we were approached by Co-op about the possibility of having a convenience store on the ground floor and we welcomed the offer as a real opportunity of breathing new life into the hotel, justifying our investment in its restoration.”
Mr Dias went on to say the store would ensure both the hotel business (which would remain in operation after the conversion) and the building itself would be sustainable in the future.
This argument had been disputed by a number of objectors, however, who had concerns about the loss of a ‘community venue’ (although officers noted it is not a registered Asset of Community Value).
Objections had been raised by Pevensey Parish Council and more than 152 local residents and businesses. There were 14 letters of support.
Among those to raise concerns was ward councillor Lin Clark (Independent), who said: “Pevensey Bay is a tourist destination and the local economy relies on facilities to attract visitors. We have three caravan parks within a short walking distance of the village centre; people needing to eat.
“For over 125 years The Bay Hotel has catered for both visitors and locals, meetings, funeral wakes and celebration parties are just a few events this community hub has provided. Now it is even more vital to the economy.
“The Beach Tavern closed down several years ago and The Moorings — a restaurant busy throughout the whole year, every day of the week — has now closed its doors forever for personal reasons.
“There couldn’t be a better time or a better opportunity to replace this business by having a similar restaurant in The Bay Hotel.”
Cllr Clark went on to say residents were also extremely concerned about the possibility for traffic disruption as a result of both the new use as a shop and the creation of a new loading bay in front of the building.
As part of this she also raised concerns about the parking to be provided, arguing it was more likely motorists would park on double-yellow lines outside the shop than within the car park.
This view was shared by a number of committee members, with several arguing the conversion would make the highway unsafe.
Officers, who had recommended the conversion be approved, cautioned against relying on this as grounds for objection, however, as East Sussex Highways had not raised any safety concerns.
This would be particularly true for any objection based on the potential of people parking illegally in front of the building, officers said.
Head of planning Stacey Robins said: “You will have no expertise defending a reason for refusal that talks to highway safety.
“Members may need to come along and articulate reservations in an appeal situation, which is not something you will hear me say very often, but I do need to lay down a marker that there is a potential problem coming here.
“You’ve got lots of objections, and I see that, but the technical expert advice from East Sussex is that there is not a problem in terms of highways safety and their policies and guidance.”
Despite this advice, committee members felt strongly that the highway safety would be compromised should the conversion go ahead.
Other concerns were raised around the potential for damage to the character of the building, which is a non-designated heritage asset.
Several members also raised doubts over whether there was a strong enough case to say the building would be more viable as a convenience store, rather than as a restaurant and bar.
Cllr Geoffrey Draper (Con) said: “With the demise of other businesses for other reasons rather than commercial, I don’t think we here can say that the hotel wouldn’t survive if run properly with the right existing facilities.
“We’ve heard a lot of money has already been spent on them, but have they been given the chance to operate?
“I wish that they had been going for another two years, perhaps now after all the pandemic problems. I wish we were sitting here two years later and being able to almost look at a set of books and see what efforts had been made to make that hotel as it is work.”
Ultimately the committee as a whole felt the loss of a tourism asset in the form of the restaurant, the changes to the building’s character and their concerns around highway safety were grounds to refuse the application.
The scheme was refused with by ten votes to one and one abstaining.
For further details of the proposals see application reference WD/2020/2241/F on the Wealden District Council website.