Archive for November, 2012

King Alfred Future

I wrote in this very column, nearly eight years ago, how three different consortiums had responded to a brief that had been set by Brighton & Hove City Council for a new sports centre on the King Alfred site.

The history of the King Alfred is well rehearsed. Hove Marina was completed in 1939 as a replacement for the Medina Baths but was immediately requisitioned by the Navy and renamed HMS King Alfred. 22,500 officers from all over the empire were trained there during the Second World War including my own great-uncle, Robert Millar. It re-opened as the King Alfred in 1946.

The first pool was located within the confines of the main building but was replaced when a large extension with flumes was added to the south during the 1980s. The original is said to still be in place beneath a sports court. The major changes that were made back then were a sure sign that the building was on its last legs even then.

The situation now is somewhat different to that of 2004 in that developers and campaigners are calling on Brighton & Hove City Council to make a plan – rather than the council making a plan and imposing it.

I am hugely keen to see a brand new sports centre on the site and would like to assure all readers that the figures stack up easily. The £30 million that might be required to build it could easily be provided by a quality residential development on the site. Excuses about finances are only ideological in nature so should be challenged.

The current building only occupies around one third of the overall site. To the west is an abandoned underground bowling alley alongside a make-shift car park. To the east is a hard-standing for trampolines and various other tacky additions. There is so much scope for radical improvement.

I am aware of at least five developers – including Centurion Group, Rob Starr and Totem – with entirely different visions for the site. Now is the time to lobby the council to admit that it can be done so that a grand competition can be held once again to get a new sports centre in place for the whole city.

I have no idea what form a new King Alfred might take. What I do know is that it can be done – and builders are queuing up to do it.

Chandler’s Mews

Touted as Eastbourne’s first eco-development, Chandler’s Mews was the destination of a recent trip along the coast with architects Liam Russell and Scott Currie from Shoreham-based practice Liam Russell Architects.

Chandler’s Mews is a brand new hidden street of five houses which consists of one detached home and two pairs of semis. It was named after Chandlers Building Supplies, the firm that provided the materials for the project.

The site was a row of abandoned garages until it was sold by property giant Grainger plc to father-and-son-team Peter and Gary Winslow. I visited in September just as Gary was putting on the final touches. He was busy but still able to poke fun at trendy architects (which Liam happily reciprocated about stuck-in-their-ways developers).

The development is very much a product of its location. The tight spot in which the houses were built, nestled in the middle of a block, surrounded by back gardens. These houses have no back gardens though, and their front doors are accessed via a shared path (a ‘twitten’ as we might say in Brighton). Overlooking issues have been solved rather imaginatively. The upstairs windows on the front are either above head height or side-facing. There are no rear windows as such, but there are skylights.

Each of the houses has two storeys and three bedrooms. Their most noticeable feature is their bright white curved side profiles, which contrast against the flowing living sedum roofs. There are many other eco features including timber frames and solar thermal panels. The very recyclable aluminium cladding was something of an experiment but it worked out well aesthetically.

Most of Brighton & Hove’s best eco buildings are individual houses such as 1A Whichelo Place, 15 Lloyd Close, Yew Tree House and the Smart House. One Brighton consists of many units but they are flats. It is good to see an eco-friendly development of several houses.

I would certainly be keen to see more multi-dwelling housing schemes built locally with the environment in mind. Gary said that the building process was a “learning curve for everybody”. This is quite appropriate given the shape of the houses.

Liam Russell Architects’ next project is a proposal for a striking new house on Albany Villas in Hove. Its white render, unorthodox windows and clever use of space remind me lots of Chandler’s Mews. I will be writing about it in more detail shortly.

Bluebell Railway

My recent column on the Hove Park Railway prepared me somewhat for a recent tour of the famous Bluebell Railway.

Although the operation at Hove Park involves trains that humans can sit on, rather than in, the principle is very much the same. The combination of steam, speed, engineering and history excites.

The Bluebell Railway comprises a stretch of line and three stations from the axed Lewes & East Grinstead Railway, that opened in 1882. The line was closed in 1958 which soon led to the formation of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society. A chance meeting with Matthew Cousins, the Bluebell Railway’s in-house painter, prompted an invitation to see what happens behind the scenes.

My journey from Sheffield Park Station to Kingscote, via Horsted Keynes, began on a Bulleid brake third class carriage in ‘ British Rail rolling stock green’. Its original colour was ‘blood and custard’ apparently. Getting these terms right is key to getting on with the volunteers as I found out when I asked the guard the way to the food carriage. My fellow passengers laughed when he shouted, “It’s called the buffet car!” at me.

The red-brick stations themselves were each built in the Queen Anne style. On the cold day in question, their open fires were very much appreciated. A myriad of buildings have been added in various degrees of sympathy over the years, many of which are required as housing for the numerous engines and carriages that serve (or that will be serving once restored) the railway.

I was struck by just how many large projects are currently underway in the various peripheral train sheds. Works to locomotives take place at Sheffield Park. A quick tour revealed just how large Brighton’s connection with trains once was, as brass badges on the various engines indicate how many were made at the old works by Brighton Station – now the New England Quarter.

One carriage was home to chickens before it was rescued and stripped for repair. If it is to be done properly, the right materials must be used. The expense of restoration is astronomical when a 6’ 6” length of 4” square teac costs £300.

Although the largest ongoing project is the extension of the line to East Grinstead, I was particularly taken with the ongoing restoration of a First Class Pullman carriage from around 1928 called ‘Fingal’. The colour will be ‘chocolate and cream’.

Shoreham Port

The thinking behind a regionally-imposed idea several years ago to build 10,000 homes on Shoreham Port never quite made sense to me. It is the one place locally where heavy industry can make use of the sea. Once turned residential, it would be lost indefinitely.

Shoreham Port has existed in something like its current form for just over 250 years; since the Shoreham Harbour Act 1760 allowed a cut to be made through the unpredictable mud islands which characterised the mouth of the Adur at that time.

It became home to serious industry in the 1870s when the Brighton and Hove General Gas Company built a gasworks on the site. Southwick Power Station followed in 1906 which was renamed ‘Brighton A Power Station’ when a second facility, Brighton B Power Station, was completed in 1952. Brighton B was easily recognised by its 360ft high chimneys which many locals remember being demolished in 1988 and 1998. The tall white chimneys, and Golden Gate Bridge-style brickwork, drew comparisons with Battersea Power Station.

Today, Shoreham Port successfully operates as a hub for materials for the building trade such as steel, timber and aggregates. Rodney Lunn, who serves as Shoreham Port Authority’s Chief Executuve, is incredibly proud of the port’s 181-tonne Sennebogan crane which arrived last year at a cost of around £1 million. It is not just about the construction industry though as many other industries are served. Cereals from our region are exported, sometimes up to Scotland to make Scottish porridge. More scallops than anywhere else are landed here. And the harbour’s third power station, the gas-fired Shoreham Power Station which opened in 2000 at a cost of £200 million, provides Sussex with electricity. A tunnel beneath the port brings gas in and electricity out.

I recently met with Rodney Lunn and Peter Davies, Shoreham Port Authority’s Development Director, to discuss what the future now holds for the busy harbour. Their incredibly logical plan is to now consolidate the operation by focussing solely on sites within the harbour proper, rather than others which the Authority owns along the mouth of the Adur. Operations will be streamlined by ensuring that all sites around the harbour actually make use the site’s principal asset – the sea.

This is somewhat more feasible than the plan to build 10,000 homes over the port – or, indeed, an 1870s plan to connect the Adur to the Thames by canal.