I read, with sadness, of the decline of the wonderful art-deco style Grand in Sandown on the Isle. This is a wonderful building set in wide lawns opposite the beach. Sadly the building is owned by a ‘rot and redevelop’ type whose means of dealing with the planning authorities is to leave the building to decay to the point that they will pretty much accept anything.
Sandown is a coastal town, much like my home, and these towns have suffered badly over the last ten years. It really worries me that the moronic planning system that we have does nothing to protect the fabric of these delightful buildings and their iconic status as landmarks. Anyone heading north out of Sandown would instantly recognise the grand and tens of thousands would recognise it as a family holiday location. A quick scan of the review sites reveals that as recently as 2013 people were raving about helpful staff trying to make the best of a tired building. Buildings do not decay overnight they decay because of long term neglect, where is the local authority during this?
I have said before that I don’t believe in owning a pub I think that one can only be the custodian of the building. It is our job to protect and develop the fabric of the building for future generations. I know that my view is romantic and not everybody shares it but it really should not be so easy to take on a grand building and then suck its life out. Obviously businesses change and the economy cannot always support all of them, the licensed trade has seen this more than most, but we must do more to preserve our landscape. I can already hear the shouts of modernisation and need for housing but people need leisure spaces and pretty places. Housing estates are, in the main, dreary and soulless places let’s not let the country turn into one.
I think that private funding should not absolve you of producing a business plan and that this plan should be shared with a local authority. When a person takes over one of these landmark buildings their business plan should be reviewed and set against a break price. All of the normal support for the business should occur of course, the best outcome is a trading and viable business after all. But an annual review against the business case could be used to ensure that the model is truly viable and that, more importantly, it is sustaining the building. I don’t for one minute want to restrict people from changing buildings or their use but an annual review would tell us if the ‘business’ was simply draining money from the venue and not preserving it. I am not alone in my thinking, looking at all of the hard work that my friends Andrew and Helen have put into their pub shows that some people really do want to preserve their premises.
If the annual business plan review showed that the business was, in effect, trading the building to death then the local authority would be able to step in and buy at an artificially low break price. This element of planning would ensure that the people buying these businesses had a real and tested plan. Yes it would create a risk for the owners but we should not be so adverse to risk it forms a valuable check, in this case against greed. For most of us there is a real risk in business and perhaps where there is not we should pay closer attention to the plans if we want to protect our buildings.
I have added a picture of the Grand and also of the gloriously tacky Wight City whose fate has gone the same way this year and is now boarded. The Wight City complex was an arcade, a café, a pub, nightclub and holiday lets before the owners concluded it was not viable. The building was shut this year and the owners applied to develop the site although at the moment I believe that they have been declined. Perhaps if the option to redevelop our history into accommodation didn’t exist then we would fight harder for alternative uses. I don’t for one minute think that the aging Wight City complex was a commercial gem or that its owners were making huge profits. My concern is that they are allowed to end anybody’s chances of retaining the building. In the glory days they may have earned good money and the current revenues therefore seem unsustainable but that is not to say that another operator couldn’t come up with a viable plan.
Our seaside adventures did not take place in housing estates or gardens and our children deserve the opportunities that we had. I want children to grow up enthralled by the mystical scent of fried donuts and the dusty ghost train; I want them to remember how brave they felt standing on a wooden slatted pier staring down at the ocean. Our childhood memories are of the Wight Cities of the world unashamedly gaudy and strung in bright flashing lights. We might have to section off some of these buildings and look at alternative uses. To knock down and redevelop buildings whose very fabric is infused with the smiles and laughter of generations is not only a crime it is irreversible and our children will never forgive us.