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Flat owners to face £5m restoration bill

People living in a notorious seafront eyesore have been given a month to decide whether to fund a £5 million restoration.

Architects put together by design guru Sir Terence Conran last night outlined their plans for Embassy Court in Kings Road, Brighton.

Leaseholders of the 68-year-old building's 72 flats will have to share the costs.

Scaffolding was put up around the first floor yesterday, with a fan hoarding installed to catch any falling rendering and glass while contractors inspect the building.

Major restoration of the long-neglected tower is not due to start until next summer and is expected to last a year.

Developers and residents leading the project have mooted additions to the building, such as swimming pools, a restaurant, an art gallery and a museum.

Emma Jinks, chairwoman of Bluestorm, the managing firm set up by residents, said a team had been set up to investigate their feasibility.

But Paul Zara, project director for Conran and Partners, yesterday revealed those ideas would probably be put on hold until 2007.

His team has decided its priorities will be replacing glazing and doors throughout the building, installing new heating and water systems and repairing concrete.

They also hope to restore the surfaces of the block to their original glossy whiteness.

Mr Zara said: "The concrete structure is the most interesting and innovative thing about the building and it needs to be repaired and restored.

"Once we have done the structure and the services, then we can start to look at add-ons.

"It would be good to look at restoring the lobby to its original appearance and perhaps opening a roof terrace."

Only 16 of the 72 flats are owner-occupied with 38 leaseholders responsible for the property.

Some are abroad in countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Australia but many gathered for last night's behind-closed-doors meeting before taking away the proposals to consider.

Ms Jinks was confident the scheme would win approval, despite some leaseholders facing charges of more than £100,000 as their share of the cost.

She said: "There are no real surprises here for people in terms of the cost.

"A feasibility study back in 2000 showed everyone how much it would take.

"Everyone seems really keen to get going with it. People owning flats here have bought them because they love the building.

"There is no option other than to go ahead with this work, especially on the service side.

"If you've got to replace wiring, you've just got to replace it."

Embassy Court was designed by renowned architect Wells Coates as Brighton's first skyscraper and featured penthouse apartments, a restaurant and a bank when built.

It was acclaimed as an art deco wonder but fell into disrepair after many flats were taken over by absentee landlords in the Seventies and Eighties.

Large rent backlogs and service charge arrears mounted, with confusion over who was responsible for the building's upkeep.

Bluestorm finally won its David and Goliath-style battle with property developers last year to gain control of the building.

Portvale Holdings, owners of nine of the flats, was ordered to pay £78,000 to kickstart the renovation.

The landlords opposing Bluestorm in court have now either sold their apartments or are in the process of doing so.

Sir Terence, a long-standing admirer of the building, announced his firm's backing for the restoration last August.

Mr Zara said they expected the flats to be out of action for about a week each during the work.

Leaseholders have 30 days to consider the proposals before another meeting to finalise the scheme.

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