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Special report: What future for Brighton and Hove's historic hotel heritage?
One of Brighton and Hove’s oldest hotels is to be transformed into a youth hostel.
Brighton and Hove City council’s planning committee yesterday gave the go-ahead for The Royal York Hotel, in Old Steine, to be turned into a hostel.
One of the telling aspects of the meeting was how little time was devoted to losing one the city’s oldest hotels, with just as much time dedicated to discussing what the council would do with the money it would get from the development.
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The decision comes just a month after The Lansdowne Place Hotel was forced to close after 150 years, reportedly with debts of £9 million.
And it has raised questions about the future of more of Brighton and Hove’s historical seafront hotels and whether they can survive in the current economic and tourist climate?
Nick Head, a former head of Visit Sussex, believes the hotel industry is one of the most historical features of Brighton and Hove and to see some of them falling into decline is a sad spectacle.
“They’re an enormous part of Brighton’s history,” he told The Argus.
“It will be a real shame to see the Royal York Hotel disappear, but I’m aware buildings of that size will struggle as a full service hotel and it’s very difficult to make them profitable.”
During the meeting Councillor Carol Theobald was the first to raise a concern that losing the hotel would be a blow for the city and said worries about the upkeep of the area should be looked at if the hotel was being made into a youth hostel.
She said: “The Royal York building is a great historical building. I feel it’s a shame and it would be better as a boutique hotel or even a budget hotel rather than this use.”
Citing concerns about the building falling into disrepair in the future, she added: “I’m just a bit wary this might happen to this building and I’m sorry to say this but it’s my personal view.”
And highlighting how the building has been changed many times in its history, Coun Leo Littman said if the business wasn’t performing as a hotel, then it was time to let it go.
“This isn’t the first time it’s had its use changed,” he told the planning committee. “This building has changed its use over the years. It used to be council offices for quite a long time and nowit’s not serving its purpose as a hotel.”
The Royal York stands as one of Brighton’s oldest and most historical buildings.
Originally opening as a hotel in 1819, it boasted 100 bedrooms before falling into a state of dilapidation at the start of the 20th Century.
In 1930 it was decided the hotel business wasn’t sustainable and the building was bought by the Brighton Corporation and converted into offices, before being bought by the Radisson Group and reopening in 2006 as the Radisson Blu Royal York.
Its more famous guests include the Duke of Wellington and Benjamin Disraeli and in 1861 customers were treated to a reading of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
Along with the hotel, the Grade II listed building offered nine residential apartments for letting.
Speaking after the council approved plans to convert the property, planning committee chairman Phelim MacCafferty said: “We welcomed this application as it fills a much-loved and listed hotel building otherwise likely to become vacant.
“It will be very good to have a YHA hostel in our city once again.
They’re well-managed with good facilities for a range of clientele and ages.
“We think it’ll be really popular, adding to the city’s edge.”
He added that hotel consultants had examined the possible uses of the building and had deemed it too small to attract a chain operator and too large for individual use.
The Lansdowne Hotel, which closed last month to be turned into 50 homes, has a similar story to The Royal York.
Dating back to 1854, the building was once a series of school boarding houses before becoming the Dudley Hotel and then the Lansdowne Place Hotel.
But after years as a popular spot for tourists staying in Brighton for a few days it struggled to change with the times and was unable to adapt and challenge the larger chains due to its size, location and the changing economic climate.
At the time of its closure the business is understood to have owed millions to SantanderUKand £16,000 to people who had booked functions at the hotel.
But these closures are just the latest in a line of small hotels in the city that have been forced to change their use after becoming unviable businesses.
The Sackville Hotel in Kingsway, Hove, was earmarked to be demolished after plans to turn it into a “luxury five-star” residence fell through after engineers deemed the building “beyond repair”.
The building, which dates back to 1904, was turned into the Sackville Hotel in 1927 after originally being built as four houses and was later as an extension to Girton House School for Girls.
It quickly gained popularity for its marble pillars, its facade and two domes on the front corners of the building.
After surviving for years the owners of the hotel laid out plans to invest £5 million to restore the building to its 1950s heyday, but when the roof partially collapsed during the renovation the former glory was lost and the end of the hotel was in sight.
In October 2012 developers were given permission to turn the former historical landmark into more modern seafront terrace homes, having decided the hotel could no longer survive.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for Brighton’s historical hotels, and one place in particular is hoping it can remain a part of the city’s present as well as being a major feature of its past.
In November last year De Vere, the owners of The Grand in Kings Road, put it up for sale after carrying out more than £7 million of improvements.
In an effort to make the hotel more attractive to new owners, a spa, improved bar restaurant and refurbished bedrooms were installed.
The 150-year-old hotel has a long and chequered history.
It was rebuilt in 1984 following the IRA bomb which ripped through the property during the Tory Party conference and is one of 1,200 listed buildings in the city.
But as the years went on the brand faced increasing competition from new venues looking to take advantage of a modernising industry, in particular the Hotel du Vin in Ship Street, Drakes in Marine Parade and myhotel in Jubilee Street.
The Argus has previously reported that The Grand was put up for sale to ease the owners’ £1.1 billion debt.
Mr Head added that, although a number of high-profile and historical hotels had been forced to close in recent years, he still believed they were an important part of the city’s history and their facades and appeal were something that should be retained.
He said: “Retaining the facade is more important than the use of the building, in my opinion.
“That would be a greater shame.
It’s extremely important to maintain the facades, because we’d lose a lot of what was unique about Brighton.
“If these buildings changed, Brighton wouldn’t look like Brighton any more.”