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Solution needed for Saltdean Lido
7:00am Sunday 11th March 2012 in News
When he took over the lease of the iconic listed art-deco lido at Saltdean in 1999, Dennis Audley admitted he did not foresee what would happen.
More than a decade on, the Buckinghamshire-based accountant has said running the 1930s attraction, combined with planning application fees, has cost him about £500,000.
During that time the building has been upgraded to a grade II listed property and has recently been put on the English Heritage “at-risk” register.
Now Brighton and Hove City Council, which owns the building, says the 125-year lease issued in 1997 is worth nothing.
Despite this, Mr Audley has confirmed he has had meetings with local authority planners about developing the site in recent weeks – and is committed to getting his money back.
Speaking from his £2.5 million home, Mr Audley said: “It has been very difficult for us in the last few years. All the publicity has destroyed our business.
“We have had customers leave our health club because they thought we were closing down. Now they are starting to come back as it’s clear we are still open.
“We’re still working towards an enabling development.
“To put the record straight we have never suggested the lido should be demolished.
“We’re not here to destroy the site, we’re here to preserve it.
“I live in a listed building myself so I know that we are custodians of these properties.
“We know it’s a hot potato that has been created and everybody needs to see a solution but I think that should be decided together.”
Thousands of people joined the Save Saltdean Lido when in 2010 Mr Audley unveiled plans to build dozens of flats on part of the site, which includes the swimming pool, library, Saltdean Tavern and two car parks.
Campaigners claimed that Mr Audley is not maintaining parts of the lease by opening the facility on certain days and has allowed the listed building to be run down.
They have established a business plan and drawn up plans to renovate the site claiming it can be up and running “tomorrow if needed”.
Throughout the row, the local authority has maintained it must abide by the law. It issued a planning enforcement notice in May 2010 although there are disagreements about how much of the work that was required has been completed.
Another step to a clearer future for the lido was taken earlier this week when council chiefs said Mr Audley was considering surrendering the lease.
Then lawyers revealed the nil valuation for the site at a public meeting on Tuesday, March 6.
They added the developer still believed there should be some “hope value”, which is what the purchaser is prepared to pay over and above the value of a site because he or she believes that the land may have a chance of being developed at some time in the future.
At the tourism cabinet meeting on Tuesday, lawyers added their valuation would not be approved until after English Heritage visit the site with Mr Audley on March 15.
It means if Mr Audley does not comply with a second repairs notice issued by the local authority’s planning team, the council could seize back full control of the lido.
Geoffrey Bowden, the council’s culture and tourism cabinet member, said: “Removing someone from a lease is a difficult and torturous process.
“We do not live in a dictatorship. That’s the way councils work.
“We have to work within the law and our lawyers have shown how complex this situation is.
“We have got to that stage where we can now start negotiations.
“I hope that we have given a clear message to the leaseholder that any plans about building flats will be put to bed once and for all.
“What we all want is a vibrant lido for the benefit of the community and the city.”
When asked about the nil valuation, Mr Audley said: “That information was supposed to be private and confidential.
“The valuation is something I will be speaking about with our experts. We believe there are flaws in the report.”
When asked what valuation of the site he had, Mr Audley said he was not able to say.
He added: “What have we done that is so wrong?
“We were speaking to the council from 2004 about developing part of the site.
"Once the council conservation team were happy with the plans we asked the public about them.
“The problem is that did not fit with the wishes of people in the community.
“The current lido is waterproof and weatherproof and the experts I have employed have said so. There’s no reason for the building to be continued to be classed as at-risk.
“We have moved on to talking to English Heritage and we are due to meet them on-site.
“We would like to provide a new community hall and a new library.”
Mr Audley said he hoped to have English Heritage backing for a detailed timetable of work by the end of April before submitting a planning application in May.
All parties are agreed a further complication lies with Saltdean Community Association, which provides activities at the site to about 700 residents every week.
As tenants of 55% of the building, they are financially responsible for some of the external and internal improvements.
Grade II building
Rebecca Crook, the chairman of Save Saltdean Lido, said: “We are very encouraged by the update provided by the council.
“It seems apparent that the leaseholder still has some deluded plans that he may be able to build housing on the site. The council has said this is not an option and local people are completely opposed to development of the Grade II listed site.
“We now hope that the council moves to the second stage warning letter as quickly as possible.
“We have always said that we are in this for the long-term and will not stop campaigning until the lease is handed to the community – its rightful owners.”
Laurence O’Connor, the chairman of Saltdean Residents’ Association, said: “We will not be happy until the whole site is properly managed and improved.
“We want the council to quickly finish what they have started so that the site can be renovated and modernised to provide the 21st century leisure facilities our community so desperately needs.”