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King Alfred development - Analysis: Famous architect's design would transform seafront
By Andy Tate
Published: June 27, 2005
On August 26, 2005 a lorryload of boxes will be delivered to Brighton and Hove City Council.
Inside the boxes are hundreds of documents which make up the planning application for one of the most daring developments the city has seen.
The £220 million King Alfred project would replace the dilapidated Thirties leisure centre on Hove seafront with a landmark sports and apartment complex designed by top architect Frank Gehry.
While the involvement of Gehry and his star pupil Brad Pitt has raised the profile of the project, less has been said about its other masterminds, Brighton-based Karis Developments and the real estate arm of Dutch bank ING.
While Karis has brought its local knowledge to the partnership, ING is providing financial muscle and international experience and has guaranteed if the scheme is given the go-ahead, it will be completed.
ING's UK managing director Siep Hoeksma said his company had agreed to spend £100 million producing plans and building the leisure centre, roads and other infrastructure before work even started on the apartments that, market conditions permitting, would produce its profit.
He said: "Without ING underpinning it, there wouldn't be a project, regardless of the architect.
"We have paid for models, advisers, consultations and proper site investigations.
"Not many developers can take that risk on a speculative scheme but every now and again you have to be a bit brave."
Josh Arghiros, chairman of Karis, said: "ING is putting its money where its mouth is. Even if there is a downturn in the market, it will be built."
Or at least, it will be if Brighton and Hove City Council's planning committee grants permission.
In June, councillors, acting as landowners of the site, came within a casting vote of sending the developers back to the drawing board.
They were concerned the number of flats contained in their proposals had increased from 590 to 750, the leisure pool had shrunk from 300sqm to 230sqmand the bowling club had been told it will have to move from the main site.
Karis said the homes, which include six penthouse suites valued at £3 million each and 236 affordable units, are required to make the scheme profitable.
In return, it points out, the developer is committed to delivering a £46 million leisure centre.
The developer argues the leisure pool is still larger than the 200sqm pool it was asked for in the original planning brief.
The bowling club has been offered £2.5 million to help relocate.
Karis says it has a whole team of consultants working solely to assess the effect of the development on local infrastructure. Their results will form part of August's planning application.
However, concerns remain about the scale of the development, whose two main towers will be about 75m and 60m-high, surrounded by ten lower buildings and the leisure centre.
Heritage Over Vandalism Actually have condemned the proposals as out of character with the area.
Brighton's Regency Society warned no judgement should be made until the final plans are unveiled but it has made little attempt to hide its anxiety that too much is being squeezed into one site.
The council's planning committee is expected to come to each application with an open mind. But it has a record of being conservative when it comes to major developments.
The committee also appears to suffer from a fear of heights.
In recent months it has rejected applications for a 42-storey hotel and apartment tower next to Brighton station and a 12-storey tower block on the site of the former Caffyns garage in Hove.
Karis will have to hope Gehry's 25-storey tower will be greeted more positively.
Council officers are expected to take three to six months sifting through the documents before sending the application to the planning committee.
Mr Arghiros wants to take councillors to Bilbao, Spain, home to Gehry's most famous building, the Guggenheim Museum.
He said: "I do not see how they can voice their opposition until they have seen one of his buildings.
"Brighton and Hove is the cultural city of Britain but if we sit on our laurels we will stagnate. The city needs to grow and evolve."
Mr Aghiros touches on a debate that will not go away, about the future of the city and its anticipated expansion, and in particular the future of Hove, which has often resisted attempts to have thrust upon it the vibrancy of its neighbour.
If Gehry's leisure complex is allowed to be built it will change Hove forever.
The argument is between those who would welcome this change and those who would stand in its way.
Let the battle commence.