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Wait goes on for Hove's King Alfred
There are two rival plans for the King Alfred leisure centre on Hove seafront which councillors will soon have to consider.
One by insurance company boss Rob Starr is to knock down the current buildings and replace them with a performing arts centre .
There is a long and unhappy history to the King Alfred which was built as the Hove Marina shortly before the start of the Second World War.
It was requisitioned as a training school for naval officers as HMS King Alfred and the name was retained once hostilities had ended.
In those days, there were two swimming baths, both using sea water, and the major pool was rather daringly suspended above an underground car park.
This also proved to be its undoing for the supports gradually gave way under the huge weight of the water.
The old baths were converted into a dry sports centre and 30 years ago the current, fresh water pools were open.
It’s a sign of how quickly fashions change in water sports that these pools, lauded as being state of the art in 1982, now seem hopelessly outdated.
Long before that, in 1969, Hove Council bought the land next door which was known as the Royal Naval Reserve site with the aim of building a sports centre to complement the pools.
Plan followed plan into oblivion as councillors and developers found it impossible to solve the problem of how to build the sports centre with an acceptable commercial scheme to help fund it.
They were hampered by the Department of the Environment which ruled after a public inquiry that there should be no tall buildings on the site.
Eventually the council included the original building and the 1982 pools in the site which amounted to almost three acres.
Controversial plans by Citygrove in the ’90s including a casino nearly got built but failed through lack of money.
Opposition was even greater to plans a decade ago by local developers Karis which included hundreds of homes designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry. These also ran out of cash.
Both the Citygrove and Karis schemes had as their selling point a brand new sports centre.
Karis employed the country’s leading sports architects to design a top class scheme which would have been a huge boost for the city. This tended to be forgotten in the row over Gehry’s flats.
No such centre has been mentioned in connection with the two competing current schemes for the King Alfred.
The Russell Trust says there is room for a leisure centre and a school on the site although I cannot see how this can possibly be achieved.
It is also talking about opening the school in September 2013, a timescale which surely is impossibly short.
Mr Starr’s scheme sounds attractive but I question whether Hove seafront is the right place for it.
The sad story of the Old Market in Hove should also act as a cautionary tale for anyone investing heavily in a live arts venue.
Councillors meet on September 20 to set up a project board which will consider the future of the King Alfred once again.
The primary aim should be to establish one of Britain’s best sports centres on the site including new swimming pools.
If, as seems likely, the site is not big enough to support the commercial development needed to fund the sports centre, that should be provided elsewhere. There are council-owned sites that could be considered including Black Rock .
Unless the two current developers can come up with a new sports centre of the quality needed, which seems highly improbable, they should be told to go away.
Brighton and Hove are used to waiting a long time for major projects such as the library in Jubilee Street and the flats next to the railway station.
But many people are becoming impatient with delays to the new King Alfred sports centre which are unacceptable.
The city by the sea should have a sports centre of which it can be proud. The place is Hove seafront and the time for action is now.
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