I hate to say that ‘I told you so’ but doing so is the shortest way of explaining that the latest disastrous King Alfred news was both predictable and avoidable, writes Conservative councillor for Wish Ward Robert Nemeth.
Although I equally blame Crest Nicholson and Brighton and Hove City Council’s Labour Administration for the collapse of the King Alfred project, the purpose of this piece is to highlight what exactly should have been done differently on the council side.
To recap, the redevelopment of the King Alfred has been seriously discussed since the 1970s. A 1980s revamp with a new pool and slides injected some life but really just put off the inevitable. Various commercial schemes were proposed during the 1990s and, of course, Frank Gehry’s scheme won planning permission during the 2000s. Planning for the current scheme began in 2012 under the Greens (Cllr Geoffrey Bowden must be credited) after others such as Mike Weatherley MP and Rob Starr campaigned for action.
The first council mistake was secrecy and, in particular, a lack of public consultation. It meant that the council simply didn’t know what the people wanted. The brief from the outset was difficult to deliver and unambitious. The possibility of a 50m pool wasn’t given proper discussion. Too much priority was given to housing when it should have been about sport and leisure.
Under Labour, the secrecy continued. The Project Board was dissolved by Cllr Warren Morgan after opposition Councillors such as myself and Tom Druitt (Green) called for public involvement. The Administration wouldn’t even release details of the two competing schemes prior to a winner being picked, and wouldn’t release details of the losing scheme afterwards.
Without a Project Board, there was nobody to drive the scheme. No Labour councillor would admit to being in charge. No deposit had been taken and there were no fines for non-delivery. Crest Nicholson dragged it out for years and the Administration did nothing.
Every year without action has cost the city more than £1m which is scandalous. Hundreds of thousands have been wasted on officer time and fees. Most importantly though, Hove is lacking a sports centre of which it can be proud.
I can assure residents that I will most certainly be involved from the outset this time so that we at least stand a chance of building a sports centre that is loved by its users – every surrounding Conservative council has managed this after all.