Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Flash Mob outside Brookers earlier this year

Flash Mob outside Brookers earlier this year.

What’s happening at Brookers?

A critical look at the plans for the development of the former Brookers store on Norman Road, St Leonards, by local resident John Knowles.

As many HOT readers will know there has been much interest in the former builders merchants, Brookers, and once cinema site on Norman Road and Shepherd St and the possibility of it becoming a hub for the arts. The new owner, Nigel Watts, has made much of his support for the arts, but all is not as it seems. Whilst the existing Baker Mamonova Gallery who specialise in Russian contemporary art will be moving into the larger space (once the main Brookers hardware shop) and the former gallery will become an antiques shop, the cinema space will remain a blank canvas.

The Curzon (formerly Kinema) cinema, Norman Road, in the 1970s

The Curzon (formerly Kinema) cinema, Norman Road, in the 1970s.

The real reason for the current owner’s interest in the site has become apparent with plans to re-instate the former cottages to the rear of the property. Old plans of the area do indeed show three properties on what is now the courtyard area of Shepherd St; however these, presumably ‘cottage properties,’ would have been far less substantial than the current proposal which is for six cramped dwellings to be built on site. This new maxi dwelling will be a three storey building which does little to unify the look of the street or even enhance it, and for local residents will add to parking nightmares and a lack of any views.

Not only is the edifice unlikely to win any awards for architectural sensitivity or indeed innovation, but it also masks a warren of poorly designed spaces. The planned walk-through from Normans Road to Shepherd St, again a much vaunted plus for the area mentioned by the developers, is in actual fact not a public right of way and is merely there to service a fire exit and staircase.  In all, this is an unwelcome development that does little to improve the quality of life for the area. Full plans are available and I highly recommend that readers interested in preserving the architectural standard of central St Leonards take a look.

Plans are currently available on the HBC website under planning application reference number: HS/FA/13/00489.

See also the Friends of the Kinema Palace Facebook page.

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Posted 11:00 Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 In: Campaigns


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  1. John Knowles

    Like the curates egg it is good in parts. As for things turning sour, the important point is surely that this is a part of the democratic right of local people to object to developments which will fundamentally effect their lives. This is not a personality issue. Like any legal planning situation, it is not about numbers or personal likes or dislikes it is about the appropriateness of the development. Please do look at the plans they are available.

    Comment by John Knowles — Wednesday, Aug 7, 2013 @ 10:59

  2. Christine

    Wow! An interesting read. I do hope that you can come to some sort of compromise as there definitely is excitement in the air. The gentleman that owns the property is also full of enthusiasm and it would be a terrible shame for things to turn sour, especially when there is no need. I have been unable to access the plans on line so I am unable to comment further, but I do hope both parties can discuss and be open to compromise.

    Comment by Christine — Tuesday, Aug 6, 2013 @ 23:36

  3. Janette Gallini

    I have read Mr Russell Baker’s glowing encomium. Who could fail to be enthused by such a project? It gives more detail than is available from studying the submitted plans and to a large extent I welcome the initiative. But Mr R.Baker sees it all from the Norman Road, cultural and commercial perspective whereas as a resident of the Gensing Farm area for 30+ years, I see it from the Shepherd Street, residential and community side as well. If people truly care about conservation values and community regeneration, then I hope that some will pause and consider that Shepherd Street is getting a very rough deal. Too many houses are proposed: architecturally they are too tall and too narrow with fenestration uncharacteristic of the area, while the courtyard and walkthrough as they stand create a conflict of interests in which the residents fare the worse.
    There is an opportunity lost here to create an infill that is architecturally in keeping and creates houses that would become long term homes. In the 19th century, 50% of the houses in Shepherd Street [including nos. 31 and 32] were occupied by families for 20+ or even 30+ years; this stability is what makes a community. When Mr Bernard Baker refers only to the acceptability of unventilated kitchens he misses the point that, roof terrace or no, internal access to daylight matters. The ground floors of two cottages are lit solely by a small north facing window opening into the study; which is a room so small it has been represented in plan as having its door opening outwards into the hall, like a cupboard. This ground floor would be like a bunker; our local home-seekers deserve better conditions than this.
    OS map 1875/1885, Census data 1861-1891, Parson’s directory 1871 and Pike’s directories 1876/8 show that there were three cottages [31-33 Shepherd Street] on the proposed site; and that there was no through-cut to the yard behind Norman Road; the OS map indicates nothing more than a first floor overhang. If Mr Bernard Baker had consulted the historical record he would have seen that nos. 31-33 were built between 1851 and 1861. He could then have put away the pattern books for 1828 and 1833 and instead taken inspiration from the north side of North Street which, except for the plot on the corner of Gensing Road which was built 1875/1885, was built soon after 1851.
    The historical record of occupancy points to the houses as being two storey, which is confirmed by the physical record of the existing wall at the eastern edge of 30 Shepherd Street. The roof pitch is inconsistent with a mansard, although there may have been a small dormer such as that to be seen on 14 Shepherd Street. It may be assumed that the side wall of the demolished cottages was left to instruct future builders as to the appropriate roof height and pitch to adopt. This must also be true further down Shepherd Street, where the two storey ridge line of a missing building is evident from the retained wall. If the aim is to reinstate the streetscape, the suitability of imposing three storey housing at the lower end of this side of the street is questionable.
    The creation of a narrow walkway from Shepherd Street is presumably related to the establishment of the outdoor café in the courtyard, as a pedestrian fire escape route, but it has no justification in terms of the residential community. It is not proposed to establish a public right of way, so there is no public gain for the neighbourhood, while the residents of the new cottages have no backdoors onto the yard, and no parking facilities within it; so its only function for them would be as a location for the binstores. It distorts the historic grain of the area, and creates possible public safety issues. Whatever is claimed, all alleys in the area are vulnerable and the presence of Valentine’s Passage opposite, far from making the new alley ‘not too much of a concern’ reinforces the argument against it. The alley at Aldersgate Terrace which, reputedly due to residents losing their keys, is always unlocked and consequently suffers problems, did at least have the possiblity of an origin as a pathway down from Gensing Farm to the sea; this alley would just create a false historicity.
    The historical record is also distorted by the adoption of the Kinema Palace name for the courtyard. The Kinema was never approached via this route, and apparently will not be so in the future plans. Opening up the works access is an attractive feature on Norman Road, but the ‘historic courtyard’ seems to be merely to give the Art Gallery its outdoor café. For the residential offer it is not a full and efficient use of the land; the converted apartments could have better, more sympathetic access, and the land at the back used either for parking or for outside amenities for the cottages or apartments. In addition, the live/work unit which modern parlance might dub a ‘bed in a shed’ is a potential fire trap, as no emergency vehicles can access the yard.
    As presented, the ambience of the courtyard for a café will not be particularly attractive; the entrances are not inviting, being either down a narrow alley past the binstores with their potential for overspill, or negotiating the steel stairs of the apartments. The yard itself is cramped by the live/work unit, overlooked on one side by the high-set ground floor windows of the rather institutional rear wall of the Shepherd Street houses and on the other by the utilitarian rear wall of apartment A, and having a view of the covered ‘communal terrace’ and the steel access staircase.
    I have spent four years, with others, fighting for architecturally pleasing, decent homes and spaces between them that work well on the Archery Ground. Just because this is a corner of Central St Leonards does not mean that values or standards should be lower. Taking on board the fact that the courtyard café is a nice idea, I should like to see this application withdrawn and reworked with modifications on the following lines:
    • Scrap the live/work unit and put a small garden there to soften the surroundings.
    • Give the houses sympathetically fenestrated two storey front facades with a single pitch roof to the north and roof terrace to the south; each to have a small yard of outside space to the rear for bin and cycle storage and general amenity. The rear walls to the yards will make the court more pleasant and provide privacy for the residents.
    • Replace five units with three or possibly four; make a decent size shallow-curved arch modelled on North Street or Mercatoria [no more sham lintels] which does not need to be centrally located, but may be if using the North Street pattern of two cottages sharing an arch, with a further cottage on either side.
    • The gate to be open only when the café is in operation, just as Brookers’ yard gate functioned.
    • Scrap the proposed central roof extension over the apartment access to bring some daylight to the doors and windows of the apartments and make the communal terrace just that rather than a local-authority-style walkway.
    • Reconfigure the apartments slightly so that apartment B has a view of something other than apartment A’s front door from its kitchen and bedroom.
    • Replace the steel stairs with properly built, architecturally pleasing steps up to the first floor level [think of a Florentine palazzo]; postion the staircase against the rear wall of apartment B to add architectural interest to a blank expanse.
    • Rework the wall of apartment A to give better internal light through bigger windows and a more agreeable view from the café.
    • Finally, rename the court something like Temperance Hall Court [after the original function of 53 Norman Road] or Old Corn Stores Yard, following the photo owned by the applicant. Both are listed at this location in the 1888 census and this would genuinely preserve and enhance the understanding of the area, unlike the dislocation of the Kinema reference.

    The submitted drawings are full of errors such as inconsistent or inaccurate labelling, or the building line differently located between plans and elevations; and omissions, such as the refuse area to be used by the apartments, cycle stores, or details of doorways to the Kinema. With only passing text references, it is exceptionally difficult to disentangle the various areas of work – if external works are to be done on the Kinema, then they need to be clearly indicated as part of the submission for approval, including all gates or railings that the applicant wishes to erect.
    There is no indication as to the relationship between the residential offer and the proposed use of the Kinema. Parking is always a contentious issue and while it may be that the Shepherd Street frontage will be adequate for those new houses, Mr Russell Baker talks of attracting ‘a wider interest into the area in general’ and this needs to be supported by a Travel Plan. Similarly, noise nuisance problems for an entertainment venue can stifle its creativity; much better to get it all sorted at the outset and coordinate with the residential build if there are any counter measures planned to protect neighbourhood amenity and safety.
    Mr Bernard Baker asserts that no change of use permission is required, but application had to be made in 1978 – HS/FA/78/1509I – ‘Change of use from cinema to retail shop’ which was from D2 to A1. Latest rulings [20 May 2013] say that A1 will be permitted to change to D2 for a single period of up to 2 years, but that will hardly suffice to fix confidence in the future of the Kinema. A change of use application would include a description of the intended works to the Kinema building which would also help to put the current application in context.
    This project needs to be supportable by all parts of the community; one section should not be disenfranchised by another. I have commented with that in mind; this is a reasoned and reasonable objection.

    Comment by Janette Gallini — Friday, Aug 2, 2013 @ 14:15

  4. Russell Baker

    A positive look at the plans regarding the proposed development of the former Brookers store in Norman Road, St Leonards

    As a resident of St. Leonards for more than 25 years I often visited Norman Road both as a trade client and as a gallery owner. I am very pleased with the plans for the above development. The new owner has made a considerable commitment to invest in the future of this area. We have been very happy with the response to our original Baker Mamonova Gallery and very excited about the possibilities of moving into a larger space with bigger and better ideas for the old redundant Brookers. The new owner has been very supportive and, in my opinion, displayed sensitivity in taking on board creative and practical advice from those involved including Baker Architects (no relation), a group of well respected designers from London and ourselves as owners of two galleries (In St.Leonards and London). Our combined efforts and discussions resulted in the plan to restore the original walkway through from Norman Road that will make this area architecturally more interesting. Most importantly this will also link Patrick Robbins new Art/Antique shop and Baker Mamonova’s new outdoor cafe area. The original cobblestones have been discovered and used to pave the way to a new courtyard. All the residents, traders and visitors that we have spoken to are very excited about the new developments and new arts venue, these are people we work with and talk to on an everyday basis. Most important are our plans for the listed cinema space. We are currently in talks with two interested partners, both successful former London theatre and cinema companies to jointly run with ourselves. The route to the Auditorium will be accessed through Baker Mamonova Gallery and will enable us to attract a wider interest into the area in general.
    Russell Baker, artist and gallery owner
    Olga Mamonova, writer and art consultant

    Comment by Russell Baker — Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 @ 23:17

  5. Alison Cooper

    well done for high-lighting John…..x

    Comment by Alison Cooper — Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 @ 15:27

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