William Mills looks at Sussex Yacht Club’s elaborate new clubhouse building scheme and asks how viable this really is.
On 3rd September 2016 I attended a packed meeting at the SYC’s Shoreham club house to listen in bewildered amazement as club commodore Steve Vyse announced he and his colleagues had just completed 18 months of secret negotiations to sell part of the club’s Shoreham site knocking down the existing clubhouse in the process.
When we spoke afterwards I expressed grave doubts as to the viability of the scheme. However Mr Vyse made clear he would ‘come down on me like a ton of bricks’ if I dissented. Yet I feel that on such an important issue all points of views should be heard.
Sussex Yacht Club has the misfortune of being based at two different sites with its yacht moorings and old, disused Southwick clubhouse located close to the harbour entrance, and a car drive away, in Shoreham High Street is the main clubhouse and boatyard situated in on a narrow strip of tidal riverbank.
Sussex Yacht Club’s Building Plans
The commodore’s plan involves selling a strip of the club’s road frontage which would result in knocking down the existing main club building and replacing it with one built on stilts partially due to the narrowness of the remaining riverbank site, and also because it would be on the wrong side of the new flood defensives.
During the meeting I felt the club was dividing between those who live nearby and regard the club’s principle use as a free carpark in an otherwise busy shopping street with limited parking.
Others, coming from further afield, are sailors heading for the yachts at the Southwick site and rarely venture into the Shoreham clubhouse. At present the facilities for the sailors are lousy. The pontoons are a sad joke compared to those in nearby Brighton Marina. There is little parking and a disused old clubhouse providing a couple of toilets and no refreshments.
The lion share of the club’s £500,000 annual revenue is taken by the Shoreham site providing employment for the office staff and subsiding a loss making bar and empty restaurant.
Yacht clubs always have problems retaining trained catering staff due to the seasonal nature of the English weather and often bar staff are disconsolately left reading a book on weekdays and during the winter due to lack of customers.
Mr Vyse seemed to suggest that a new clubhouse would somehow reverse this trend. However fabulous this new stilted edifice might appear, as a private members club its trade would be limited to a few local residents having an exclusive drinking session one Friday a month.
If the rest are happy for their fees and subscriptions to be used in this way so be it. Individuals can always vote with their feet and not renew their membership if they so wish.
However when public money is being used it is a very different matter. Shoreham is very short of car parking. It already has a selection of High Street pubs and restaurants to choose from.
What would clearly be best for members and the wider community at large, would be for the whole of SYC’s Shoreham site to be given over to car parking with a landscaped riverbank tow path that everyone can enjoy.
In return SYC would be entitled to request the Council provide a purpose built site industrial land near the harbour entrance where they is ample space for car and boat parking.
A new slipway would be easy to construct giving access to all states of the tide launching and recovery of craft.
A purpose built clubhouse would provide windswept visiting yachtsmen seeking respite with a hot shower, laundrette, hot meal and bottled drink and with somewhere comfortable to sit which didn’t keep going up and down.
Close to the boats, it would be far more likely used regularly by both sailors and boat owners who regularly visit their boats during the week. At present few muster the enthusiasm to get back into their car and sit in traffic so they can pop into a club bar several miles away which in all likelihood will be empty.
In Fecamp, Normandy, the visiting yachtsman finds immediately above the moorings a building with harbour master’s office and showers on the ground floor and the recreational area with fabulous views out to sea on top.
How many weary sailors would realistically wait on a busy road for a bus into the nearby town to visit an expensive clubhouse restaurant, which might be closed in any case, and for which they are certainly not dressed for?
The Shoreham site might well be ideal for a new pub restaurant. But to succeed it would need to be fully open to the public in order to compete on equal terms with its High Street rivals.
For a small number of locals to expect to keep public money for their own benefit is both selfish and unrealistic.
The resources available should be used for the benefit of everybody.