Developer is determined to get things right at Carlyon Bay
TO MOST people, driving down to the beach at Carlyon Bay – with its decrepit buildings and high security fencing – is a vaguely depressing sight.
Once Cornwall's premier music venue, the Coliseum, is a rusting hulk of metal which towers over the beach.
Jon Kenny, development director of the Commercial Estates Group (CEG) and the driving force behind the project to create "The Beach", is used to building sites.
"When I come down here the first thing I am always struck by is the scale of the project and what a fantastic place and setting it is," he said. "It is always a surprise and a pleasure when you come on to the site when you see the coastline open up in front of you.
"I see in my mind what a brilliant place it is going to be for every visitor to the site who is going to share that same experience. But I also feel a great sense of responsibility that we get it right and that everything we do to make sure that the project fulfils all of its potential."
It was back in 2003 that landowner Ampersand, a subsidiary of CEG, announced its plans to create a luxury resort at Carlyon Bay.
In the face of substantial opposition, it has pinged around the planning and legal system, with a public inquiry eventually ruling against the development in 2007.
CEG went back to the drawing board and resubmitted its application – for 510 homes covering Crinnis beach, the site of the old Coliseum and stretching to neighbouring Shorthorn and Polgaver beaches – in 2008.
That plan, which includes health, sports and recreational facilities alongside bars and restaurants and a string of small shops, was finally approved by Cornwall Council in the summer of 2011.
The project is currently "on hold" until markets improve after the country suffered the worst economic crisis in a lifetime.
"The economic backdrop to this is highly relevant," Mr Kenny said.
"Even if we were in the best market and things were going fantastically well, we'd probably have been looking to start on site round about now.
"It takes a long period of time to get the other approvals in place, the reserve matters, the detailed consents, the designs, the marketing and the financial packages to allow it to happen. That would be an 18-month period between having secured planning permission in June 2011 and where we are today.
"On a major project there is a lot of information to pull together in the background. There's a perception that you get planning permission and then you move straight on to site, but that's not the case.
"What we have is an outline permission – there is a lot we have to put in place behind that.
"The economic situation is the key here. From an investor's point of view, they are not looking at a stable environment in which they can say now is the time to be investing in putting that detail together. It has a bearing on what market we will be selling into. Design is critical and what we can't afford to do is go off half-cocked and say this is what we are going to do and then have to change it halfway through.
"You are looking for a reasonable bit of visibility towards an economic horizon that gives you confidence to say now is the time to go.
"This is the risk, this is the development risk. You decide when to go, knowing you may be 18 months to two years away from actually delivering your product, so we have to time that right.
"But there are definitely, in our view, green shoots, coming through into the economy at the moment – certainly in terms of where residential development is concerned.
"It is a real balancing act to decide when to press the button. The analogy we use is one of driving a project with one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake and deciding which one to press is the key.
"At the moment because of the general situation the foot is on the brake. But things could change very quickly."
He added: "Investors are interested in 'best-in-class' investment opportunities – it doesn't have to be in the South East. And this is a 'best-in-class' proposition."
In the meantime, CEG is creating a network of possible architects and contractors. The construction phase of the scheme is expected to last three to five years and sustain some 500 jobs.
Interest in the project, whether positive or negative, has never been far away over the past decade.
And Mr Kenny said the company continued to be contacted by people looking to buy one of the homes.
For now, the housebuyers will have to wait.
But for Mr Kenny it is a case of "when, not if" the project will begin.
However, he stressed the company would not make promises it could not fulfil.
"Nothing would please us more to be able to say we are on site, we are developing and we have a timetable for completing it," he said.
"We have to be realistic and have patience and not let frustration and impatience push us into doing things that we might regret later on.
"It will become a fantastic destination and a major asset to St Austell and Cornwall and the South West of England.
"We all want to look back at that legacy with pride."