On the rocks again: new campaign to save Beachy Head lighthouse

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The Independent Online

Eight years ago the future of the Belle Tout lighthouse looked precarious at best. The 850-tonne structure has stood on Beachy Head in Sussex for more than 170 years but was about to fall into the English Channel as the waves below ate into the chalky white cliffs on which the lighthouse sat. A campaign to save the landmark was launched and the lighthouse was moved further back from the sea.

Now another campaign is aiming to give Belle Tout a second makeover and turn it into a bed and breakfast following concerns that the Victorian monument is again falling into disrepair.

The Grade-II listed building, dating from the 1830s, was put on sale by its private owners for £850,000 in January and a small group of local people are hoping to raise enough money to buy the building.

They have set up the Belle Tout Lighthouse Preservation Fund and have applied to Eastbourne Borough Council asking permission to convert it from a residential into a commercial property. A hearing is to be held on Tuesday. "I'm confident that we'll raise the necessary money," said Rob Wassell, who runs the fund. "We're determined to give it back to its rightful owners – the public."

Mr Wassell would not say how much money had been raised so far, stressing "there's still a long way to go" but he claims "the interest, affection, and respect that this building receives suggests that, with a lot of hard work, we can convert it into a fantastic public attraction".

Mr Wassell, 38, an IT manager from Croydon who grew up in Peacehaven, a dozen miles from the Belle Tout, says the building has sunken floors, rotten wood, and damp walls. "We may have to spend an extra £100,000 to £150,000 on redevelopment," he said. "It's in quite a state. And we need to build an access road and a car park, and those things will take time."

The Belle Tout owes its modern popularity in part to appearances in the BBC series The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and the James Bond film The Living Daylights, and the remarkable campaign in the 1990s to save it from falling into the sea. In 1999, hydraulic jacks were used to lift the lighthouse and push it 17 metres inland along lubricated, concrete beams. The Belle Tout is again safe, but in a derelict state. Mr Wassell said: "The trustees of the fund get no money out of this. We're not doing it for personal profit. We're doing it because we have a passion, and because we're determined that the Belle Tout's remarkable character should be celebrated."

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