AGHAST's response to St. Williams second consultation
Delivered to St. William, BHCC councillors and BHCC head of planning
5th March 2021
The second consultation consists of two documents:
1) 'Second Public Consultation: Design and Landscape’ (February 2021)
2) ‘Remediation Update’ (February 2021)
We have reviewed the two consultation documents and provide specific feedback to some of the points raised in these later in this response. We set out below our comments and concerns on the main themes of the development proposal.
Important information and detailed perspectives of the proposed Gasworks redevelopment scheme, as proposed by St William, are not being made publicly available. This prohibits any meaningful consultation as those participating in the current consultation with St William cannot comment on something that is being withheld or otherwise not available. In the Zoom meeting with St William (01.03.21) it was stated that full documentation for the final redevelopment scheme would not be available for viewing prior to the planning consent submission. This is far too late to engage constructively with local residents and the wider community as our only option at this stage will be to raise an objection to the final redevelopment plans. We reject this approach and set out in the strongest possible terms that we believe the detailed scheme should be subject to public consultation prior to submission. Local residents and communities must be given the time and opportunity to consider and feedback on a fully transparent and comprehensive plan prior to planning approval submission.
We remain of the view that an appropriate redevelopment of the site would be a low-rise scheme (defined as 4 storeys and under), which is set away from the edges of the site, where this is required to protect neighbouring amenity. The City Plan Part One allocation for the site set out in Policy DA2 is 2,000 sqm of business floorspace and a minimum of 85 residential units. We acknowledge that the number of residential units set out in the policy is a minimum, but this figure will have been based upon a full assessment of the potential of the site for what the LPA conceived the site could deliver in the form of a site-appropriate low-rise development.
There is no justification for an almost tenfold increase to 600-700 units. A development of this scale has numerous negative impacts and the site is not suited to a development of this scale and density.
It is not clear that a smaller more appropriate development has ever been considered by the developer. We expect a low-rise scheme to be fully explored as this is most appropriate use of the site in our opinion. The failure to explore more appropriate alternatives to the densely clustered, high-rise scheme, which is now proposed, is a failure of the public consultation and the design process. Until a low-rise scheme has been fully explored we do not accept that a densely clustered, high-rise scheme is needed, and nor is it appropriate for the site.
Scale, bulk, and density
The proposed development is of an excessive scale, bulk and density, way beyond the 2,000 sqm / 85-unit scale of development which is indicated as appropriate in Policy DA2. Much of the development in the immediate surrounds of the site is 2-3 storey small scale residential dwellings, and will be dwarfed by the scale of development proposed. The scale of the buildings proposed, in conjunction with a lack of substantial set back from the edges of the site, will result in an overbearing impact for neighbouring occupiers, and their sense of privacy will be harmed by overlooking from numerous windows in relatively close proximity.
The 4-storey block proposed fronting directly on to Boundary Road will have an overbearing impact upon the rear of the Arundel Street properties which face directly into the site. These neighbouring occupants will also lose privacy to their rear windows and small garden areas. The part of the development site should be left open with any built form set well back from the edge of the site. This part of the site could provide a public open space. If any development is proposed closer to the edge of the site it should be a maximum of 2 storeys to avoid having an overbearing impact.
The high rise buildings lining the northern and eastern sides of the site will have an overbearing impact upon the residential properties facing these elevations. The massing of these high-rise buildings will destroy the outlook and sense of privacy from the windows and garden areas of these properties.
A low rise development across the site, with development set away from the edges of the site, and in particular set away from Boundary Road where Arundel Street properties back directly on to the road, and also from those properties directly to the Northern and Eastern side of the site, would be far more appropriate and remains the preferred option for the redevelopment of the site.
A reduction in height of one of more of the buildings by 1 or 2 storeys would have no meaningful impact in regard to these concerns. This is not what is sought by neighbours. Tokenistic reductions of this type make no material difference and only serve to expose the failure to engage fully and meaningfully with the concerns of neighbours. What the local residents and the surrounding community requires is a ‘back to the drawing board’ approach which fully explores the potential of a low-rise redevelopment of the site.
It is not the case that a smaller development would necessarily reduce the viability of the site. A low-rise scheme would dramatically reduce the build costs associated with the development and could provide a high number of housing units and a reasonable return for the developer.
Design and Landscape
The primary issue of concern in respect to design and landscaping is the scale, massing and density of the overall scheme proposed. The development proposed- at 600-700 units, is almost 10 times larger than is indicated as appropriate in Policy DA2 – 85 units. There is no justification for such an inappropriate development. We request that a low-rise redevelopment of the site be fully explored.
The height and scale of the development will have a significant negative impact upon neighbouring amenity. These impacts are worsened by a failure to set the proposed built forms away from the edges of the site. A significant set-back should be introduced to the western, northern and eastern edges of the site. This would allow for more soft landscaping and could also provide public outdoor space.
The scale of buildings proposed will also impact negatively upon the setting of the listed buildings and conservation area to the west of the site. There is a strong presumption set out in the NPPF to refuse schemes which would cause heritage harm. A low-rise scheme would not cause this harm and is therefore the preferred option in heritage terms.
The group does not wish to comment on the detail of the proposed building designs as the principle of buildings of this scale, bulk and density, is unacceptable to neighbouring occupiers.
This is an issue of critical importance to the city. The developer has to reveal full open-book viability figures at the point of an application submission and will already have a clear idea of the percentage of affordable housing which will be delivered, along with unit size mix and tenure mix. We object to this information being withheld, as this blocks any meaningful consultation on affordable housing. Once the application is submitted we can no longer engage constructively on the issue as the scheme is at that point final. We will have 21 days to comment on the application and can only raise objections to the issues which we find unacceptable. This is not a constructive consultation process.
The application site should deliver a minimum of 40% affordable housing as per Policy CP20. We will object to any proposed affordable housing provision below 40%. We acknowledge that a financial viability case can be put forward and may be accepted under the current planning regime. We note that under the current White Paper proposals from Government this allowance will be removed, and affordable housing delivery and contributions will be made a non-negotiable element of redevelopment schemes. We support this direction of travel and we already consider the delivery of adequate affordable housing to be ‘non-negotiable’.
It may be possible to justify an under delivery of affordable housing through a viability case. An under delivery would still, however represent a substantial deficiency in the scheme, vs an alternative scheme which may be able to deliver 40%, such as the low-rise scheme which neighbours feel would be more appropriate for the site, which would have dramatically reduced build costs and potentially improved viability.
This deficiency should, in our opinion be given significant weight in ‘the planning balance’ and we will be putting this case forward robustly with council officers and councilors if an application is submitted which does not propose 40% affordable housing.
As set out above, the proposed buildings will dwarf neighbouring dwellings. They would have an overbearing and enclosing impact. They significantly increase overlooking and harm privacy within the dwellings and for users of the private gardens associated with the dwellings. The buildings would cause increased overshadowing, this is a fact regardless of whether the sunlight and daylight reports being submitted in support of the application demonstrate that BRE guidelines would be met.
We have set out that the development should be low-rise (maximum 4-storeys), with significant set backs from the western, northern and eastern side of the site. Any development larger than this, without adequate set backs, will have a harmful impact, which in our view warrants the refusal of planning permission.
If the scheme is not redesigned to address these issues, we will have no choice but to object to the application and engage with council officers and councilors to help them understand how harmful the development will be in these regards.
Transport and Parking
The number of proposed parking spaces, and the nature of the proposed parking, has been withheld. This blocks any meaningful consultation on the matter. From the perspective of neighbours, it is clear that future occupiers are likely to own private vehicles and should be provided with parking spaces within the development. We would expect a minimum of one space per flat, plus spaces for the commercial uses proposed, visitors to the flats and the commercial uses, and disabled parking.
If a lower provision than this is provided, in the current circumstances it is clear that overspill parking will result and the roads to the east of the site in Roedean, and to the north of the site in Whitehawk, are currently unrestricted for residents parking. The level of overspill parking which would result would cause significant harm to the amenity of occupiers in these areas who would struggle to find space to park. Drivers searching for spaces and attempting to maneuver into small spaces are distracted from hazards and therefore will cause an increased highway safety risk. Additionally, drivers circling the area seeking parking will add to traffic pollution in the area.
From our perspective, parking demand should be addressed within the site. If it is not, the development must engage with the Council to find a solution to this issue, such as the developer funding a controlled parking zone which will protect neighbouring occupiers and block residents of the new development from obtaining resident parking permits. This should be a developer subsidized scheme and should not pass on costs to neighbouring occupiers; neighbouring occupiers should not have to pay an annual permit fee to enable the management of the parking problem which the development will cause.
This matter is addressed below. Whilst we welcome the provision of any information in respect of remediation, what has been provided is by and large generic introductory text, and it is clear that no substantial site investigation works have taken place - now planned for March 2021. Until these site investigation works are carried out and a remediation strategy is fully set out, we cannot engage in any meaningful discussions on the matter. It is critical to us that this work is carried out and time is allowed for analysis of the work and further discussions, before the planning application is submitted.
The latest documents suggest that this information may not even be available at the time of the application submission. We consider this unacceptable and fail to see how an application could be deemed ‘valid’ by the Council if such fundamental information is not submitted.
We see the contamination issues as fundamental and expect the scheme design as a whole to be based upon addressing this critical concern. We are shocked that is being treated as an ‘afterthought’, with the development scheme being finalised before the actual contamination at the site and the necessary mitigation is identified.
For example- high-rise buildings such as those proposed require far more intrusive ground works and increase concerns in respect of the impacts of contamination post-development. A low-rise development would require less intrusive foundations and would raise fewer concerns. We feel it is critical that these issues inform the scheme design rather than being an afterthought.
We are also bemused as to how the developer will submit detailed open book viability figures at the point of the application submission, without knowing in any detail what the financial costs of addressing the contamination issues at the site will be. This does not make sense and suggests that the viability case will be based upon estimates rather than detailed costings. It is clear to us that the site investigation needs to be carried out, and the mitigation strategy prepared, costed, and fed into viability calculations before the scheme - and the proposed affordable housing provision - can be finalised. We also consider it essential that a public consultation is carried out which includes the release of this information and a reasonable timescale for engagement, before the planning application is submitted.
No community uses are proposed. This is a missed opportunity. The consultation document states that there is surplus school capacity but there is no mention of surplus capacity for services such as GP surgery, Dental surgery and other community uses such as community function space etc. If 700 additional households are to move into the area it appears clear that the expansion of such services is necessary and would add a positive element to the development. The failure to incorporate these services has not been justified.
A dense high-rise development has numerous negative impacts:
It is out of keeping with the character of the small-scale residential development in the surrounding area of the site.
Harmful to the setting of listing buildings and conservation area.
It results in significant harm to neighbouring amenity.
Intrusive ground works are required which are likely to negatively impact neighbours during construction and may worsen post-development contamination concerns.
Increased build costs which may reduce profitability of the scheme and reduce affordable housing provision.
An expected delivery of affordable housing below 40%
Increased parking demand, increased traffic and reduced air quality.
All of these factors will weigh against the proposed development in the planning balance and we believe that, with due weight given to the benefits which the scheme would deliver, overall these negative factors warrant the refusal of planning permission.
A low-rise development would avoid many of these harmful impacts and reduce others. Furthermore, a low-rise scheme would be of a reduced build cost and could potentially deliver 40% affordable housing. We remain convinced that a low-rise scheme is the right redevelopment solution for the site and we expect this to be fully explored before we could begin to entertain supporting a development of a larger scale.
Response to the new consultation documents -
‘Second Public Consultation: Design and Landscape’ (February 2021)
We consider that this site is suited to a low-rise development as per the CPP1 allocation and, for a number of reasons, unsuitable for tall buildings and a development of the density proposed. The reductions to the proposed building heights (tallest building reduced from 15 to 13 storeys and the western block reduced from 5 to 4 storeys) are tokenistic and do not address the concerns raised by residents. Moreover, concerns expressed by residents to the East of the site have been completely ignored, as heights have actually been raised on this side of the development. We object fundamentally to the development approach which is proposed and strongly feel that a ‘back to the drawing board’ step is required.
The consultation has not been a meaningful process as the concerns of neighbouring residents have not been addressed and the scheme is continuing forward in a very similar guise to the original proposals. The small changes made are tokenistic and do not demonstrate that any of the concerns of the community we represent have been addressed. On the contrary, concerns such as loss of privacy expressed by residents to the East of the site have been completely ignored, as buildings heights on this side have been increased.
Affordable Housing numbers have not been revealed - therefore no meaningful consultation has taken place with local residents on this issue. The document says that the exact number of affordable homes will be agreed with the Council, following submission of the application. But yet the developer will have to publish their proposed affordable housing provision through an open book viability case at the point of submission and will already have a clear idea as to the proportion of affordable housing which the development is likely to deliver. To withhold this information blocks meaningful consultation with the community.
Parking provision is not confirmed and is detailed as being subject to ongoing discussions with the council. Again, the current proposed parking provision is a known factor for the developer and to withhold this information blocks meaningful consultation with the community. There is a complete lack of information provided about how other services – eg emergency vehicles, deliveries - necessary to cover the development will be resourced.
Sunlight and daylight assessments must have been carried out to inform the designs to date and again these have been withheld and this blocks meaningful discussions.
We request that all of these details be finalised and released for public consultation, allowing a reasonable period for the details to be considered, and for engagement with the community to take place, before the planning application is submitted. If these details are withheld and are only released when the planning application is submitted, this will not allow for constructive engagement and will confirm that the proposed scheme is a ‘fait accompli’ – finalised before any views of the community are sought on the detailed proposals.
‘Remediation Update’ (February 2021)
We welcome engagement on this issue. The document provides an overview but is lacking in specific information about the current contamination issues on the site and how these will be resolved. We are shocked to see that site investigations are yet to commence, and it is proposed that these will start in March 2021. It therefore appears that the planning application may be submitted before the site investigations have been concluded and the mitigation strategy prepared. These issues are fundamental to the scheme and we would expect the site investigation to be carried out, mitigation measures formulated, and engagement with the community and all relevant bodies to be carried out prior to the application being submitted.
There will be no meaningful engagement with the community if these discussions do not take place prior to the planning application being submitted. If the application is submitted without the full information we object to this and we consider that the application should be considered ‘invalid’ until the full information is provided. Neighbours and consultation bodies will be consulted upon registration of the application and will have 21 days to respond. If the full contamination information is not available at this first stage- all parties will be denied the chance to comment. This is a fundamentally unacceptable approach.
We request that the site investigation results, and mitigation strategy proposals are formulated and that a public consultation takes place on these documents, with a reasonable timescale for analysis of the documents, and constructive engagement with the community, before the planning application is submitted.