Summary of findings from AGHAST community survey, July 2023.
In terms of the overall masterplan for use of the site, the majority of correspondents favoured ‘Lower Density Residential Development':
This option proposes the development of 'a mix of low and medium rise homes for families’ (34%). The close second option (at 29%) in replies was ‘Light Industrial and/or Supermarket: this option involves the potential to keep the current businesses and maxmises the potential of the site’s use for light industry, warehousing or trade counters, retaining the current cap on its foundations i.e. to avoid disturbing contaminants in the underlying soil.’
The overwhelming majority of correspondents were *strongly* against high rise development on the site (45%).
On the Contamination issue the survey revealed a clear mistrust of the developer’s track record and approach – 75% of replies to the question ‘Do you trust the developers to safely decontaminate and develop the site without exposing local residents to toxins contained in the soil?’ were negative, with 51% ‘disagreeing strongly’ with the statement.
Design-wise, more than 60% of correspondents agreed the development should align 'with the nearby Regency seafront buildings that Brighton is famous for'. As is very clear in the recent images released of Berkeley's plans in Peckham, which closely matches our own in terms of footprint and design, this developer is currently simply replicating blocks used across a range of their sites.
A staggering 93% of replies agreed that 'If any development proceeds, is it important for you that the buildings are oriented to avoid creating wind tunnels?’
Social housing on the site was clearly identified as a priority in the Survey, with the majority of correspondents (54%) asking for a requirement that the required 40% ‘affordable’ housing allocation be ‘genuinely affordable’ (set based on 80% local median income) rather than set by market rates. Provision of social or genuinely affordable housing was identified as the most important feature of any redevelopment of the site (over 44% of replies).
Impacts on local infrastructure were a clear priority and came up in a lot of comments. Specifically on the parking question, nearly 60% of replies stated ‘The development should have at least as many parking spaces (including for electric vehicles) as there are new flats.’ A range of other community amenities including new community accessible spaces, schools and. GP practice were requested in comments.
Selective narrative comments (if you would like to read all of the comments click here):
This developer has a track record of buying cheap contaminated sites and causing environmental damage with over development. Planners should be protecting residents from profit focused development that comes at an environmental cost.
The present application is a complete overdevelopment of the site. It will blight the local architecture. It poses a severe risk to the health and sanity of local residents for the next decade and will adversely affect the vital tourism industry and the safety of sea swimmers from pollution. The complete inadequacy of the parking spaces provided will risk bringing the neighbourhood to a standstill. It is aesthetically ugly and over-dominant in height, bulk and density. It will wreck local architectural heritage assets such as the Kemptown Estates and the beautiful French De Courcel building as well as the several miles of much-loved Regency Sea Front architecture. It offers no benefit whatever to the local community and risks ugly high-rise apartments (aimed at investors) standing empty for many years to come (like many similar ones in the Marina).
Wouldn’t it be great if when development projects in Brighton were initially being created that the first question was ‘what do Brighton residents truly need?’ A question that is so fundamental but always overlooked. Where is our affordable housing? What are we doing to keep families in the city? What is it we are lacking? Because I tell you what, more over priced, unattainable flats for locals to rent is definitely not it! And as a local resident I would like to live a healthy life which has not been polluted by the unnecessary digging up of the gas works! I also long for a day when Brighton Council actually listens to us and our needs are put before that of financial gains....A lot to ask I know, but I can dream!...
London cookie cutter tower blocks are unacceptable.
The increased gentrification of our cities is a problem. TRULY affordable housing if that is the route taken should be top priority. Many of us in Whitehawk are already in council houses paying far too much, building only for the rich displaces everyone else.
No high rise is the highest priority, with high quality materials, appropriate for the area secondary which complement, but are secondary to the adjacent to local conservation area and listed buildings so not to distract from them.
It is unbelievable to me that the developers can suggest such a huge number of flats to be built in such a small area. This is an incredibly windy area of brighton already without the building of huge wind canyons to knock us over. The shadow most of the day plus the loss of privacy to all on the periphery of the sight is very worrying. BUT- my biggest worry is Berkeleys track record of poor contamination procedures creating at this present time, AWFUL problems for residents of Southall and Mitcham, both sites emitting such bad stenchs from remediation that it is actually making locals sick, and there are clinical investigations started into this. Blood tests are being taken to determine exactly what is going on with the local populations health. Without your health you have nothing. I do not want my family and I (nor my neighbours)to be put at risk by removing the cap on this historically contaminated site, digging deep for tower block foundations, plus having contaminated dust falling on a 500 metre radius from the site. A scoping report from a couple of years back admits that this will happen. Wake up developers - people need affordable housing with some outside space, not small flats for developers to let out for Airbnbs.
Whatever happens here this area should be used for local people. Not sold on to those without any interests in East Brighton - ie just there to make an investment and to hell with the pollution and needs of the community.
The site is in an extremely windy location. Any development should not worsen this either for dwellings/businesses on the site or residents already living here. I do not believe the developer's Micro Climate Report(s) take into account the wind tunnel effect specific to this location - and yet their proposed development, through modelling, shows it will worsen the situation. I believe these two factors combined will make some areas in and around the site no-go areas for part of the year i.e. for walking, cycling, gardening, external house maintenance etc. Parking provision is a consideration that needs looking at. The developers propose to build too many dwellings on the site. Over-development for profit, over the health and well-being of residents and workers is what it's looking like. "Take the money and run" leaving behind long term problems for locals to endure if they can't be corrected. Not inclusive. Not community driven. Not caring. Selfish. Reject this proposal and aim for a better long term (healthier) one. Thanks to all who are fighting this over-development on behalf of all who want to live and work a healthy life in a positive environment.
Re: Planning application Ref. BH2021/04167
Brighton Gasworks – OBJECTION from AGHAST (Action on Gasworks Housing Safety, Affordability & Transparency)
AGHAST continues to represent the views of a wide range of the community in East Brighton and beyond with many serious concerns about the development proposed by Berkeley for this site. The breadth and number of people who live, work, run businesses and send their children to school in the neighbourhood who have reached out to us over the past 2 years to express their fear, anger and dismay about these proposals is overwhelming. Many have never objected to a planning application before and have struggled to do so. This objection seeks to give a voice to the concerns of this wider community as well as to share the expert analyses we have been able to gather thanks to the community’s incredible fundraising efforts. Note that this submission does not replace our previous objection to the planning application and should be read in parallel with that submission.
The consultation has been completely inadequate. A year after the original submissions, the current plans are framed as ‘responsive’ to consultation. This is incorrect and misleading given that the overwhelming majority of concerns expressed by AGHAST as well as the many objections from the community on the planning portal have not been addressed. It is unacceptable for a scheme of this size and controversy that there have been ZERO public meetings to talk about the changes with the community over the past year. In addition, the proposals submitted are inaccessible and obscure – a large volume of complex documents submitted close to Christmas (again) and lacking up-to-date 3-D visualisations and straightforward summaries that could clearly and accessibly illustrate the realities of the plans in terms of critically important features including height, density, massing, shading, wind effects.
The details of our grounds for objection are captured in our previous formal objection submitted in 2022 and include:
- Hyper development – too high, too dense, creating a non-liveable neighbourhood. This is particularly due to:
- a) Wind tunnels exacerbated by a design using mostly SSW-oriented buildings. Wind speeds are modelled in the application using data from Shoreham airport –an inland monitoring point and not at all representative of the prevailing cliff front wind exposure of this site. They claim that winds will only become problematic when they exceed 15m/s about 30knts or F6 on the Beaufort scale and that winds will only exceed this on 0.022% of days - a few hours a year. Locals know that winds are regularly over F5 and in the winter often stronger for longer - since the new year we have had 50% of days over the limit with some days peaking at 45 knots! The decision not to use wind speed data from the local monitoring station seems intended to conceal this.
- b) Shading – the shading diagram included in their pack models for the middle of the day in mid summer….and the gaps between the buildings are still steeped in shadow. These will be canyons where the sun doesn’t shine!
- c) Overwhelming the local neighbourhood including the Grade II listed Kemp Town estate.
Despite claims about ‘listening’, the current plans include *more* flats than previously at an even greater density. The reality of living in this new site will be concrete canyons and wind tunnels, with little light (for themselves or surrounding streets) – and will not create a desirable place to live or meet the NPPF guidelines for well designed and beautiful homes and neighbourhoods.
- d) Failure to meet the local housing needs - 94% of the proposed new flats are in high rises and 92% are 1 or 2 bedroom flats. We believe these will not meet the housing need in this area, they will be hard to mortgage and difficult to beomce family homes. They remain at risk of being bought up as investment properties (sold en masse, off plan), staying empty, or being turned into Airbnbs with little or no impact on the local housing crisis and a generally detrimental impact on this part of the city. This issue will be exacerbated by the high winds, lack of parking and other amenities and lack of light that will blight the buildings and public spaces around them.
- Lack of remediation plans and risk to human health - Unsafe remediation practices which are both inadequately described and seemingly inadequately designed and funded in the current proposals. Looking at the lived experiences of other communities who have been subjected to Berkeley gasworks developments we see unfolding public health disasters triggered by over-development of these contaminated sites, which we demand that our Council protect us from.
- Infrastructure, air quality and noise issues – the totally inadequate number of parking spaces will push major parking issues into the surrounding communities; radically increasing traffic during and following the development which will have dangerous impacts on air pollution (please refer to Professor Harrison’s report which contradicts the developer’s strange assertions about low traffic impacts). The majority of key infrastructure issues are present as a footnote in the FVA, as elements to be discussed in future with the Council. If critical infrastructure issues are not costed in at this stage how can we have any confidence they will be appropriately dealt with by the development?
- Safety – people mistrust high rise development and, following Grenfell, changes to safety are now in the pipeline. By 2030 Michael Gove wants all high rise buildings to have 2 staircases: all 10 proposed here have only 1 staircase. What use is a fireman’s lift going to be in the event of a major fire?
- Sustainability – the plans are to heat this huge development with heat-source pumps and additional back-up gas boilers. Given gas boilers will not be permitted on new housing developments from 2030 and the need to address climate change, why are renewable energy sources not being deployed as the principle energy source for this site?
Whilst we welcome the inclusion of plans for ‘affordable’ housing, we are concerned that these plans remain unfunded in the current application and questionably costed (see the attached report from viability expert, Professor Stephen Walker). We are very concerned that this proposal to provide "affordable housing" is subject to the Financial Viability Appraisal (FVA) document. We feel there are fundamental flaws in the contents of the FVA. The FVA is incomplete and only covers a 100% market scheme - no information on the viability of a policy-compliant 40% affordable scheme and how the costs would be offset by funding allowances from central government. The FVA allowances for land value, financial risk, marketing and finance charges appear grossly excessive. No financial allowance has been made for developers’ contributions (e.g. S106 and CIL allowances).
We draw your attention once again to the appended report submitted by independent environmental health expert Professor Roy Harrison (University of Birmingham). We commissioned this report to try and understand more about the risks on our doorstep as the science and understanding of remediating contaminated gasworks sites is still in its infancy. Professor Harrison’s key points, and our concerns arising from the findings, are summarised in the attached at Annex A. This report leads us to conclude that the safest approach is to leave the toxins in the ground, in line with the precautionary principle. AGHAST therefore objects primarily on the grounds that the proposed development presents unacceptable risks to human health.
As this site is not formally considered hazardous, we understand that environmental control will not fall to the Environment Agency but to the Council and we look to you to protect the community from the sort of public health risks that have clearly been demonstrated elsewhere.
Annex A – summary of Professor Harrison’s report and our concerns arising from his findings.
The contamination of land below the former gasworks, and the potential for pollution during and after the remediation process
Professor Harrison expects the site to be heavily contaminated and notes that levels of some toxins exceed the UK Reference Concentrations for the inhalation pathway. In other words there are toxins present in the soils that are at levels that risk harm to human health.
Some of the compounds identified are genotoxic carcinogens which means that they can cause cancer, with no totally safe level. Volatile organic compounds readily penetrate into buildings, so the indoor environment offers little protection. As local residents, we find this alarming – keeping our windows shut will not be enough to keep us safe.
The Professor notes that amongst the compounds detected, there are some for which human toxicological data are very scarce, and hence levels of risk are very hard to evaluate. This does not mean that these are safe to release into the atmosphere!
Professor Harrison also draws attention to the experience of residents in Southall living close to another gasworks developed by the same developers who propose building on Brighton Gasworks. He highlights that residents continue to report odours and impacts on their health including breathing difficulties, increased asthma, sore throats and eyes, nosebleeds, headaches, nausea, and dizziness. He observes that some of these symptoms are plausibly linked to local air pollution.
Air quality and human health implications of the proposed development associated with increased road traffic
Professor Harrison concludes that the baseline air quality assessment submitted on behalf of the developers is inaccurate. The Professor notes that the model used is likely to have underestimated the baseline air quality conditions at this site, and also the implications of increased traffic. He concludes that the new WHO air quality guidelines for both nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter will be exceeded, and adverse impacts upon the local populace are inevitable.
Professor Harrison concludes that the remediation of the site has the potential to expose local residents both to odour nuisance, and to an inhalation risk from toxic chemicals.
Additionally there would be added hazards from traffic generated air pollution.
The Professor notes that capping the site, as an alternative strategy, should be given careful consideration.
Professor Harrison also provides some recommendations on actions that should be taken to minimise the release of toxins and to carefully monitor all pollutants if, despite all the objections to St William's proposal, the development were to go ahead.
AGHAST’s response to this report
AGHAST objects primarily on the grounds that the proposed development presents unacceptable risks to human health. We can only conclude that the safest approach is to leave the toxins in the ground, in line with the precautionary principle.
The past experiences of residents living close to the activities leads AGHAST to have no confidence in the ability of the developer to protect us against the worst effects of toxic odour and dust throughout the period of construction, which is estimated as anything from 6 to 15 years!
AGHAST are deeply concerned about the serious dangers risked by remediation attempts and by the requirement for deep pilings of up to 25 metres which risks disturbing pollutants which are currently safely locked in the ground.
Given Prof. Harrison’s assessment of the road traffic and air quality modelling undertaken by Berkeley, it is AGHAST’s view that it is impossible to accurately assess the health implications of increased traffic due to the proposed development. We are concerned that there could be significant health impacts for local residents from increased road traffic which have been completely missed. Such holes in what should be a standard set of modelling for these supposedly experienced developers does not give AGHAST any confidence that these developers are able either to accurately model the air quality and health implications of their decontamination activities.
If the Council wishes to pursue development of this site, then an alternative with minimal ground disturbance, perhaps targeting areas of the site with lower contamination should be explored.
If this particular development goes ahead it will be essential that strong, clear and objective conditions are put in place. The recommendations provided in this report can inform those conditions but it is likely that further additions and detail will be needed to minimise risk as far as possible. However, we are concerned that even given the most robust safety conditions these cannot guarantee that no risk will be posed to local people, given the terrible experiences of the community living near to the Southall gasworks.
In conclusion AGHAST are very concerned that Brighton & Hove City Council could permit this development, which risks causing an environmental and human health catastrophe. Local residents, workers and users of this area - including children at the local school and our own families - should not have to suffer any risk to their health.
Who are AGHAST & what are we doing?
We are a growing group of concerned residents who live around the Gasworks site in East Brighton. We share serious concerns about the imminent planning application by the Berkeley Homes’ St William group for the Brighton Gasworks site at the heart of our community. We are raising money to pay for an independent assessment of potential health impacts on local residents of releasing the toxins on the site into the air, soil remediation advice and planning consultancy.