Planning application Ref. BH2021/04167
Comprehensive mixed-use redevelopment comprising site preparation and enabling works, demolition of existing buildings and structures; provision of new buildings comprising residential use (Use Class C3) and flexible non-residential floorspace (Use Class E), new private and communal amenity space, public realm, landscaping; car and cycle parking, highway works, access and servicing arrangements; associated plant, infrastructure and other associated works including interim works. (For information: Proposed buildings to be erected range from 3no. to 12no. storeys, with 553no. residential units (Use Class C3) and 2,697m2 (GIA) flexible non-residential floorspace (Use Class E)).
AGHAST is a crowdfunded community group formed in 2020 to respond to the development proposals put forward for the Brighton Gasworks site. We have sought to engage with the council and the developers.
We write in response to the full planning application Ref. BH2021/04167 submitted on the 24th of November 2021.
In March 2021 we responded to the second public consultation carried out by the developer. At this point, the full details of the proposed scheme were not available. Key documents not made available for comment included-
The proposed provision of affordable housing – these details were withheld from the public, it was not therefore possible to comment on this key issue in any detail.
The proposed provision of vehicular parking.
The assessment of land contamination and proposed mitigation measures.
Sunlight and daylight reports.
All visuals and drawings.
We responded to the information which was available and made clear that it was essential for the public consultation process to be meaningful, that all key documents be released for consultation prior to the submission of the planning application, to enable meaningful engagement. Meaningful engagement would mean seeking the opinions of the community, taking these comments on board and making meaningful changes to the scheme to address the concerns raised.
We consider the proposed strategy to address land contamination to also be fundamental to the application proposal, and requested that full details of the contamination and proposed mitigation measures be subject to public consultation prior to the submission of the planning application.
No further documents were released, and no further consultation took place. Therefore, the local community were denied the opportunity to fully engage with the developer and comment upon the development proposals prior to the submission of the application.
We did make it entirely clear that the local community does not support a high-rise redevelopment of the site, and the community fundamentally objects to any development proposal which does not commit to delivering a minimum of 40% affordable housing. We have repeatedly requested that a low-rise development scheme be formulated and considered, which would reduce build costs significantly, reduced invasive ground works and would need less parking spaces so a better provision of spaces could be achieved.
We also made it clear that tokenistic reductions of the scheme which was presented would not address our concerns as we object in principle to a high-rise scheme.
We are therefore extremely disappointed that no further public consultation took place, a low-rise scheme has not been proposed / explored, and we are being presented with an iteration of the original development concept, with very minor changes. The developer has still not revealed whether any affordable housing is proposed, and full details of contamination mitigation proposals have not been provided.
In this context, we remain in fundamental objection to the entire development strategy, and we set out our concerns in full below.
At present, no affordable housing provision is committed to – effectively a 0% delivery is proposed. This is fundamentally unacceptable to the surrounding community who fully expect that the development of the site can and should deliver 40% affordable housing in accordance with local need and local planning policy objectives.
A further concern is that this 0% provision has been proposed, and the developer has seemingly evaded the council’s non-negotiable planning application validation requirements, which set out that any development which does not deliver 40% affordable housing must be accompanied by a full open-book viability assessment, which must be made available for public consultation at the registration of the application.
The fact that the application has been registered without the required information is flabbergasting. The requirements to fully set out the affordable housing position at registration stage were introduced through the vote of elected members in 2018 and were adopted as non-negotiable requirements. Historically developers had sought to withhold this information from public scrutiny, or leave the release of the information until the last possible moment which disadvantages any person or body who are consulted on the application at the start of the process.
We fully understand that the council will work with an applicant, to some extent, throughout the pre-application and application process, but to register the application without the required information suggests a level of collusion and special treatment beyond what can reasonably be expected. Surely every developer in future will seek such special service and avoidance of validation requirements – unless this matter is appropriately addressed immediately.
We request that the application, which is in fact invalid due to the lack of an open book affordable housing viability assessment, be taken back to invalid status, and be re-registered only once the required affordable housing information is submitted. The application should never have been submitted without this information and certainly should never have been registered in its current invalid state.
We object to the current 0% provision of affordable housing, the local community expects the site to deliver 40% affordable housing and that a scheme should be designed / proposed which can deliver this. The current development proposal is deficient as it cannot deliver 40%.
As we have detailed previously, we consider that a much smaller low-rise scheme would dramatically reduce build costs and may well be able to deliver 40% affordable housing. This is the type of scheme which the council should be seeking to secure. We will of course comment in more detail at the point the developer reveals whether they do propose any affordable housing.
Scale, bulk and density
We have responded to previous consultations and have made explicitly clear to the developer that the local community does not support a high-rise development of the site.
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. This amount of development, delivered across the site, would be a low-rise scheme. We would support a redevelopment of the site as a low-rise scheme of not more than four storeys. Development should be set away from the edges of the site to avoid harmful relationships with neighbouring properties being formed.
The proposed development of 553 residential units and 2,697 sqm commercial floorspace, is 6-7 times larger than the City Plan Part One site allocation in terms of number of residential units. This represents a fundamental overdevelopment of the site- this scale of development will not be supported by the local community. The buildings are too large and too tall, and the development is too dense. It bears no relation to primary character of the surrounding built development which is low rise domestic scale buildings. There are some individual blocks of flats nearby but this is no justification for a development of this scale and density.
There is a need to ‘go back to the drawing board’ and look at a low-rise development scheme, at present the concerns and opinions of the local community, and the site allocation set out in City Plan Part One appear to have been completely ignored.
We appreciate the need for new housing units to be delivered in the city, but this need does not mean that ‘anything goes’. Not every site can contain a high-rise dense development. The site is not in the core of the city centre, it is on / beyond the outskirts of the city centre and the established character is primarily low-rise domestic buildings. Neighbours surround the site at close quarters and an appropriate relationship must be formed with these neighbouring properties.
These are small scale residential dwellings which will be dwarfed by the scale of development proposed- the amenity of neighbouring residents will be destroyed purely to deliver a maximum number of housing units. 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.
This is a case of ‘quantity over quality’ – the number of housing units has been maximised, but a range of negative impacts would be caused, and partly due to the huge build costs of high-rise development, the required 40% affordable housing cannot be delivered. The cost-benefit analysis of the proposed development simply does not add up, a development of this scale should never have been proposed and should not be supported by officers or committee members.
Design and Landscape
National and local planning policy requires that proposed development be informed by the character of the surrounding area and that the development should sit comfortably alongside the existing development.
The proposed development bears no relation to the surrounding area. Densely packed tower blocks will appear as an alien form of development. Even on the western side of the site where smaller buildings are proposed, they are of an alien design style, flat roofed, which a style and appearance which bears no relation to the established character of the area. The applicant is a national developer who has proposed numerous gasworks redevelopments across the country. The development proposed has been developed through a generic national design approach and the character of the site surrounds have been largely ignored.
The massing of the proposed development is ill-conceived. As detailed above, the site was allocated for a low-rise development in City Plan Part One and is not suited to high-rise tightly packed blocks. A further problem is that the built forms have been pushed to the edges of the site leaving open space within the site, which maximises the harm which will be caused to neighbouring occupiers. Particularly to the western side of the site, it is essential that the edge of the site is not developed and that instead space is left between the proposed development and the immediate neighbours. Instead, the development has been sited as close as possible to the neighbours with built form and windows fronting directly on to the narrow access road behind the existing dwellings. To the eastern and northern edges of the site, again the proposed large blocks will dwarf and dominate neighbouring dwellings.
There is also a heritage issue with development being pushed up alongside the western boundary as a historic wall would be demolished, which the council’s heritage officer has objected to.
Had neighbouring amenity been considered, larger buildings would have been positioned centrally or to the southern end of the site, with space from neighbours on all other sides provided, and much smaller buildings proposed towards the edges of the site.
In terms of landscaping, the site would be dominated by the tall tightly packed blocks proposed, and the green planting proposed would not mitigate the visual harm which would caused.
As detailed above we consider the proposed development to be entirely out of keeping with the surrounding area – the character of the area would be irrevocably harmed. The site is extremely sensitive in heritage terms with the Kemp Town Conservation Area and the listed Lewes Crescent and Sussex Square situated to the west of the application site. The proposed development is large, dense and tall, and entirely out of keeping. It would be visible from many vantage points in the conservation area and the listed square / crescent. We contend that the character of the conservation area and the listed square / crescent would be significantly harmed. A low-rise smaller scale development would not cause the same harm.
The council’s heritage officer identifies that the proposed development would cause heritage harm and objects to the application. The flint wall along the eastern side of boundary road is considered to represent a non-designated heritage asset and the demolition of this wall would cause heritage harm. The demolition of this wall is not a ‘fait accompli’. The wall could be retained and preserved- its demolition is only proposed as the applicant wishes to push build development out to the furthest western extent of the site, where development also causes significant harm to neighbouring amenity. It would appear obvious that development should not be proposed in this location and the wall should be retained and preserved.
The heritage officer considers that harm would be caused to the significance of the Grade II listed French Convalescent Home, and to Marine Gate (locally listed).
The Conservation Advisory Group (CAAG) also object to the application, on a number of grounds. CAAG rightly identify that the tall development would be visible and harmful from many key viewpoints in the immediate area including conservation areas and the setting of listed buildings. CAAG object to tall buildings being proposed on the site and object to the density of development proposed. The loss of the flint wall is also objected to.
As with many issues addressed in this objection letter, the heritage harm which would be caused is largely due to the scale, height and density of the development proposed. The site constraints have not been respected. A low-rise development is required which is set away from the western boundary of the site. Such a development could be designed to minimise heritage harm. The current proposal pays no regard to heritage assets and would cause significant heritage harm. There is a strong presumption to refuse developments which cause such heritage harm, and the approval of such harmful development is often open to legal challenge.
The scale of buildings proposed are only required to maximise the number of housing units – this is an inappropriate and short-sighted approach and has resulted in a development which tips the ‘planning balance’ against the development and refusal is warranted on the grounds of heritage harm amongst others.
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. This is presumably the sort of low rise development which was envisaged when the City Plan Part One allocation was decided upon.
The harm which the development would cause is purely due to the number of dwellings proposed. 553 dwellings requires high-rise blocks, and makes it impossible to provide appropriate spacing from neighbouring dwellings. The desire to maximise housing numbers regardless of the harmful impacts which would result represents a short sighted profit driven approach from a national developer who it appears has no regard to the amenity of existing residents. The council must not support such an approach – housing numbers cannot be prioritised ‘at any cost’. We again appeal to officers and elected members to refuse the current application and request that the developers go back to the drawing board to prepare a more appropriate low-rise scheme.
Transport and Parking
At pre-application stage, the amount of parking which was proposed was withheld so there was no opportunity for public consultation and engagement.
The amount of parking has now been revealed – 160 spaces to serve the proposed commercial and residential development.
The community advised the developer at pre-application stage that a minimum of one space per residential units should be provided to realistically provide for the parking demand which the development would create. This would be entirely feasible were a development of the scale envisaged by City Plan Part One to be proposed – circa 80 residential units. Furthermore, parking for a development of a smaller scale could be provided on surface level which would significantly reduce the build costs of the development. The current application proposes underground parking which is very expensive to form, and even with this approach the amount of parking proposed is significantly below what is needed.
It is proposed that a formalised parking layout be introduced on Boundary Road which would significantly reduce the number of available spaces.
The areas immediately to the west and north of the site are Controlled Parking Zones and are therefore protected from overspill parking. The roads surrounding the site outside of the CPZ are either double-yellow lines, or are already in high-demand for on-street parking spaces. The area to the east of the site (Roedean) and to the north of the CPZ (Whitehawk) would be subject to significant harmful overspill parking were the development to be approved. This is another manifestation of the overdevelopment of the site which is proposed- the site cannot provide the facilities required to service the number of residential units proposed.
The level of overspill parking which would result would cause significant harm to the amenity of occupiers in these areas who would, as a result of the proposed development, struggle to find space to park. Drivers searching for spaces and attempting to manoeuvre 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 and air pollution in the area.
A parking survey has been submitted however the survey is flawed as it includes many roads within the CPZ which would not be available to future residents of the proposed development. Only 43 non-permit spaces were found to be vacant, and these would not be sufficient to address the overspill parking caused by 553 households.
The submitted Transport Assessment states that all parking spaces within 200m walking distance of the site are permitted and therefore harmful overspill parking would not result. This is a somewhat naive assessment, as future residents who own a car, who do not have access to one of the few parking spaces proposed, may well be willing to park their car more than 200m away- e.g. in Roedean and Whitehawk.
We remain of the view that parking demand should be addressed within the site, by proposing a far smaller number of units and a parking provision of at least one space per dwelling. The proposed development cannot deliver this objective as far too many units are proposed. The current development proposal would cause harmful overspill parking and warrants refusal on this basis. The CPZ would only control overspill parking if it were to be expanded to cover Roedean and southern Whitehawk, this would need to 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. No such scheme is proposed.
Land contamination and remediation
We will be responding to land contamination matters in detail separately as we have employed expert advice in this regard.
In basic terms we consider it essential that a full assessment and mitigation strategy be submitted and assessed at the application stage, to enable all parties to comment fully. It is also essential that a realistic financial assessment of the costs of remediation works be incorporated into viability assessment figures.
Class E floorspace is proposed which could theoretically include some community uses, but no amount of community space is committed to. It would be more effective if an amount of community floorspace were to be committed to which could then be secured by planning condition. In addition to Class E the uses permitted should be expanded to include Class F uses, as many community uses in fact fall under Class F and would be blocked if only Class E uses are permitted.
In summary, as we have made clear throughout the pre-application process, the community wishes to see an appropriate redevelopment of the site which would be a low-rise scheme which delivers the City Plan Part One allocation. The proposal for a high-rise dense scheme raises numerous concerns as set out above. The proposed development is completely out of keeping with the primary character of the surrounding area, would cause harm to amenity, will not deliver an appropriate level of affordable housing, will cause heritage harm, fails to deliver adequate parking, does not commit to delivery of any community uses and raises serious concerns in respect of land contamination and remediation.
We object to the development proposed and implore officers and elevated members to refuse the application. A refusal with a clear message that the scheme is entirely inappropriate could lead to the submission of a more appropriate low-rise scheme which does not cause the harms detailed above, and would deliver the 40% affordable housing and adequate parking provision which the community demands.