AGHAST objection 2024

Brighton Gasworks application BH2021/04167: AGHAST’s third objection


In 2020, during the height of pandemic upheavals, local community members around the Blackrock gasworks site came together for a self-organised public meeting following the poorly distributed news (many households, even on streets adjacent to the site, were not sent a flier) about plans for a massive development on the gasworks site. It was evident that a community response was needed to the huge anxiety and uncertainty expressed at this meeting. The campaigning group AGHAST was formed by local volunteers to attempt to understand the plans and support residents to get their voices heard in the process.


Over the past 3-and-a-half years our perception that local people are not being listened to or respected within this process has not changed. From ‘consultation’ Zooms where questions and conversation were not permitted, to the repeated floods of technical paperwork that seem designed to obscure the reality of the plans (no information on the heights or numbers of differently sized dwellings were included in the most recent public leaflet drop by Berkeley, for example; no scaled 3-D models for the community to consider), it has been a huge struggle to try and make sense of the developer’s and Council’s plans for the community that we are trying to support.


This feels, at worst, deliberate, or at best, is a clear illustration of the lack of consideration for the communities that will be overwhelmed by this development. These proposals are for a build period of a decade.  Their hyper-dense design will literally and figuratively overshadow the residential streets and nearby Grade 1 listed heritage assets. The developer pays no more attention to the particular microclimate of the site (using inappropriate, though convenient, windspeed modelling from miles inland) than to the particular character of these streets and the people living on them. The loss of light and privacy for those living on streets immediately adjacent to the site will be immense and is already causing considerable distress.  The impact of the 2 – 3 year ‘remediation processes’, about which we have enormous doubts – for example concerning how plans to pile toxic earth on site will interact with the strong and frequent prevailing winds that affect us here – will be felt much further afield (up to at least a 1km radius from the site according to Quod’s report for the developer in 2020).    The huge majority of local residents do not accept that ‘bad smells’, created by airborne toxic pollutants, and a requirement for them to sometimes keep their windows closed, is a reasonable price for an inappropriate development that will not serve local housing need.  This is because they are now so keenly aware of the horrific reality of trying to live alongside the ‘remediation’ attempts of dangerous forever chemicals such as benzene and naphthalene which have been demonstrated at other Berkeley gasworks developments.  The health implications of these processes are still being researched and while the science is unsettled, these proposals cast us as guinea pigs in a risky, potentially highly dangerous, experiment.


Since the changes to this iteration of the plans are largely cosmetic, our substantive material objections previously lodged on behalf of the community remain the same, as summarised below: 

·       Inappropriate over-development of the site.  The design changes to the previous versions are largely cosmetic – this is still a massive conglomeration of tall buildings on a site that has not been designated by the Council as suitable for them.  It is not appropriate to the surrounding neighbourhood and will result in massive over-shadowing and loss of privacy. It will fundamentally alter the character of the area, without meeting local housing need. Perhaps the clearest illustration of over-development is the provision of only 179 parking spaces for a likely influx of nearly 3x this number of additional vehicles (average car ownership in Brighton is currently 0.93 vehicles per household) which will spill out into the already over-congested local streets.


·       Does not meet local housing need.  14 high-end townhouses out of a development of 495 dwellings (the overwhelming majority of which are 1 – 2 bedroom flats) for a city where over 40% of defined housing need is for 3 /4 bedroom family homes is a complete mismatch. These plans have been devised in response to the developer’s needs and not the needs of the City and community.  Adjacent to the massively overcrowded council estate in Whitehawk, this profit-driven offer, which is likely to result in an influx of often empty holiday homes and air bnbs, is completely inappropriate for local needs, and does not provide any additional services, such as doctors surgeries, or any other vital improvements to the local infrastructure.  


·       Affordable housing is not secured and the developer has a poor track record of adhering to their affordable housing commitments once permission has been granted.


·       Issues with the applicant’s FVA as analysed by independent viability expert professor Stephen Walker (please see full report lodged separately from AGHAST:

The applicant’s FVA Addendum document:

-          Maintains that the proposed development is un-viable (showing a loss of approx £3.8m);

-          Continues to express a desire to complete the scheme, despite being unviable, on the basis of:

-          St William is committed to delivering this scheme and is prepared to accept the commercial risk that its brand and placemaking skills can deliver additional revenue premiums and that, coupled with market growth and cost savings, this will contribute to achieving an acceptable margin’;

-          States that no affordable housing can be delivered as part of the new development without a substantial public subsidy/grant provided by Homes England funding;

-          Fails to state what progress has been made in securing Homes England funding;

-          Only appraises a 100% market homes’ scheme (with an element of commercial space within Use Class E);

-          Is not based on a fully policy-compliant scheme (failing to allow for on-site and off-site planning requirements (e.g. S106);

-          Fails to show how possible public funding will affect the viability status, cash flow, property transfer values, risk and profit;

-          Omits any reference to potential tax relief benefits in dealing with land contamination;

-          Has calculated the land cost incorrectly – the viability test should be used to calculate the site’s value/worth, not to confirm the land price paid by the developer;

-          Makes several errors and inconsistencies - e.g. Incorrectly states, in Table 2.1 (in their page 2), the Total GIA (Gross Internal Area) as 623,280 (should be 393,624)

-          That the changes made in the new design (in response to the consultation process, new regulations and design and sustainability requirements) make the scheme less financially viable;

-          Contains the same inconsistencies as the previous FVA 2 – The Applicant has not addressed our previous comments;

-          Misuses key terms, relies on out-of date policy guidance, double-counts certain costs, and provides limited supporting evidence;

-          Expects our Council and other third parties to trust them and their claims;

-          Indicates a GDV (Gross Development Value) of approx. £537k per residential unit

-          Expects a profit rate in excess of 17%;

-          Fails to reveal how many of the new homes being proposed for the Brighton Gasworks site are to be occupied by local residents;

Both Prof Stephen Walkers’s and the DVS (District Valuer Services) reports recommend an FVA Review process be put in place as an integral aspect of the granting of any subsequent planning decision.


·   Adverse impact on heritage assets and lack of compliance with planning policy: Adjacent to the Grade I listed Kemptown estate, the development is not compliant with the Urban Design framework, which states that ‘Design priorities should have regard to visual impact on Heritage Assets and the residential areas to the north of the cliffs and overall composition when viewed along the coast.’ Nor with the NPPF’s instruction that ‘Local Planning Authorities should identify and assess the particular significance of any Heritage Asset that may be affected by a proposal (including by development affecting the setting of a Heritage Asset) and that ‘the greater the asset, the greater the weight should be given to the asset’s conservation.’ We agree with the Heritage Team comments that “the development would be contrary to local development plan policies and would not sustain or enhance the significance of the heritage assets as required by the National Planning Policy Framework’.


·   Wind speed impacts: Relying on planting as part of the mitigation solution, for example, in an area where most shrubs over a metre or so consistently fail due to windburn, is a deeply flawed approach. The modelling is not representative of the site so fails to model the impacts that will be created by wind tunnels between these buildings. Firstly, it is based on data collected from Shoreham airport several miles inland where wind speeds will be much lower and smoother – why not use data from Brighton Marina which we understand is collected by Southampton University and used by the Met Office? Secondly the modelling is based on mean (average) conditions. This is a serious and significant flaw - it fails to take into account the impact of gusts, gales and storms – which are frequent through the year in this exposed coastal site. Thirdly, the modelling focussed on the pedestrian level wind environment – given houses surrounding the site are elevated from the pedestrian level of the site due to the hilly terrain, but will be direct receptors of any wind tunnel impacts the impacts at a higher than ground level must be included. We note that the developers own modelling shows that even with all mitigation measures in place some balconies ‘are unsuitable for the intended standing use during the summer season’ and the development makes wind conditions worse for gardens to the east of the site. The impacts of high winds, ever increasing due to climate change, will not only make the development hard to live in but have devastating impacts on a community who already suffer regular structural damage, difficulty accessing outside spaces, opening car doors etc in the frequent storms. We therefore consider that the current design – given wind impacts alone - is not compliant with the NPPF which specifies the need for a well-reasoned design and generally pleasant environment. In Paragraph 126 it states, ‘Good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, creates better places in which to live and work and helps make development acceptable to communities’.


·   Current use: The site, as it stands, is a vital hub for community transport and hospital logistics. It is serving a valuable and arguably irreplaceable function for our city. We have been made aware that the Hospital Trust is currently preparing a business case for the use of its logistics areas for at least the next 4 years to support the hospital redevelopment.  The proposal to instead grant permission for 10 years of building work that will create so much local disruption resulting in a development that doesn’t even meet local housing needs seems deeply flawed.  


·       De-contamination and construction risks the health of local residents: From our own surveys of local residents’ opinions we know that concerns about the potentially serious, harmful effects on their everyday lives and health posed by this massive planning application, which will last for a decade, is their number one anxiety. It is based on the experiences of residents near other former gasworks site developments who have been trapped inside their homes, unable to use their outside spaces and forced to endure deeply unpleasant health complaints such as burning eyes and noses, breathing difficulties, including asthma, headaches, nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds and even some cancers in those living nearest to the sites.  We find it unacceptable that the Health Impact Assessment does not consider exposure to toxins including particulate matter from the remediation stage or construction works.


The developer seems to have recognised the strength of local opinion on this issue, by including a Mitigation Strategy to the plans in this iteration. However, after more than three years of careful study and research of all the relevant facts, which include a number of meetings between local residents and councillors with Berkeley Group’s ‘remediation’ experts, we are confident that such fears remain extremely well-founded.


In line with other gasworks sites – this site contains a toxic cocktail of chemicals and pollutants, many of which are carcinogenic and most of which remain toxic in perpetuity. Site testing of the soil and groundwater has found elevated levels of tar, PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) including naphthalene and benzo(a)pyrene; VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and semi-VOCs including benzene, toluene, chlorobenzene and phenol; cyanide, arsenic, asbestos, lead, ammonium, sulphate, iron, chromium and zinc.


Too often among the many pages of the developer’s documentation we encounter the phrase ‘safe levels of exposure’ when we know that The World Health Organisation has stated that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of exposure to some of the air-borne contaminants to which local residents are likely to be exposed over a long period of time. Some of these are so dangerous that their exact effects on humans remain unknown due to the impossibility of exposing any humans to them for the purposes of testing.


We also frequently find references in the developer’s application to ‘mitigation’ measures to deal with either toxic dust or hazardous gases. But it is important to note that such ‘mitigation strategies’ amount to little more than moistening the offending dust with water in an attempt to stop it being blown all over the neighbourhood by the powerful prevailing sea winds. While ‘mitigation’ of foul-smelling toxic gases, once released from underground, is not actually possible, except by releasing into the air other vapours, usually composed of terpenoids, in an attempt simply to ‘mask’ the odour of the original gas. This was attempted at Southall where, more than 5 years later, residents are still being assailed by noxious odours.


Although a number of test bore holes have been drilled in a series of random locations on the Brighton site most of the results come from the south western, already ‘remediated’, parts of the site. They do not come from the west and central areas where the retort houses (in which the gas was made) were located. Much of this area lies under the bus garage and offices, preventing anyone knowing what is under them.

But it is likely that they are sitting on top of the buried retorts and pipework which will contain contaminant residues of tars and ferrocyanide (often called ‘blue billy’) along with broken asbestos from the pipe and boiler linings.


Nor are there many results from the northern areas where there were more tanks, two of which remain, and which contain toxic petrochemical sludge. So we find it hard to believe the developer’s contention that the ‘principal source’ of contamination on the site has been removed, particularly as in 2018 a planning application from SGN (Scotia Gas Networks) was turned down by the BHCC council on the basis of a report by the Environment Agency which stated that: ‘The Environment Agency believes that the above proposal (BH2018/02571) presents risk to the environment through the disturbance and mobilisation of potential contaminants…’.


The 2023 application from Berkeley/St William does not give special consideration to the exceedances of naphthalene which were highlighted by Leap Environmental. AtkinsRealis say that as part of monitoring ‘sniff testing’ by humans could be used because ‘some pollutants such as naphthalene may not be detectable at very low concentrations and….can still cause annoyance as they have a very low odour threshold.’ But the developer’s agents do acknowledge that there may be hotspots, and other sources of contamination, not currently known about. The list of so-called ‘control measures’ is of concern as all activities and movements will agitate soil and generate dust, while strong local winds will make stockpiles difficult to keep intact – only a few yards from people’s houses. Monitoring of gas emissions with Tenax tubes will be retrospective and calibrated to measure so-called ‘safe’ levels of exposure and to detect exceedances, by which time local residents’ health may very well have been harmed already.


We also note from the developer’s own report that water sampling results ‘indicated exceedances of the Environmental Quality Standards for coastal waters (EQSc) or Drinking Water Standards (DWS) for eight chemical parameters (arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, zinc, iron, ammonium and total cyanide) from a limited number of samples. Exceedances of the EQSc in groundwater sampled from the same locations included free cyanide, copper, nickel, zinc, metals, PAH (naphthalene and anthracene), TPH (aliphatic >C31 to C35 and aromatic >C8 to 35), phenol and benzene. Exceedances of the DWS by ammonia, sulphate, total cyanide, iron, nickel, TPH (aromatic >C10 to C12), and benzene were detected in groundwater sampled from the south-west and centre-south of the Site. Exceedances of the EQSc in groundwater sampled from the same locations included free cyanide, copper, nickel, zinc, metals, PAH (naphthalene and anthracene), TPH (aliphatic >C31 to C35 and aromatic >C8 to 35), phenol and benzene’.


If these contaminants are in the water, and in the aquifer that runs under the site, it is highly likely that they must also be in the ground, where they will be disturbed, mixed, and more widely distributed, by the continuous flight augurs that will be employed to drill the 24 metre deep pilings that will be required for the construction of up to 12 storey high tower blocks.


On the 14th of January 2020 a member of AGHAST asked the BHCC Council’s TECC Committee if the Council could provide concerned local residents with any GOOD examples of gasworks redevelopments which had NOT adversely affected the health and welfare of local residents living close to such sites. The then Head of Planning offered to send a written response with a list of such sites. No response was ever received - presumably because no such examples do (as far as we know) actually exist.


Overall, we remain concerned by the Council’s statement in a Gasworks Briefing from 2022/23 which warned that ‘Some issues are beyond the scope of the planning process. These include: The management of soils removed from the site during construction’ and ‘Ensuring that everyone takes reasonable precautions to avoid risks to health and safety from contaminants’.  This appears to mean that the monitoring of such vital processes during the long ‘remediation’ and construction process would fall to a failing environmental protection system which we know, from so many past experiences at other similar sites, is underfunded, understaffed and effectively toothless when it comes to enforcing strict, precautionary measures once planning permission has been granted and work has been started on any existing sites.


Instead we would prefer that the Council simply follow its own guidelines, enshrined in the City Plan, where it is made perfectly clear that: ‘Planning permission will not be granted for the development of polluted land or land adjacent when the nature and extent of contamination is such that even with current methods of remediation the proposed development will put people, animals and/or the surrounding environment at risk.’


Such an approach is also recommended by DEFRA’s Contaminated Land Statutory Guidance statement which states: ‘…The authority should take a precautionary approach to the risks raised by contamination, whilst avoiding a disproportionate approach given the circumstances of each case.


So, on behalf of the thousands of residents of East Brighton, whose lives will be so powerfully disrupted and damaged for so many years, by this enormous and wholly inappropriate development we ask that you follow your own guidelines, as established in the City Plan.


Please refer to our previously submitted objections for further detail on our material issues with the plans.


After more than three years of having to reiterate our community’s valid concerns about these plans, and their cosmetic alterations, we are nevertheless determined to continue fighting for the rights of local residents to have an appropriate, compliant and safe development on the site. Sadly, the current plans do not come anywhere near providing our community with such a solution.




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.
Learn more

AGHAST - meetings, meetings, meetings!


AGHAST - presenting deputations and questions at council meetings

Deputations, questions and letters to B&H council

AGHAST - have been campaigning against the developers current proposal on 3 main concerns.


AGHAST - Research, research, research!


AGHAST - have been asking questions. Let's hope they are the right ones!

Asking questions...

AGHAST have been working closely with experts in their field

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