Circus Street slums demolished in the 1930s

Carlton Court, claimed in the 1930s to be an example too many houses crammed onto a narrow street


The proposed 2014 Circus Street slums, too many flats crammed onto a narrow street

The 2014 Circus Street scheme includes 486 student flats (increased from 400), 142 private and ‘affordable’ flats, reduced from 200, with sub-standard internal space standards. This could amount to 900 people (if fully occupied) resident on the site. THESE WOULD BECOME THE NEW CIRCUS STREET TWENTY FIRST CENTURY SLUMS.

View of overcrowding on Circus Street. green=486 student rooms, blue=142 private flats, pink=dance studio, yellow=offices, mauve=University of Brighton library

Karen McCormick, Project Director for Circus Street Cathedral Group (the developers of the site), stated at a meeting of ‘Construction Voice’ on 27 May 2014, “We need to fit a lot of property onto the site”, and “we have got to get a lot of value out of the site”. Hence the gross overdevelopment of the site.  Karen McCormick continued: “this is not a Conservation Area”. No, but it abutts the Valley Gardens Conservation Area in which there are several listed buildings and the tall buildings (in an area which has not been designated for tall buildings) proposed for the Circus Street site will dominate the Valley Gardens.

THE COUNCIL HAS DRIVEN A COACH AND HORSES THROUGH ITS OWN TALL BUILDINGS POLICY. This will open the doors for more high rise buildings in, and adjacent to, the Valley Gardens Conservation Area, as well as other Conservation Areas in the City. What is the point of the Council devising policies and then ignoring them themselves?

MOST OF THE CIRCUS STREET SITE IS OWNED BY THE COUNCIL, A SMALL PART IS OWNED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF BRIGHTON. THE INSPECTOR OF THE CITY PLAN HAS NOT REQUIRED THE HIGH NUMBERS OF STUDENT FLATS ON THE CIRCUS STREET SITE, THE INSPECTOR HAS REQUIRED A HIGH NUMBER OF RESIDENTIAL DWELLINGS, 16,000-20,000, OTHER THAN STUDENT FLATS, TO BE BUILT IN THE CITY.

SO WHY HAS THE NUMBER OF DWELLINGS, OTHER THAN STUDENT FLATS, BEEN REDUCED FROM 200 FLATS TO 142 FLATS? BECAUSE THE BANKS ARE KEEN TO FUND THE CONSTRUCTION OF STUDENT FLATS, AS MOST STUDENTS WILL SIGN A CONTRACT TO OCCUPY A FLAT FOR 10 MONTHS, THEN THE DEVELOPER CAN INCREASE THE RENT FOR THE STUDENT ARRIVING FOR THE NEXT ACADEMIC YEAR. THIS GIVES THE BANKS A GUARANTEED RISING INCOME. DEVELOPERS OFTEN USE STUDENT FLAT DEVELOPMENTS TO KICK START FUNDING FOR THE REST OF THEIR PROPOSAL.

The Circus Street site also includes 3,000sq m of start-up offices. These should be housed instead in the empty Amex building on Edward Street, thereby allowing better space standards for the student, private and affordable flats, as well as lower buildings in accordance with the Council’s policy for an area which is not designated for tall buldings. There is no need to build offices on this site.

Proposed tall building showing above the houses in the Valley Gardens Conservation Area

What is more the Valley Gardens is not a designated Tall Buildings (anything over 6 storeys)  Area. The Council are driving a coach and horses through its own Tall Buildings Policy. This would set an unfortunate example to other developers on other sites, that the Tall buildings Policy is there to be ignored. The Council have admitted that the Valley Gardens is at risk, the Circus Street scheme would further threaten the character of the Valley Gardens.

Circus Street tall building towering above the houses in the Valley Gardens Conservation Area

The scheme also includes a new 4,500sq m University of Brighton library, a dance studio, 1,200sq m of shops and a public square (a sunless corridor). Will the precious well lit north facing studios in the existing Faculty of Art building be adversely affected by this scheme? Have they looked critically at the Circus Street plan?

The architect for the plans are London based Shedkm who won the competition for the scheme. The developer claimed that the architects “answered the brief because they captured the spirit of Brighton”. The Brighton Society does not recognise anything in the design whuch reflects the spirit of Brighton. The black weatherboarded structures imitate the Hastings net huts which are not found in Brighton. There are no black weatherboarded buildings in Brighton. The architects claim to have found one black weatherboarded building in Brighton – the Black Lion Public House in Black Lion Street in the Old Town, but it is hung with grey slates not black weatherboarding.

BRIGHTON IS A SPARKLING CITY IT IS NOT A SOMBRE CITY

The private and social flats should be positioned on the eastern edge of the site to protect the residents of the Milner flats from noise from the student flats, this is impossible. Karen McCormick stated: “the student flats do not have any opening windows”. This is true, the other side of the oriel windows have obscured glass, but page 3 of the PDF document shows a vent slot in the corner of the student room.  If the slot is 100mm wide as stated, and the height is say 2m, this is equivalent to a window size of 400mm x 500mm.  ANY LOUD NOISE GENERATED WITHIN THE ROOM WILL INEVITABLY ESCAPE  IF THE VENT FLAP IS OPEN.  So it is most definitely not sealed! Noise will be an insurmountable problem for the Milner flats and the private flats on the Circus Street site, not to mention the neighbouring student flats.

The developer, the Cathedral Group, are submitting a temporary application for a pop up market for the creative industries in the redundant wholesale fruit and vegetable market. They claim that it will not delay the final scheme. There is therefore plenty of time for a rethink of this new SLUM SCHEME.

THE COUNCIL HAVE DECIDED TO GIVE THEMSELVES PLANNING PERMISSION FOR ITS CHOSEN SCHEME ON ITS OWN SITE. THE COUNCIL WILL BE THE BENEFICIARY AS WELL AS IT HAS ACTED AS JUDGE AND JURY ON ITS OWN CASE.