Objection to Preston Barracks

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Brighton Society objection to Planning Application Ref. BH2017/00492 – Preston Barracks, Mithras House, Watt Building Lewes Road Brighton BN2 4GL

30 May 2017
Brighton and Hove City Council Planning Dept Hove Town Hall
Norton Road
Hove BN3 3BQ

Dear Sirs,

The Brighton Society comments on the above application are as follows:

• Presentation
The planning application is badly presented, confusing, repetitive, over-elaborate, and long-winded. We seriously wonder whether this is deliberately done in order to confuse or mislead the average member of the public wishing to understand and comment sensibly on the proposals.

The organisation of the application documents on the Council website is chaotic, making it extremely difficult to navigate through the information so that all relevant information can be found. The Design and Access statement is particularly bad, the topics listed in the List of Contents on pages 4 and 5 bearing little relationship in many instances to the descriptions of the parts of the Design and Access Statement on the Council website in which they might be found. Although it could be argued that there is a hard copy made available to the public at the council offices this is an unsatisfactory way to disseminate this volume of information, as it will only reach a limited number of people. It is therefore essential that clarity of information in digital form is available to all residents of Brighton and Hove.

• Design proposals
We think the design of virtually every element of the proposals leaves a lot to be desired.

The dense cluster of tall, closely packed blocks of boxy buildings through which passes Lewes Road – one of the main entrances to our City – will form an overpowering urban conglomeration quite out of scale and character with the nearby areas of Lewes Road both to the north and south of the application site.
One has to question whether this is the most appropriate design solution. The buildings are generic, unimaginative, ugly and and lacking in vision. Furthermore, they are too close together, and the whole effect has been described – quite appropriately – as “like an orifice of broken teeth”. It certainly isn’t high quality design.

The image taken from the application documents and shown clearly illustrates the point.

What other options were considered? Around the site, the main characteristics of larger surrounding buildings are overwhelmingly horizontal – look at Mithras House, surely one of the main defining buildings to which any new proposals should relate. There are other strong horizontals too which define the character of the area – the lines of the landcape formed by the hills each side, the railway line, Lewes Road itself, the rows of domestic buildings to the west, the retail park to the south.

We previously proved in our objection to Anston House that low-rise buildings around courtyards can achieve densities as high as tall buildings can. How much better would be a design based on low rise, high density buildings with a horizontal emphasis around spacious and well designed public squares and spaces, than the disorganised jumble of tall buildings proposed in which the public spaces are the dark, sunless left over bits between the tall dominant housing blocks – which bear more resemblance to Soviet-era housing than they do to a city renowned for its elegant Regency terraces.

An alternative scheme such as that we have just described, perhaps supplemented by one or two tall, slim towers, should there be an accommodation shortfall, would be a far more elegant solution. Why was not such a scheme considered? Were in fact any other options considered?

3. Public spaces
The public spaces between the tall blocks will be narrow, sunless canyons at most times during the year. The “sunlight” diagram shown on p.37 of the Design and Access report – which shows the best possible situation – demonstrates this. How much better would be a layout designed with generous courtyard spaces around which low-rise terraces of accommodation buildings would be located. There are so many precedents – look at Oxford and Cambridge Colleges, the Regency squares here in Brighton, to see how well such layouts perform – and they provide high densities too.

4. Viewpoints
We are concerned about the visual effect of the conglomeration of tall buildings will have on views from a variety of viewpoints from higher ground up the valley sides and from the South Downs National Park. A few viewpoints are shown in the Masterplan at para 5.6, but there is no reference to a more extensive set of visual impacts.

Given the enormous amount of information included in the planning application, the lack of an environmental impact study and analysis and illustration of the potential visual effects on the surrounding areas and views over the city, is a glaring omission.

5. The bridge
This is a real disappointment – a boring, concrete ‘pedestrian’ bridge marking one of the main entrance points to the city which will also act as the visual gateway to the development. Other cities such as Newcastle or Manchester have wonderfully imaginative and elegant bridge designs. Brighton – one of the most artistic and elegant cities in the country – is given a utilitarian length of concrete. Brighton deserves better.

6. Materials
It is claimed that the materials proposed will give a feeling of consistency. This is misleading. The palette of materials proposed – white brick, red brick, metal cladding – achieves completely the opposite effect, one of confusion, and lack of cohesion and consistency. Where is the delicate balance of consistency and detail variation so well expressed by our Regency buildings in these proposals?

To conclude – we are very disappointed with the quality of the proposals contained in this application. In no way will they make a contribution to the quality of the environment in Brighton – just the opposite. If it goes ahead in the form proposed it will create a densely urbanised conglomeration of ugly buildings – a densely packed high rise ghetto overshadowing the entrance to the city, quite out of character and scale with the residential areas and landscape which surround it.

Yours faithfully,
Jeremy Mustoe MA(Cantab) Dip Arch.
Chairman, Brighton Society.

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