The draft character statement for the Old Town Conservation Area refers to the “major civic focus” of Brighton’s listed Town Hall, and to Prince Albert Street’s “progression of sinuous curves with unfolding views punctuated by rounded street corners”. Both settings will suffer from Moshimo restaurant’s extension: a massive staircase tower in Bartholomew Square supporting a lengthy horizontal pavilion box, overpowering beautiful views east along Prince Albert Street towards, and at, the street’s mid-point, as if this exquisite vista were insufficiently damaged already by the council offices’ rooftop plant room. It will impose a weird misalliance and represent an alarming precedent.
The action is defended by senior officers on the grounds that too few formal objections had been submitted to the second application and that national and local heritage officers had approved the revised designs (approval resting chiefly on their low opinion of the Square). The Conservation Advisory Group had strongly recommended refusal, but had not specifically requested that the application go before the planning committee (mistakenly assuming that it would).
The committee’s opposition leader has expressed concerns at the announcement. Lessons can be learned from this: local councillors, residents, amenity societies and the media will need to strive harder than ever to be alert in monitoring the exact operations of the planning processes.
Nevertheless, quite apart from the time and effort required to maintain vigilance, questions of transparency and trust arise from this example. However happy some professionals and politicians may be with the second application, the original application had been refused, and major problems of bulk and intrusion obviously remained. It cannot have escaped their minds that the scheme risked widespread and lasting controversy, particularly as Historic England has recently added the Old Town Conservation Area to its list of CAs ‘at risk’ and a recently prepared Character Statement designed by the council to protect the Old Town CA was at the time out for public consultation. The decision not to take this application to committee demonstrates a lack of common sense by those responsible. The decision itself prompted an immediate local front page headline – too late.
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