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Brighton Society response to City Plan Part 2

Brighton Society Comments on Draft City Plan Part 2

11 September 2018

Design & Heritage Section

DM18 High quality design and places

a.  Introductory section, page 62. “Development proposals must demonstrate a high standard of design’. (a) local context and urban grain; (b) scale and shape of buildings; (c) materials and architectural detaiing.”

The emphasis in this topic on the relationship between proposed development and existing location, is welcome, particularly in comparison with the city’s previous major planning statements on this subject. However, in terms of design and heritage, these priorities, which ought to be paramount throughout, are threatened by a number of factors not mentioned in the draft.

a/a First, the impact of the tall buildings policy, which risks harm to the city’s heritage and landscape in terms of excessive height and consequential detrimental effects on views from key parts of the city, including those from heritage assets.

a/b Secondly, the paucity of policy on all tall buildings in general – for example, the lack of proper Urban Design Frameworks and studies which would examine the context of sites for tall buildings, and the preferred design parameters within which tall buildings can be suitably designed in relation to and in sympathy with their surroundings.

Also we question the need for tall buildings – density is the important issue. See our comments on this issue in item DM19a below.

a/c Thirdly, the impact of competing objectives in the national planning policy framework (NPPF), the legal weight of which is open to interpretation and whose duration appears to be indeterminate – for the time being.

in particular we are concerned about the the obligation the NPPF imposes on Local Authorities to balance public benefits and harm, and the likely detrimental effects of this on Heritage considerations, such as Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings.

a/d Fourthly, we are concerned about the influence of external sources of design advice, for example the regional design panel, whose judgements could be said to reflect more typical international and national trends – rather than being based on local knowledge and appreciation of the existing urban context, the historical importance of much of the central area of the city, and the traditional patterns of development appropriate to the historic character of many areas of Brighton & Hove.

a/e We would like to see the criteria which govern the principles set out in (a), (b) and (c) above, protected against such threats, and their importance relative to those threats clarified and stated within policy DM18.

b para 2.136 – The opening statement of DM18 can only be tested against developments already completed in the last five years and those about to be started. The problem with terms such as sense of place, visual quality, attractive buildings and city; similar terms used in section four of City Plan 1, is that they are abstract and highly subjective. Therefore the reasoned justification 2.136 can only be seen as a marketing exercise – fine words, but will it have teeth? If the recent examples of Circus Street, Preston Barracks, and the Edward Street development are anything to go by, the answer has to be emphatically NO.

c para 2.137 – It would be difficult to disagree with the aspirations in this section of DM18. “The integration of new development into the local context is dependent upon an understanding of and positive response to existing development patterns of the local area if it is to be considered a success”, is certainly welcome and confirms our views expressed in item a/d above.

However, local context and existing development patterns of local areas have been ignored in recent years; Anston House and the Preston Barracks development are two examples where some of the guidelines set out in DM18 have been completely disregarded.

Local context, “As a rule of thumb …’ Since this sentence refers to a substantial set of guidance preceding the sentence, it reads as an imprecise requirement, and could be worded more powerfully, especially as it is followed and offset by a lenient and loosely worded general qualification.

d para 2.138 – see our comments on tall buildings in item a above and in item DM19a below. City Plan Part One Policy CP12 Urban Design and local guidance on tall buildings is now being ignored, Wwth the proposed 18-storey development in New England Road making a mockery of both CP12 and DM18.

e para 2.140 – This seems to have been written for domestic scale buildings – such as references to gables and pitched roof. How appropriate is this guidance for most larger buildings which tend to be designed with flat roofs? Not that we have anything against gables and pitched roofs!

The statement – ”what matters is not so much the absolute size of a new building or development, but its size relative to its surroundings, and how the apparent scale of a building or development will be”.

This statement has been ignored by those involved in the planning and development of Anston House, Preston Barracks and the proposed 18-storey development in New England Road.

It needs to reviewed and re-written to provide more comprehensive guidance. It will inevitably be quoted by designers as justification for their designs, and used by planning officers and councillors as criteria for making important judgements on design matters.

Final sentence: ‘highway’. What is a highway in this context? Any road, and/or street? Any pavement by a road/street? Clarification is required

As it stands this paragraph is nowhere near good or comprehensive enough to provide adequate design guidance.

f. In general new buildings reflecting ‘closely’ existing buildings of consistent height are welcomed. The statement –“where existing building heights are varied it is not essential to match existing levels exactly”. The resulting outcome of this statement could run counter to the idea of what constitutes ‘local grain’.

An example of this mismatch in the urban environment is the recently constructed building, Vogue Studios/Stoneworks, which replaced a local pub on the Vogue roundabout. This building fails with to comply with DM18: 2.137, 2.140, 2.141, and 2.142.

The statement – “on corner sites, for instance, such buildings can be used to give a strong sense of enclosure to the surrounding spaces and provide a landmark”. These so-called landmarks should therefore be of the highest design standards; they are markers in a city that reflect the attitudes towards how the city sees itself.

But the term “landmark” should not be abused; the Victorians used the device in corner situations very effectively often with octagonal turrets perhaps slightly higher than the existing roof line. But the mis-use of this policy statement by the developer of a tall building to locate a tower block on the corner of his building would be quite inappropriate. Cue the recently proposed 18-storey tower on New England Street.

The example of Vogue Studios/Stoneworks reflects badly on this city’s attitude to place. Furthermore, the use of the phrase, a strong sense of enclosure, suggests a spatial containment created by inappropriate construction, therefore it should set off alarm bells whenever the phrase is used. The intentions expressed in this paragraph need to be clarified.

g para 2.148 – streets – we agree with the intention of this paragraph, but why not go further and actively promote the return of streets wherever possible to the community as suggested by Prof. Stefan Lehmann of Portsmouth University in his inspiring talk to guests at the Growing Our Living City – Vision 2030 event in July this year.?

h para 2.149 – (successful places) add the word ‘sunlight’ to the rather short and utilitarian list of elements which contribute towards the success of open spaces.

i para 2.150 – Artistic element. This paragraph should make quite clear the difference between ‘art’ and ‘graffiti’. Graffiti is unacceptable and epitomises social decline and promotes vandalism of our historic envirionment. Art does precisely the opposite.

For the topic of graffiti not to be mentioned at all in the Design and Heritage section is quite frankly negligent.

j para 2.152 – “design review service” – We have previously questioned the meaning nand relevance of this in item a/d above. Does it involve local knowledge and expertise? Does it include the Conservation Advisory Group?

DM19 Maximising Development Potential

a. para 2.154 – we consider the densities quoted are generally too low. In most recent planning approvals for large scale developments the densities achieved have been far higher.

We have proved in our own design studies – for example on Anston House – see http://www.brighton-society.org.uk/tall-buildings-debate/ – that high densities can be achieved with low-rise solutions approaching 400 dwellings per hectare (dpu).

Elsewhere in the city – for example on the fringe sites – much greater numbers of dwellings than set out in the City Plan could be achieved by merely raising the figure of 50 dpu to 55 dpu.

As an aside this would be a much more effective way of increasing the number of dwellings in the city than by permitting more tall buildings. For example a typical tall building – say one of the three towers in the Anston House scheme – would have three flats per floor. So five storeys would have fifteen flats – the difference between a 10 storey building and a fifteen storey building.

So let’s assume that 20 fifteen storey buildings are built between now and 2030. If they were only 10 storeys this would result in 225 fewer flats. This is a drop in the ocean compared with the figure of 13,200 new dwellings required in the city – about 1.7% of the total. Tall buildings are not necessary – increasing the figure of 50dpu to 55 would provide far more houses – of the type actually required – family houses, rather than a relatively small number of small flats on the upper floors of tall buildings.

DM20 Protection of Amenity

a “Planning permission for any development ….will be granted…” Surely not ANY? This word should be deleted.

b. para 2.156 – NPPF uses the word “harm” Should not this word also be included in the list of things to be considered by applicants?

Protection of Amenity – page 68: 2.156-2.157 When applicants for major, significant or ambitious development publicly present pre-application plans and outline designs, enabling local residents and other relevant interests to comment and discuss openly and directly with them, the results of the consultations need to reflect accurately the proximity or immediacy of those affected, the depth and strength of feeling or opinion voiced or recorded, and the seriousness and preponderance of those views.

The recent public consultation by First Base on the Edward Street development was a travesty. It must never happen again and the way this policy is expressed important to ensure that.

c para 2.157 – consultation with neighbours is not often done and invariably leads to conflicts between neighbours. Confirmation of consultation with neighbours should be a requirement accompanying all planning applications and a report on those consultations (including on any subsequent amendments), and the outcome of those consultations should be a requirement accompanying any planning application. This could actually save officer time by reducing the likelihood of potential conflicts.

d paras 2.160 and 2.161 – Overshadowing and Sunlight and Daylight – fine words, but in the light of the planning approval given to the First Base development on the former Amex site, it would appear to have no teeth, and accordingly these policies are meaningless.

DM22 Landscape Design and Trees

a. 3rd para (p.72) – what is meant by “national importance”? Is this a reference to anything in the NPPF?

b para 2.167 – first line should be “is” not “are”.

c para 2.169 – add “traditional” species of tree, not just “native”. Many of our trees in urban spaces are not native, but are nevertheless well known and well established and can add greatly to the quality of our green spaces.

d.  In the case of existing and potential green spaces, including public land, whose basis and essence are grass, consideration should be given to the risks of over-exploitation by temporary functions, events and structures which damage the endurance, health, appeal and amenity of the grass. See also our comments on Policy DM30 – Registered Parks and Gardens.

e. There may be a general argument, as laid down here, in favour of the policy that where or when a large tree is felled, it will be replaced by new younger trees of a number to compensate in terms of volume. However, must this rule be applied in all situations, as suggested here? Might there not be exceptional cases in which an important tree is replaced by an individual of the same or similar large species, with compensation for protracted loss of volume diverted into commensurate multiple planting at a location or locations in reasonable proximity?

DM23 Shop Fronts

a. We generally support these policies. But in relation to the Introduction, p.76, first paragraph: Advice to decorate those that are boarded up. This advice would benefit from more detail as to the meaning and nature of ‘decoration’. Not graffiti surely?

DM24 Advertisements

a.  Relationship between advertisements and graffiti – if graffiti is signed, is it an advertisement? It would then need to have planning approval. That would be interesting. Though whether Planning Enforcement would ever get around to addressing the question is open to doubt.

b. Should there not be a statement on the relevance or otherwise of graffiti in this policy?

DM25 Communications Infrastructure

a para 2.191 – we strongly support this policy, though should there not be a reference in this item to the subjection of these cabinets to art, advertising, decoration, graffiti and visual abuse? Or a cross-reference to the topic in which public art and graffiti is considered?

DM26 Conservation Areas

a. para 1 – the phrasing of this paragraph seems to indicate a presumption in favour of permission. We think the word “only” should be inserted (2nd line) between the words “will” and “be”, so it reads: Development proposals within conservation areas……. will only be permitted…..

b. DM26 should also make it clear that that applications will not be permitted where they would be detrimental or cause harm to the character of the Conservation Area.

c. item b – include the term “important architectural references” to the list of relevant criteria.
d item j – things like paving, kerbing, landscape elements and lamp posts should be specifically referred to and included in this item.

e. para 2.195. This must be re-written to insist that in all cases a Heritage Statement is to be submitted with all planning applications in conservation areas together with contextual information to show how the existing streetscape is affected by a particular proposal.

f.  Suggested replacement paragraph: “In all cases a heritage statement must be submitted to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected and where there is no adopted character statement for the area, the applicant will be required to carry out an appraisal of the area and submit this in addition to the heritage statement. This appraisal should be proportionate to the scope of the proposal.”

Note the word “required” – NOT just “to be expected” as it is currently expressed in para 2.195

g. Para 189 of the NPPF states that: “In determining applications, local planning authorities should require.. (our emphasis) … an applicant to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected, including any contribution made by their setting. The level of detail should be proportionate to the assets’ importance and no more than is sufficient to understand the potential impact of the proposal on their significance. As a minimum the relevant historic environment record should have been consulted and the heritage assets assessed using appropriate expertise where necessary. Where a site on which development is proposed includes, or has the potential to include, heritage assets with archaeological interest, local planning authorities should require developers to submit an appropriate desk-based assessment and, where necessary, a field evaluation.”

Policy DM26 should at least be consistent with this and at best improve on it to reflect the importance of conservation of heritage assets bestowed on the city by its 34 Conservation Areas.

h. Para 2.195 should not just apply where there is no up to date Character Statement in place, particularly as many Character Statements need to updated and revised in the light of current situations.

How is the the term “no up to date character statement in place” to be interpreted? It could be said that many of them need to be updated anyway.

i.  We would also comment that recent Character Statements such as those for the Old Town and Queen’s Park have set new, much higher standards than those character statements which were written say twenty years ago.

j.  As a member of the Conservation Advisory Group (CAG), we see several planning applications which do include contextual information or a Heritage Statement. But some do not and this often makes it hard to evaluate, on the basis of the information submitted, how well or badly the character of the Conservation Area might be affected by the application.

k.  It is noticeable that the applications where this information is not provided tend to be the worst in terms of quality of design as well as presentation.

l.  para 2.196 – add (last line), ….”when considering planning applications and” through enforcement……….

m.  para 2.199 “The council will support the removal of buildings that have been identified in a character statement as harming the conservation area”. Is there a case for extending this to say ‘the removal or transformation of buildings’?

n. generally – Should there not be some discussion and guidance about the priorities and definitions set out in the NPPF in terms of “harm” and the relative values in terms of balancing “harm” to conservation assets as against perceived “benefits” in terms of matters such as housing or jobs etc. In other words, at what level does conservation stand in the list of “benefits”? Above public benefits such as jobs and housing targets, or below?

DM27 Listed Buildings

a. para 1 – the phrasing of this paragraph seems to indicate a presumption in favour of permission. We think the word “only” should be inserted (2nd line) between the words “will” and “be”, so it reads: Proposals involving the extension, alteration or change of use of a listed building……. will only be permitted…..

b. para 2.207 – this needs to be qualified to ensure that any changes must ensure that existing historical and architectural features are preserved.

DM30 Registered Parks and Gardens

a.  We consider that temporary events should be precisely that. Where they exceed 6 weeks they begin to have a detrimental effect on the Park or Garden. The word “temporary” should be qualified to mean a maximum period of six weeks from beginning to end of the temporary use.

b. In addition, a statement setting out what investigations have been carried out on the feasibility of using alternative sites and locations for temporary events, must be carried out and included as part of a planning application for a temporary event prior to that application being lodged.

c.  See also our comment on DM22 above

DM32 – The Royal Pavilion Estate

a. Comments as for DM30.