Gasworks 3rd Proposal : Brighton Society Objection

Gasworks 3rd Proposal : Brighton Society Objection

February 14 2024

Brighton Society Objection to third amended proposal BH2021/04167 : Comprehensive mixed-use redevelopment comprising site preparation and enabling works, demolition of existing buildings and structures; provision of new buildings comprising residential use (Use Class C3) and flexible non-residential floorspace (Use Class E), new private and communal amenity space, public realm, landscaping; car and cycle parking, highway works, access and servicing arrangements; associated plant, infrastructure and other associated works including interim works. (For information: Proposed buildings to be erected range from 3no. to 12no. storeys, with 495no. residential units (Use Class C3) and 2,791m2 (GIA) flexible non-residential floorspace (Use Class E)). (Amended scheme with revised and updated drawings and documents).|Brighton Gasworks Land Bounded By Roedean Road (B2066) Marina Way And Boundary Road Brighton BN2 5TJ

The Brighton Society lodges its third objection to this totally inappropriate massive urban conglomeration of tall buildings on the cliff top above the Marina at the eastern end of an outstanding array of the Grade 1 Listed Buildings of the Kemp Town Estate, and over 200 other listed buildings and structures to the west along Marine Parade between the site and Brighton Pier.

Before dealing with our detailed objections – virtually all of which we have previously forwarded to the Council Planning Dept over the past two years, we must first comment adversely on the extended planning process which has led to a third unacceptable proposal from the developers, Berkeley St William.

This objection is set out in three sections:

1. Failings of the Planning Process – p.1

2. Headings and summary of objections – p.9

3. Detailed objections – p.16 

Section 1: Failings of the Planning Process

This is the third consecutive year that city amenity societies, local community groups and local residents have been asked to process an enormous amount of planning application documentation, to spend countless hours in meetings, in correspondence, writing memos and reports, in public campaigning and research on complex planning issues to oppose this utterly unacceptable planning application.

It seems as though Berkeley St William are totally intent on bull-dozing their proposals through, without any recognition or consideration of the strong opposition to them from most city amenity societies, local community groups and hundreds of residents.  Frankly, this is unacceptable behaviour.

What part has the Council Planning Dept played in this miserable process?  To those of us looking in from the outside, it appears that the Council, far from representing the interests of the huge number of city residents who have objected, has been more concerned with acting as powerless agents, perhaps even useful idiots, in response to the admittedly huge pressures imposed on it by Berkeley St William and their expensive consultants.

Well, that isn’t good enough.  The Council’s role in this process has been fully recorded in a series of twelve articles posted on the Brighton Society website.

Here is the list together with the relevant website links:

Chapter 1 : Introduction

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-chapter-1-introduction/

 Chapter 2 : The unlawful attempt to to extend the Marina Tall Buildings zone on to the Gasworks site

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-chapter-2-the-unlawful-attempt-to-extend-the-marina-tall-buildings-zone-on-to-the-gasworks-site/

This Chapter explains the background to how the Council tried to change the City Plan – unlawfully – in order to allow tall buildings (over 18m high) on the Gasworks site.  Was this at the behest of Berkeley St William?

Chapter 3 : Failure to respond to multiple Freedom of Information requests

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-chapter-3-failure-to-respond-to-multiple-freedom-of-information-requests/

We first made an FOI request in February 2021 to see details of pre-application discussions between the Council and Berkeley.  Since then the Council has consistently delayed and delayed and refused to give us that information.  Eighteen months later, we had received absolutely nothing. And we still haven’t even now. After the planning application was lodged we made another FOI request to see details of 3 meetings between the Council and Berkeley which were listed in the application documents.  Again – delay after delay.  But absolutely no information.

Chapter 4 : Failure of both the Council and the Berkeley Group to respond to the Gasworks Coalition’s concerns about the public consultation

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-chapter-4-failure-of-both-the-council-and-the-berkeley-group-to-respond-to-the-gasworks-coalitions-concerns-about-the-public-consultation/

During the second pre-application consultation stage we submitted our concerns and fourteen questions to Berkeley and copied to the Council.  The Council ignored them.  Berkeley failed to answer our questions.  So much for community involvement in the planning process.

Chapter 5 : Failure to comply with Council’s own rules in validating the planning application

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-chapter-5-failure-to-comply-with-the-councils-own-rules-in-validating-the-planning-application/

In January 2018 the Council passed a resolution to say that before a planning application could be validated, either a commitment to 40% affordable housing as required by Policy CP40 or a Financial Viability Assessment would have to be provided.  The Gasworks application was validated without either of these alternatives being submitted – in direct contravention of the Council’s own rules.

Chapter 6 : Failure to ensure that the Planning Application documents posted on the Planning Portal were clear and properly titled to show the content of each document

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-chapter-6-failure-to-ensure-that-the-planning-application-documents-posted-on-the-planning-portal-were-clear-and-properly-titled-to-show-the-content-of-e/

After the planning application was lodged, a total of 215 documents – many lengthy and complex reports – were posted on the Council’s Planning Portal.  To our horror we discovered that well over 70 of these gave no indication of their contents.  Trying to navigate through this impenetrable mass of documentation was virtually impossible. The average member of the public wouldn’t have stood a chance.  And most people would have far preferred to enjoy their Christmas and New Year break rather than struggling through complex documentation apparently designed to obfuscate rather than inform.

Chapter 7 : Failure to clarify the status of the Planning Application in Feb 2022

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-chapter-7-failure-to-clarify-the-status-of-the-planning-application-in-feb-2022/

Rather belatedly at the end of January 2022 the Council finally became aware of the level of opposition to Berkeley’s proposals and the strength of feeling in the local community against them. There had been around 650 objections from individuals, amenity societies, community groups, as well as national heritage organisations such as Save Britain’s Heritage.

In a confusing statement the Council appeared to pause the planning application giving no information about what would be happening. We commented “we are now in a sort of no-man’s-land where the application is proceeding, the Council are attempting to draw up an as yet undefined list of further issues to discuss with the developer, the results of which will be put out for some form of public consultation, the timescale for which is unknown”

 We have several times asked the Council to clarify the situation.  The only reply we got just raised more questions.  Two emails listing our questions and requesting answers met with no response.

 Chapter 8 : Failure to recognise the importance of the City’s Urban Heritage

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-chapter-8-failure-to-recognise-the-importance-of-the-citys-urban-heritage/

The Council doesn’t appear to understand the value of its unique urban Georgian and Regency heritage to the city. There are over 3500 listed buildings and 34 Conservation Areas in the city, many of those listed being Grade I or Grade II*.  An array of the best Grade I buildings of the Kemp Town Estate are just 100 yards away from the Gasworks development which comprises an urban conglomeration of densely packed tall blocks of flats up to 12 storeys high.  To claim as the then Head of Planning did, that these huge, poorly designed towers will have no effect on the Grade I Listed Georgian Terraces of Kemp Town is nonsense. Another case of kow-towing to developer interests over the City’s heritage.

Chapter 9 : Failure to involve the local community – Civic Voice Case Study

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-failure-to-involve-the-local-community-civic-voice-case-study/

In an effort to persuade the Council to take the widespread objections to the Gasworks development seriously, a group of 16 leading Amenity Societies and community groups got together.  The Brighton Gasworks coalition was then formed to co-ordinate the opposition.

The account and history of this process was presented to Civic Voice, the national organisation of Civic Societies across the country.  This Chapter includes our presentation to Civic Voice.

Chapter 10 : Summary of lessons to be learned

https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/gasworks-development-bhcc-failures-summary-of-lessons-to-be-learned/

In spite of all our efforts the Council appears to be continuing to put the interests of the developer above those of the community.  It still hasn’t answered our Freedom of Information requests. It still hasn’t answered our questions.  But it appears to be talking to the developer, without telling us anything about what is being discussed.  Will we be presented with a fait accompli?  Will any revised proposals respond to our concerns?  We have no idea. The community is still not being listened to.

The timescale of the Council failures covers the two consultation periods in July 2020 and February 2021; the initial planning application on 24 November 2021:  the subsequent second (amended) proposal submitted a year later on 22 November 2022, and the failure of that second proposal to address the issues expressed by over 600 objections to the first application. 

All these failures point to a serious failure of the Planning Dept to deal with this planning application in a responsible and transparent way.

Besides the general public and residents of the city, we feel the Council’s Chief Executive, all city councillors, particularly those on the planning committee, the three Brighton & Hove MPs and the local and national Press should be made aware of the incompetent way in which the Council has handled this planning application.

It could also form the basis of a complaint to the Local Authority Ombudsman.

It will also be a useful record document should this planning application become the subject of a future Planning Appeal hearing or Inquiry.

The full text of each of the Chapters summarised above has been published in 10 instalments on the Brighton Society website. 

Could this unsatisfactory process been done better?

Here are a few other planning procedural options which could (and should) have been pursued.

In a recent article on the Brighton Society website Richard Bingham wrote about the housing development at 1-3 Goldstone Crescent on the corner with Old Shoreham Road overlooking Hove Park – https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/yes-in-my-backyard/

In 2009 two separate planning applications for development of the site were turned down by the Council in the face of considerable local opposition.  So the Council then drew up and published a Planning Brief in 2011 which set out the requirements of the planning authority to which any developer would have respond.

The result of this process, as Richard pointed out, serves as an exemplar for other developments in our over-crowded city.

So why hasn’t this precedent been followed in Brighton-Hove for other large-scale development proposals in recent years, such as the Gasworks, many of which have also attracted considerable opposition from individuals, amenity societies and community groups?

This has to be a better way to ensure that the views of the local communities and societies are taken into account in drawing up a planning brief for sensitive sites such as the Gasworks – before proposals get relatively finalised.

Other options

Design is a response to a whole range of widely differing factors.  For example:

  • the functional requirements of a building (the brief),
  • the way the design and layout responds to its setting and site;  
  • the budget cost,
  • planning and building and safety regulations;
  • issues such as sustainability and energy performance,
  • its value to society and the community and, in the case of housing,
  • its contribution to the provision of genuinely affordable homes

All this should have been discussed with the community right at the beginning of the process and incorporated into a planning brief for the site – not left to Berkeley St William to attempt to maximise their development profits at the very first step, before adequate involvement with the Council and the Brighton City community on a highly detailed but unacceptable proposal from which it becomes virtually impossible to retreat in any significant way.

The whole process is back to front.  And that is why we are in the planning process mess that seems set to continue for some time yet.

There are other potential improvements to the planning process – which may require initiatives from central government – but which set out a direction and a context within which future large development proposals could be resolved to the satisfaction of both the developer and the local community.

So what needs to be done?

Firstly, developers at the insistence of the council must take the trouble to find out from all “stakeholders” what was really needed, against an integrated city plan and transport strategy.  It’s called Community Involvement.

The planning brief method referred to earlier could be a way of doing this.

It makes good sense for any project to start with a Brief – but a brief which has to be agreed by all stakeholders (including those local residents impacted), before embarking on a more detailed design.

With the Gasworks proposals and many other proposals in the city, we have seen little or no evidence of what priorities were taken into account in the design process  – apart from maximising densities, building heights, and the resultant return on investment.

Under both past and present planning policies, developers are increasingly confident that they can impose their own priorities and design proposals on our communities and get away with it. No doubt, massive global equity funding plays a part in the ambitions of the big developers, together with the rampant commercialisation of housing – treating housing as a financial asset and not as a home.

The prioritisation of profit isn’t an acceptable way to provide the much-needed housing – particularly the ‘affordable’ housing the city and its residents need.

Another option

Another way could be to do what is recognised as industry good practice, which sets out a staged process of progressing a design from an initial agreed brief, through to design concept and on to preliminary design, and finally more detailed designs, with public consultations and approval “gateways” at each stage recorded to provide an audit trail.

The RIBA Plan of Work sets out a suitable precedent for this process.

A third, but less attractive option might be the ‘outline planning application’ process.  As it stands, it is an inadequate illustration of this principle, but by including the more comprehensive planning brief process suggested for the first two options above, with much more emphasis on full public involvement, consultation and agreement with the community during the earlier briefing stages, followed by a similar exercise on the detailed design stages, it would certainly lend itself to a better and speedier solution than the existing lengthy and frustrating procedures we have all experienced during the period of the Gasworks planning application.

Developers may say that this would take too long, but the history of Brighton Gasworks proves otherwise. 

To date it’s taken over three and a half years

Here we are, now over three and a half years from the initial ”consultation” in July 2020, and Berkeley have just lodged what is effectively their third highly detailed planning application together with a third array of no less than 207 lengthy and highly detailed supporting documents.  And still the community finds these revised proposals utterly unacceptable.

The staged approval process as described above would have saved an enormous amount of time, resources and costs, and reduced the amount of abortive work for the developer, for the Council and for the local residents – all unnecessarily spending and wasting enormous amounts of time.  Time could have been saved:

  • for the developer and his expensive team of consultants in continually having to re-design and re-draft and re-evaluate development proposals;
  • for the Council in having to process what has turned out to be effectively three enormous planning applications;
  • for individual residents and community groups in having to read and understand complex planning and technical documentation, and to discuss and prepare campaigns against planning proposals which they find totally unacceptable, in an incredibly short public consultation timescale. In the case of the first two application proposals in 2021/2022 and 2022/2023, these coincided with the Christmas New Year holiday period.

Under the current system this lengthy process (remember – over three and a half years to date!), has had to happen before the proposals get anywhere near even reaching a planning committee.  Still there is no date set for that.

And then there is the possibility that further time and money might have to be wasted by the potential additional legal and consultant costs involved in lodging further arguments at an appeal hearing following a refusal.  Costs which the hapless local authority will have to underwrite should the appeal succeed.

It’s a crazy system.  There has to be a better way.

Trying to “bulldoze” an unacceptable scheme with excessive documentation through under-resourced LA’S, puts an unfair burden on local communities and is bound to result in delays. 

The whole process is biased in favour of the developer, who just keeps bashing away until he gets his way.  As we are seeing, it often takes years to resolve.

In the meantime the required housing doesn’t get built, the property values keep on rising as do the costs of the housing itself.  The potential development profits just carry on inexorably going up too, to the sole benefit of the balance sheets of the developer and his investors.

The impoverished residents even if they are (un)lucky enough to finally purchase a tiny flat to live in, eventually end up having to pay for all this – and the developer’s protected profits – out of their mortgage borrowing.  No wonder affordable housing is an increasingly impossible option.

All these problems afflict other towns and cities besides Brighton & Hove.

Conclusion

The Planning Process for the Gasworks site as administered by the Council Planning Dept and exploited by Berkeley/St William has failed the city and its residents. 

From the apparently deliberate attempt to change the City Plan by extending the Marina Tall Buildings Area on to the cliff-top Gasworks site above via a subsidiary document Urban Design Framework SPD17 – which was unlawful – to the failure to insist on the 40% proportion of affordable housing required by the City Plan, the Council has abdicated its responsibility to the residents of this city in favour of powerful development interests.

This application should be rejected outright on those grounds alone.

Section 2: Headings and summary of objections

 2.1 The recent proposed changes (Jan/Feb 2024)

After the hundreds and hundreds of objections to both the earlier proposals, have Berkeley and the council planning officers managed to come up with some acceptable proposals?

Well no, they haven’t. It’s still a huge urban conglomeration of tall buildings.

It will still have a seriously detrimental effect on the array of the Grade 1 Listed buildings of Kemp Town just to the west.

All that is being proposed is a token exercise in tinkering around the edges together with a relatively small reduction in the number of dwellings proposed – down to 495 from 565 – a figure which was far too high anyway.

So what are the main changes?  Our comments are shown in italics.

In an attempt to make the development relate more closely to its original character, the building in the NE corner has been redesigned from square in plan “into a concentric-formed gasholder-inspired building”.

A gasholder? That’s a totally naïve, deluded and inadequate reference

To try to claim that changing the plan form from rectilinear to round will make the proposal more acceptable is naïve in the extreme, not to say deluded. 

It’s just another tall building well over 18m high, unrelated in form or materials to any of the other buildings included in the development.  It indicates a sense of desperation where the designers have also lost any sense of direction.

 

What other major changes can we find?

  • A 3-storey shoulder has been removed from Building B.
  • Building F has been reduced by 2 storeys and its rooftop plant enclosure reduced in size; its northern shoulder has been reduced to 3 storeys from 5;
  • the ‘architecture’ (?) is now “lighter in tone and designed to be more transitional in character between adjacent character areas, and the building footprint has been slightly rotated to increase light levels .
  • These changes are very superficial in nature and do very little to reduce the effect of a massive urban conglomeration of tall buildings so close and alien to the Grade 1 Listed Kemp Town Estate.
  • A second staircase has been added to all buildings over 18m high.
  • This is in response to HSE comments on the Fire Safety of the original design proposals.
  • How they ever came to be designed with only one staircase – particularly after Grenfell – hardly inspires confidence in the care with which the original design was carried out.
  • There are 70 fewer homes proposed – down to 495 from 565 in the second proposal.
  • Both figures are far too high for the capacity of the site. 85 dwellings were allocated to the site in the City Plan.  But the new total of 495 is only fifty eight dwellings less than the first planning application in late 2021.
  • A higher proportion of family homes is now proposed
  • This represents a 3% increase – which is tiny.  This means that only 1 in 7 of the new homes would be family dwellings – yet well over 40% of the new homes needed in the city are for 3-4 bedroom houses.
  • More biodiversity, play and food growing provision.
  • We have previously criticised the lack of open spaces in the constricted areas between the tall buildings.  There still aren’t enough.
  • More energy savings, with 100% of energy supply from Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP) and rooftop solar panels site wide (combined with the already proposed biodiverse brown roofs).
  • ASHPs will be a regulatory requirement next year – well in advance of completion of any of the proposed dwellings.  We never understood why this was not included in the very first application, given that completion was then not envisaged until 2030.
  • End-of-trip shower and changing facility for employees of the non-residential units and a BTN bike hub to be provided onsite to help promote the uptake of active modes of travel.
  •      This minor improvement should have been included in the original scheme. Active travel encouragement should be encouraged – particularly as the developer proposes just 2 car parking spaces for every 9 adults.
  • Incorporation of wind mitigation to buildings at this stage rather than by incorporating this via planning conditions.
  • This is an essential change of tack. The potential effects and dangers of strong wind conditions have been badly underestimated in Berkeley’s Wind Studies document – see our detailed objections below. This is one of only 2 changes acknowledging public feedback contained in 1018 previously lodged objections
  • Preparation of the Remediation Strategy and associated Air Quality and Odour Management Plan for this stage of the construction (in response to community requests).This is one of only 2 changes acknowledging public feedback contained in 1018 previously lodged objections.

There are a few other minor insignificant changes. There really isn’t anything significant enough to make us change our view of this appalling proposal.

There is still no guaranteed affordable housing – only their previous statement that they are continuing to engage with “a Registered Provider and Homes England”. Berkeley are obviously still trying to get planning approval without any commitment whatsoever to providing affordable housing.

The whole proposal should be sent back to the drawing board.  It is a totally inadequate response to the hundreds and hundreds of objections lodged against this planning application.

2.2 Summary of objection topics

Virtually all of the following objections have been raised before in our previous objections and in the objections lodged by other community groups and amenity societies, including the Gasworks Coalition comprising sixteen city-wide Associations.

The revised proposals ignore, rather than answer, the numerous and significant concerns raised in the hundreds of public objections.

Section 3 of this objection sets out the Brighton Society’s objections in fuller detail.  In the meantime here are the relevant headings and short summaries of our objections:

1. The Kemp Town Estate

Because of the exceptional character of Kemp Town as a unified estate of Grade I Listed Buildings, that heritage status demands that it is given exceptional protection against harm from developments.  This concentration of highly visible and unacceptably Tall Buildings would tower over the Kemp Town Estate in views from South Downs, Marina Way, Madeira Terrace and seafront.

2. Importance of Heritage Assets

The site is within a part of the country’s most impressive marine façade that includes

(i)  East Cliff Conservation Area with frontage listed buildings,

(ii) Kemp Town Conservation Area with Grade I Listed Crescents and Squares,

(iii) Grade II* Listed Madeira Terraces and cliff,

(iv) Locally listed Marine Gate,

(v)  Open downland adjacent to the South Downs National Park,

(vi) Grade II listed Roedean School and St Dunstan’s.

It is vitally important that whatever new buildings are built on the Gasworks site are of extremely high architectural quality and respect the scale, height and character of this 3 mile Heritage Asset continuum.

3. City Plan & Urban Design Framework

The City Plan does not include the Gasworks site within an area of the City where Tall Buildings (18 metres and over) will be permitted.  The Gasworks site is not included within the Marina Tall Buildings zone.

4. Urban Design Framework SPD17 (approved June 2021)

Includes a policy statement (5.1) relating to the Gasworks site: “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.”

In spite of all the detailed documentation it is difficult to ascertain how high each of the tall blocks actually are.  There appears to be no drawing which actually shows this clearly.

This is our interpretation. Ten of the twelve blocks proposed would be Tall Buildings at over 18 metres in height.  These are (we think) Buildings A,  B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I1, I2.

So none of these buildings comply either with the UDF or the City Plan.

4. National Planning Policies

The NPPF states 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). Further “the greater the asset, the greater the weight should be given to the asset’s conservation. It is hard to imagine anything more important in conservation terms than the Grade 1 Listed buildings of Arundel Terrace, Lewes Crescent, Chichester Terrace and Sussex Square just 100m to the west.

5. Design issues

The proposed  buildings are too high, too bulky, out of scale and character with their surroundings, are of low quality design, will create deep canyons of shade and will overshadow local residential areas. The proposals bear no relationship to Brighton, to Kemp Town or to the low-rise residential streets around the site. Most of the open spaces within it would be windswept and sunless at most times of the year.

The Wind Study predictions are based upon a completely false premise, using figures from the inland Shoreham Airport 10 miles to the west.  The wind conditions on the cliff top above the Marina will be completely different and much stronger and gustier.

There would be deep excavations into highly contaminated ground to construct the massive concrete foundations required for the tall, heavyweight buildings above.  Strong winds during the work will distribute this contamination over a very wide area.

Once constructed, the deep canyons between the buildings will produce minimal or no levels of sunlight in the flats or their balconies, particularly those on the lower storeys.  The Planning Inspector in dismissing the Marina Appeal drew attention to similar problems on that proposal.

The Gasworks Coalition presented an alternative low-rise vision for the development of the Gasworks site to Council Officers that would still contribute 366 new dwellings to the city’s housing stock with significantly more family dwellings. See para. 5.12 of Section 3 below.

6. Landscape

It is noticeable that the Visual Impact documentation prepared by Berkeley/ St William’s consultant is very careful to avoid showing any views in which both the tall buildings proposed for the Gasworks site and the listed Kemp Town buildings appear together. 

There are no images of a proper townscape 3D model, which would clearly show the visual relationship to the nearby Listed Buildings of Kemp Town or towards and from the South Downs National Park just to the north of the site.

7. Lessons from the Marina Appeal

Criticisms in the Appeal decision dated 11 November 2021 refusing planning approval for the Marina development made by the of the jarring relationship of the Marina proposals to the Heritage Assets were key to the appeal’s dismissal and were endorsed by both the Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State.  Even more relevant and jarring to those same Heritage Assets will be the much closer relationship to them of the tall, densely packed buildings of the Gasworks development proposal.

8. Decontamination and public health issues

The Berkeley Group want to get planning approval for this development before they make any detailed proposals for how they will remediate the contaminated ground below the site, which they want to be approved as a condition afterwards.  This could drastically reduce the control the Council would be able to exercise over these vitally important de-contamination issues. This is not something that can be treated as a condition of a planning approval. The Council must be in control of this process – not the developer.

9. Affordable Housing The applicant has only recently acknowledged the obligation to provide 40% “Affordable” Housing as required by the City Plan. The suggestion by Berkeley/St William that Homes England funding might provide the 40% affordable housing means that they will not be committed to use their own funds and indeed will have no risk – but they would benefit from the guaranteed sales and associated profit for any ‘affordable’ housing included.

But the big problem is that there appears to be no guarantee that Homes England funding will be provided.   Berkeley/St William are attempting to obtain planning approval without making ANY actualcommitment to affordable housing whatsoever.

What happens if an agreement with Homes England falls apart after planning approval?

Brighton Gasworks Coalition has commissioned independent analysis of the applicant’s Financial Viability Assessment assumptions. It includes taking into account the applicant’s improved profit in relation to these “Affordable” dwellings. We understand that the Brighton Gasworks Coalition will make this analysis open to the public.  Will Berkeley/St William do likewise?

10. Traffic, Pollution, Parking and infrastructure

The number of dwellings proposed has decreased slightlyin the current proposals; but it will still result in well over a thousand new residents. This will cause further disruption of the already congested A259 heritage seafront road and side streets, during both the construction stage lasting several years and in its completed state: increasing vehicle pollution, pressure on parking, public transport pressure and pedestrian safety concerns.  No proposals are provided in the planning application for additional medical, education, parking, public transport, all of which are currently fully utilised by current residents.

11. Community involvement and preferences

A community survey was carried out during the summer of 2021 to ascertain the views of residents. Despite portrayal by the applicant otherwise, the majority of responders live within half a mile of the site and rejected the proposals overwhelmingly.

12. Conclusion

This proposal is utterly inappropriate to its sensitive seafront cliff-top situation and should be rejected outright in favour of a lower-rise, less prominent and more sympathetically designed alternative.

Brighton should set an example to the rest of the country for a community-led sustainable design which responds to the national policies set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its aspiration for beauty and good design.

Section 3: Detailed objections on each of the headings summarised above

We do not object to the use of this brownfield site for new housing.

We are fully in favour of redevelopment on this site, and recognise why there may be a degree of support for any proposal which cleans up the site and is an improvement on the current eyesore.  No matter how bad that proposal might be.

There is no doubt that in its current condition, the Gasworks site is an unsightly element in the appearance and quality of the local environment, the local community and the wider city as a whole.

But the Berkeley/St William proposal is not in the interests of the city or the local community. There is an opportunity here for Brighton to set an example to the rest of the country for a community-led sustainable design which,

– responds to the national policies set out in the NPPF and its aspiration for beauty and good design;

– relates sympathetically to its heritage setting and,

– provides the housing types needed and wanted by the community, in particular a high proportion of affordable housing.

The Berkeley St William proposal does none of these things.

 

An example of a preferred approach to these issues is the Phoenix development for over 700 new dwellings on a brownfield site along the riverside in Lewes which sets new standards of housing design which have been widely admired nationally as an excellent exemplar of sustainable attractive low-rise development.

It is an excellent design – it ticks all the right boxes – brown-field site; sustainable construction; excellent green credentials; low-rise not high-rise; plenty of open space and connection to existing natural features and to Lewes Town; creation of a true neighbourhood; emphasis on cycling and walking; creating a variety of visual approaches by using 12 different architects designing individual groups of buildings – including Mole Architects who designed Marmalade Lane in Cambridge about which we have written previously on the Brighton Society website.  

It does everything that Berkeley’s Gasworks scheme in Brighton does not.

The developer, Human Nature aims to show that there is an alternative way of providing housing which is completely different – and much better – than the 80% of new housing nationally provided by a cartel of five or six huge development companies – which includes Berkeley, the developer of Brighton’s Gasworks.

Human Nature is headed by Jonathan Smales and David Cowans.  Smales is a former managing director of Greenpeace and has spent the last 20 years working on major regeneration and housing schemes.  David Cowans was previously Chief Executive of Places for People, a leading Housing Association.

Read more about it here:

https://www.bdonline.co.uk/briefing/the-phoenix-lewes-this-is-how-we-will-have-to-build-in-the-future/5122350.article

The developer, Human Nature, was appointed after a full and open competition where the two landowners, MAS plc and Lewes District Council, worked together to select the preferred developer.  Cost was a factor but both vendors wanted the best outcome for the town and discussed Human Nature’s approach and initial ideas at some length prior to its appointment.

Since appointment, Human Nature has worked with the Lewes Town and the local groups who opposed the previous (rejected) scheme for 800 homes in 2007 proposed by a South African pension fund. 

It has used a collaborative approach in which a creative ‘brainstorming’ approach looking at a wide range of potential design options were discussed before final designs for the masterplan were submitted for planning approval.

As a postscript to this – regrettably and inexplicably – this exemplar of public consultation and participation which sets new national standards of sustainable development, has run into problems with its planning application.  

You would have thought that the local planning authority – South Downs National Park – would have been falling over themselves with enthusiasm to positively engage with this refreshing new vision. 

But no.  At its planning committee meeting on Oct.12 2023, it decided “it is in the execution of, and the detailed matters associated with, the actual scale and form of the proposed development that means that Officers are currently unable to fully support the application.”  Even though they admitted that, “The overall ambitions of the applicant and the general approach they are taking to create a ‘sustainable development’ is highly commendable”.

Just as the Gasworks proposal in Brighton demonstrates the failure of LPAs to process an inappropriate planning application speedily and efficiently, the excellent Phoenix proposal shows a similar failure on the part of that LPA when it comes to dealing with and expediting a truly excellent planning proposal.

Which emphasises even more the suggestions we made in Section 1 above under the heading “Other planning procedural options which could (and should) have been pursued”.  See “Other Options” on page 5 of this objection.

Headings of our objections to the Gasworks application.

As set out in Section 2 above, our detailed objections and concerns are discussed under the following headings:

  1. The Kemp Town Estate – a Conservation Area of National Importance
  2. Importance of Heritage Assets and Harm caused by the Gasworks proposals
  3. City Plan Policies and the Urban Design Framework SPD
  4. National Planning Policies
  5. Design – height, bulk, quality, fire safety, sunlight, daylight, overshadowing, open space.
  6.          An Alternative vision
  7. Landscape – views and viewpoints
  8. Lessons from the Marina Appeal
  9. Decontamination and public health issues
  10. Affordable Housing
  11. Traffic, Pollution, Parking and infrastructure
  12. Community involvement
  13. Conclusion

Each of these topics are dealt with in the following pages.

 1. The Kemp Town Estate – a Conservation Area of national importance

1.1    Kemp Town is unique amongst Britain’s Conservation Areas in that virtually all the buildings within the conservation area are listed.  

1.2    Because of the exceptional character of Kemp Town as a unified estate of Grade 1 Listed Buildings, that status demands that it is given exceptional protection against harm from developments that could threaten and be detrimental to the quality of its existing character and historic quality.

1.3    It is located towards the eastern end of Marine Parade, the finale of a continuous virtually intact array of Regency terraces and crescents stretching all the way along Marine Parade from near Brighton Pier over a distance of more than one and a half miles – see section 2 below.

1.4    The proposed Gasworks development, comprising as it does an urban conglomeration of densely packed tall blocks of flats, less than 100m from the Grade I Listed buildings of Lewes Crescent, will have a profoundly detrimental effect on the character and the quality of the Kemp Town Estate.

1.5    This concentration of unacceptably tall buildings will be very visible as one travels along Marine Parade in either direction.  They will tower above the existing buildings at the end of Eastern Road where it passes through Sussex Square, it will be very prominent from high level viewpoints in the South Downs, and from the high land above and to the east of Marina Way, and from the seafront below Madeira Terraces and the cliffs.

1.6    It will have a highly detrimental visual effect on the elegance and historic character of the Grade 1 Regency terraces and Crescents of Kemp Town.

 

2. Importance of Heritage Assets and Harm to those assets caused by the Gasworks proposals

2.1    From Brighton Pier in the west to Marine Gate in the east, Marine Parade is one of the longest stretches of seafront in the country with a consistently high architectural quality along the whole of its length of about 1.6 miles.

2.2    We estimate that there are some 216 listed buildings and structures along its length, plus four locally listed, up to and including the Grade II listed French Convalescent Home on de Courcel Road.

2.3    It forms the country’s most impressive marine façade.  At the upper level it includes the East Cliff Conservation Area with many listed buildings along its frontage.  The occasional modern buildings such as the Van Alen building are of high architectural quality too.

2.4    The eastern end is included within the Kemp Town Conservation Area which incorporates the Grade 1 Listed Lewes Crescent and Sussex Square, and the Chichester and Arundel Terraces.

2.5    At the lower level on the southern side it incorporates the Grade II Listed Madeira Terraces built into the side of the cliff below the road.  Its architectural quality is enhanced by mostly original railings, lamp standards and cast iron structures along its length.  All these are to be restored over the decade.

2.6    Marine Parade with its magnificent setting overlooking the sea and the high class developments along its entire length, was built between 1790 and the end of the nineteenth Century, when the Grade II Listed French Convalescent Home was built in the French Renaissance Revival style just to the east of Lewes Crescent. 

2.7    The parade of excellence continues further to the east to include the locally listed Marine Gate immediately to the east of the Gasworks site. Marine Drive then continues this heritage route, bordering on open downland adjacent to the South Downs National Park, before passing the Grade II listed Roedean School buildings set on the hillside to the north, and yet further on, past more open land to the Grade II Listed St. Dunstan’s.

2.8    The only blemish in architectural terms along this whole route, is the Courcels building just to the east of the French Convalescent Home.  This was built in 1971 on the site of the 19th-century Madeira Mansions.  A big planning mistake if ever there was one. But heritage concerns were not perhaps given the same importance then as they are now – or perhaps should be.

2.9    It could be claimed that the Brighton Gasworks site just to the east of Courcel’s could also be described as a blemish in that array of architectural excellence, and it certainly still is.  There is now a once in a lifetime opportunity to repair that gap in the consistently high quality of architecture along this stretch of Brighton’s coastline.

The Berkeley Group’s proposals don’t come remotely close to achieving that aspiration.

It is important that another mistake like the Courcel building planning approval should not be made again. 

2.10 Its development proposal, comprising 10 densely packed tall buildings between 7 – 12 storeys with some smaller blocks of 3 -6 storeys is just 100m from the Grade 1 Listed terraces of Arundel Terrace, Lewes Crescent and Chichester Terrace.  And much of this distance is occupied by the Grade II Listed French Convalescent Home.

2.11 That’s why it is extremely important that whatever new buildings are built on the Gasworks site are of very high architectural quality and respect the scale, height and character of the continuum and consistent architectural quality of the whole length of Marine Parade from Brighton Pier in the west right through to Roedean School and St Dunstan’s in the east – a distance of over three miles.

2.12 If this massive densely packed urban conglomeration of tall buildings is allowed to proceed, the whole experience of that continuous 2 mile section of quality listed and locally listed buildings will be irreparably damaged.

2.13 This view is reinforced by an extract from the Appeal Decision rejecting the similarly massive buildings of the Marina development which states: “…the Secretary of State has paid special regard to the desirability of preserving those listed buildings potentially affected by the proposals, or their settings or any features of special architectural or historic interest which they may possess.”  (IR para 12 p.3).  Even more relevant and jarring to those same Heritage Assets will be the much closer relationship to them of the tall, densely packed buildings of the Gasworks development proposal.

2.14 It is totally misleading to claim – as the developer does – that it will not result in damage to important heritage assets.

2.15 In its eagerness to comply with the government’s previous housing targets, the Council should not abdicate its duty to protect, conserve and enhance Brighton’s architectural and urban heritage. 

2.16 Following the Housing Delivery Test Measurement published by the government on 14 January 2022, that Brighton & Hove no longer appears on the list of Local Authorities who have a Presumption in Favour of Development imposed upon them. 

As a result the Council now has much more freedom to make its own independent planning decisions and the risk of an appeal by developers against a planning refusal has now been considerably reduced.

2.17 The Council in its totally inadequate Heritage Assessment comment lodged on the Council website, has failed to recognise the importance of Marine Parade to Brighton’s urban heritage.  There can be few coastal routes of similar distance in the world which could lay claim to such a high standard of architecture along its entire length – with (currently) only one blemish.

We have comented previously that “the Council’s Heritage Team needs to take a a good, hard look at itself “ and question whether its apparent main concern (which mainly appears to be the old flint wall between Brighton and Rottingdean), is really the most important heritage asset detrimentally affected by this massive conglomeeration of tall buildings on Brighton’s historic seafront.

That blinkered view is entirely contradicted by the views of national bodies such as Historic England (see para 2.18 below), and Save Britain’s Heritage who have previously lodged two objections to the proposals.

The City’s Conservation Advisory Group (CAG) has recommended refusal, and local heritage organisations such as the Brighton Society, the Regency Society, the Kingscliffe Society, The Regency Squares Community, the Kemp Town Society and other groups have all lodged objections or lent their support to the Gasworks Coalition’s previous objections.

The City’s Heritage Team finds itself in a very significant minority.

2.18 We note that Historic England confirms (in relation to this amended proposal), its previous advice that the proposal will cause harm to the significance of the Kemp Town Conservation Area and confirms its previous advice – that harm would be caused “because of its tall, dense, city centre form and character…it would erode the understanding of the origins of Kemp Town as an independent settlement surrounded by open space and sea”.

Precisely what we have been arguing for the last three years.

 

3. City Plan and the Urban Design Framework SPD (Supplementary Planning Document)

3.1    The City Plan  

The City Plan sets out the problems facing the city. Para 2.11 says:

Brighton & Hove is a tightly constrained, compact city situated between the South Downs National Park and the sea. With a limited legacy of derelict or vacant sites these ‘natural boundaries’ define and limit the outward expansion of the city. The spatial strategy needs to achieve a balance between accommodating the city’s development needs, particularly for jobs and homes, with the continuing need to protect and enhance the city’s high quality environments and the nationally designated landscape that surrounds the city.

Does this planning application achieve that balance?  We think not.

The City Plan does not include the Gasworks site within an area of the City where Tall Buildings (ie buildings over 6 storeys) will be permitted.  It is not included within the Marina Tall Buildings zone. 

In fact, in the City Plan only 85 new dwellings were allocated to the Gasworks site, though we acknowldge that this figure was set at an unrealistically low level, and the site could reasonably accommodate far more.  But not 495.

As part of the draft Urban Design Framework SPD, there was a proposal to extend the Marina Tall Buildings zone on to the Gasworks site, but that was withdrawn in the final and approved UDF dated June 2021.

The Berkeley St William’s Homes proposals include 10 tall building elements which range from 7 – 12 storeys, all of them higher than 6-storeys:

They cannot be described as anything other than a “conglomeration of Tall Buildings”  They occupy about two thirds of the built area on the site.

3.2    The Urban Design Framework (approved June 2021)

The  approved UDF SPD17 includes the following policy statements relating to the development of the Gasworks site:

Para 5.1 (p.43) of the current UDF SPD notes that “There are particular sensitivities for development due to the relative proximity to Kemp Town conservation area and housing on the adjacent hillside, which provide challenges for designers.”

This is further emphasised by a statement accompanying the Marina Area map that, “Building heights will be largely determined by visual impact on views from hillsides to the north and from historic Kemp Town enclosures.”

 Para 5.1 goes on to recommend that the following design priorities should be considered in proposals.  The first of these is:  “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.”

 The accompanying plan (also on p.43), in the SPD shows an indicative area of the Marina with potential for tall buildings.

The gasworks site is not included within that area.  Tall buildings are defined as buildings of 18m or taller, (approximately 6 storeys) above existing ground level.  (SPG15 –Tall Buildings para 1.4).  The majority of the buildings comprising the Gasworks proposal are much higher than that.

The Planning Inspector (Mr D.Prentis) for the recent Appeal Hearing on the proposed development at Cromwell Road/Palmeira Avenue noted that, “The UDF states that sites outside the areas so designated[for tall buildings] may also, potentially, be suited for tall buildings. However it also states that “the threshold to prove the positive contribution of a tall building to the local townscape and community outside these areas is higher”.

The Gasworks development fails to respond to Mr Prentis’ views that “the threshold to prove the positive contribution of a tall building to the local townscape and community outside these areas is higher.”

Let alone 10 of them.

Nor does it attempt to answer the requirement in the UDF that “There are particular sensitivities for development due to the relative proximity to Kemp Town conservation area and housing on the adjacent hillside, which provide challenges for designers.”

Nor does it take account of the statement in the UDF 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 does it comply with the requirement 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.”

These statements are discussed further in Section 6 – Landscape, below.

3.3    We know why they have been ignored.  It is because the draft UDF introduced in October 2020, included a policy proposal to extend the Marina Tall Buildings zone on to the Gasworks site above the Marina.

That was soon after the Berkeley Group issued its first proposal for public consultation (including a 15-storey tower and other tall buildings) in July 2020.  It is obvious that the UDF was being prepared at the same as Berkeley were preparing its development proposal for the Gasworks.  And the Council and Berkeley were talking to each other. We know from an FOI request that there are 836 emails on file.

3.4    Failure to answer our FOI requests

But the Council have consistently refused to release the content of its correspondence with the Berkeley Group prior to the first public consultation on the Gasworks proposals in July 2020, despite several FOI requests and letters to the Council from the Ofice of the Information Commissioner (ICO).

In early 2022 the ICO gave Brighton & Hove City Council five working days to provide details of 300 emails we suspect might relate to those discussions.  The Council have failed to provide them.

All we can do is to infer from those discussions between Berkeley and the Council that the Berkeley assumed that they would be allowed to develop the site with tall buildings.

But it turned out that the UDF, being a subsidiary planning document, could not over-ride the City Plan 2016 – which did not propose that tall buildings would be permitted outside the Marina area itself.

So the final version of the UDF approved in June 2021, did not extend the Marina Tall Buildings zone on to the Gasworks site.        

But by then it was too late for the Berkeley Group to make any significant changes.  That’s why we are now saddled with this unacceptable conglomeration of tall buildings.

These 10 tall buildings are not a minor breach of the City Plan policies for the suitability of tall buildings on this site. They represent a massive breach.

3.5    There is no justification within the City Plan or SPG15 for such a massive departure from the planning policies set out within these approved Council planning documents.

The Gasworks proposals fail to comply with the planning policies set out in the city plan and the current UDF SPD17.

3.6    This interpretation is reinforced by the recent Appeal Decision on the Marina development which noted that,

“the proposal at issue would undoubtedly be a major intervention that would have significant status this being in respect of those designated heritage assets nearer the appeal site, that is Lewes Crescent (Grade 1), Chichester Terrace (Grade 1), Arundel Terrace (Grade 1), and Sussex Square (Grade 1), the Kemp Town Enclosure (Grade II Registered Park and Garden), and the the Kemp Town Conservation Area, and the linked Esplanade Cottages (Grade II), Old Reading Rooms (Grade II, and Temple (Grade II), and the Madeira Terrace , Madeira Lift and Shelter buildings (Grade II),and the East Cliff Conservation Area.  He [Secretary of State] also agrees with the Inspector in that the proposed development would have a very strong visual presence in some views of, and/or from, these important buildings and spaces, with implications for how they are experienced as heritage assets”.  (IR para 27 p.5)

3.7    All of these heritage assets are much closer to the Gasworks site than they are to the Marina, so it would be fair to assume that the view of any Planning Inspector reviewing the Gasworks application in the future would come to a similar conclusion. 

Those statements are even more relevant to the Gasworks site, as the buildings are built on the cliff top at a much higher level than the Marina at sea level. The visual impact is consequently going to be even greater from a wide variety of viewpoints.     

The Gasworks proposals will have a major detrimental visual impact on adjacent Heritage Assets and the South Downs National Park, and utterly fail to respond to the design aspirations defined (by the Council), in the final version of the Urban Design Framework.       

4. National Planning Policies

4.1    The NPPF (para 195 p.56) states 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) taking account of the available evidence and any necessary expertise.  They should take this into account when considering the impact of a proposal on a heritage assets, to avoid or minimise any conflict between the heritage asset’s conservation and any aspect of the proposal”.

It goes on to say that the greater the asset, the greater the weight should be given to the asset’s conservation (para 199 p.57).

4.2    It is hard to imagine anything greater in conservation terms than the Grade 1 Listed buildings of Arundel Terrace, Lewes Crescent, Chichester Terrace and Sussex Square just 100m to the west. 

Para 200 states that “Any harm to, or loss of the significance of a designated heritage asset (from its alteration or destruction, or from development within its setting) should require clear and convincing justification.” (Our emphasis).

It goes on to say “ …assets of the highest significance… grade 1 listed buildings…etc. should be wholly exceptional.

This is the national planning policy measure that applies to the Gasworks proposals. 

4.3    This planning application fails utterly to meet those requirements.  It just concentrates on the effects of the development on individual listed buildings (of which there are lots and lots in the vicinity of the site).

But nowhere in all the forty separate documents of the Heritage, Townscape, Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments, does it discuss the overall effect of this urban conglomeration of tall buildings on the much wider area of listed and locally listed buildings within the close vicinity of the Gasworks site.

It is a totally inadequate analysis of the detrimental effects on nationally important heritage assets.  Of course to have done so would have severely prejudiced their case.

4.4    The NPPF – balance of harm and benefits

The Planning Inspector for the Cromwell Road/Palmeira Avenue development   (previously mentioned), made the following comments:

“Applying the approach set out in paragraph 11(d) (ii)) of the Framework, [NPPF] I am mindful that the Framework seeks to boost the supply of homes.  However it also states that the creation of high quality, beautiful and sustainable buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve.  Good design is a key aspect of sustainable development.  The Framework goes on to say that developments should add to the overall quality of the area, be sympathetic to local character and history and create places with a high level of amenity. For the reasons given above I consider that the proposal would conflict with those requirements of the Framework.  To my mind the adverse effects of granting planning permission would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of housing delivery, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole.”

This test applies perfectly to the Gasworks proposal too.  And it fails the test.

The Gasworks coalition commissioned an alternative proposal which would result in a far more appropriate balance – see para 5.12 below.

5.   Design issues – height, bulk, quality, safety, sunlight, daylight, overshadowing, open space, density and architectural design quality, wind issues.

5.1    The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) places great emphasis on quality of design.

In our view (and many others), the proposed  buildings are too high, too bulky, out of scale and character with its surroundings, are of low quality design, will create deep canyons in shade most of the day, and will overshadow the residential areas to the east and west.  Most of the open spaces within it will be windswept and sunless.  And above all their appearance is ugly and bland.

It could be anywhere, in the centre of any ordinary city in the country.  But it isn’t.  As we point out in Sections 1 and 2 above, it is part of a unique array of architectural excellence stretching from Brighton Pier through to the Listed St Dunstan’s, over 3 miles to the east.

The Wind Study predictions are based upon a completely false premise, using figures from the inland Shoreham Airport 10 miles to the west.  The wind conditions on the cliff top above the Marina will be completely different much stronger and gustier, will create wind tunnel effects and be potentially dangerous to pedestrians navigating their way through the site.

5.2    We are very keen to see this redundant and unattractive site redeveloped for housing which will make a valuable contribution to resolving the Council’s housing targets.

5.3    The site is important and is very prominent on the cliff top, just to the east of the Grade 1 Listed Kemp Town Estate. It requires a design solution which is sensitive to its urban heritage and landscape settings and which has the support of the local community.

5.4    The Berkeley/St William proposal for a densely packed conglomeration of tall blocks will completely dominate its surroundings by its sheer size, height, scale, density and massing. 

The CGI visualisations are misleading.  The image below gives the impression that the blocks facing south are hardly higher than Marine Gate beyond.  The elevation from the east (below) paints a different picture.  They are in fact much higher.

This elevation from the east shows that Berkeley’s claims (supported by misleading CGI visualisations), that the height of the buildings at the southern end of the site is little more than that of Marine Gate (shown at the left of the elevation) are inaccurate and misleading.  The buildings towards the north of the site are virtually twice the height of Marine Gate! 

5.6    Density

The site area is 2.02ha.  The density will be about 245 dwellings per hectare (dph). (495 ¸2.02ha = 245).  That is extremely high by any standards including central London, and higher than any recent development proposals in the city.

For example the Sackville Road development in Hove currently under construction is 230 dph.

Such a high density on this edge of city location in a relatively low-rise suburban area with poor public transport links is inappropriate.

5.7    Massing and height

The image of Block D below shows the sheer mass and height of the building – and this is only one of the 10 tall buildings (over 6 storeys) proposed. This one is twelve storeys.

From the massaged and carefully selected images produced by Berkeley it is difficult to appreciate how big these buildings actually are.

Admittedly this is one of the tallest, but the double-decker bus at bottom right clearly demonstrates how massive this complex of tall buildings actually is.  If you look carefully you might just pick out the figure of a man standing just to the left of the bus.  Is a dense conglomeration of ten tall bulky buildings (together with several lower buildings too), on this site really an appropriate solution for the eastern outskirts of Brighton?

As well as the sheer scale, massing and height of the proposed buildings visually, deep excavations into highly contaminated ground in order to will be required to construct the massive concrete foundations required for the tall, heavyweight buildings above.

The lower and lighter the buildings, the less remediation and consequent risk of contamination there will be.  Berkeley’s approach is expensive and increases the risk of serious contamination during the construction period.

5.8    Design Quality

Besides being out of scale, out of character and unsympathetic to its neighbours, this design is poorly conceived.  It looks like a typical urban conglomeration of tall blocks of flats which could be found anywhere in the country.  It has no relationship to Brighton, let alone to Kemp Town or the low-rise residential streets around the site. It is not good design whatever the claims made in the planning application.

Would it deserve to be even locally listed, let alone be fully listed?  Yet this is the standard that it has to live up to, as argued in the preceding sections.

For example, the claddings proposed are mostly just dull, with no architectural virtues. It looks as though the buildings are built down to a cost and not up to the levels of distinction or quality its situation.  Just look at the image on the preceding page 28 above.  

5.9    Layout and important links

It is extremely unfortunate that the two parcels of Council-owned land, one at the northern edge and one at the southern edge, have not been incorporated within the development site.  The area of these two parcels is over half a hectare – 0.56ha to be precise  The site area to be developed by Berkeley St William is 2.02ha. In other words the Council owned areas amount to over a quarter of the whole available site area of.

Including these two sites could have resulted in a much more complete, and a much more efficient and integrated design layout with the potential of much improved links through the development to the South Downs National Park to the north and to Black Rock and the Marina to the south.

Why was this possibility not given serious consideration?  The result will be two small pieces of land at each end of this huge building complex with no potential use or value to the community, either now or in the future.

This is a totally wasted opportunity.  It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

5.10 Open space – poor design and overshadowing

The other open spaces within the Berkeley Group’s proposals would mostly be deep, narrow windswept canyons between the rows of tall blocks of buildings.  They would be in deep shadow for most of the day, and act as wind tunnels in windy conditions.  The Wind Study model illustrated in the planning application documentation (below) illustrates this perfectly.

How much daylight, let alone sunlight, will the residents of the flats receive at the lower levels of the tall buildings either side of the central canyon?

There are overshadowing diagrams included in Appendix 12.5 of Environmental Statement  Vol.3.

These indicate that only on 21 June between 12 midday and 2pm are the main open spaces in sunlight.  At other dates – 21 March and its equivalent  on 21 September, the main north/south ‘street’ is virtually all in full shade during the whole day.  On 21 December, apart from a brief hour at mid-day the main public areas are mostly in full shade.

This is a far cry from the sunny and generous open spaces falsely depicted in the CGI images accompanying the application.

The deep canyons between the buildings will produce minimal or no levels of sunlight in the flats or their balconies each side of these canyons, particularly those on the lower storeys.  The Planning Inspector for the Marina Appeal drew attention to similar problems on that proposal, which as a negative design factor, was a significant contributor to the decision to refuse the appeal.

Para 19, p.4: “… in terms of the regularity of the façade treatments, and the homogenous mass that would be created, together with the failure to provide a proper landmark or bookend, the scheme lacks the exuberance and ambition that the best of Brighton’s buildings exhibit.  It would not therefore be a postive contributor to its context and in many respects, it would fail to take the great opportunity the appeal site presents (IR11.22).”

The same comment applies to the Gasworks design.

5.11 Lack of a 3D model

As one can see from the Wind Study diagram below, (submitted as part of the second Nov 2022 proposal), a 3D model of the Gasworks buildings set into a 3D model showing the heights and layout of existing buildings and streets adjacent did exist. 

But it was hidden in a technical document, when it should have been one of the principal pieces of evidence which could show the difference in scale between the proposed conglomeration of tall buildings and its low-rise surroundings.

Wind model – imagine a south-westerly gale whipping through here

A few years ago First Base displayed a similar 3D model of the Edward Street Quarter within a wider 3D modelling environment as part of their public consultation.

Why is an extended image of this 3D model not included within the Heritage and Visual Impact documents in the planning application documentation?

That a 3D model of the wider site exists is also shown by the image on the next page (p.32) which was included in the Planning Statement.

This was the only image anywhere which showed the massing and height of the development in comparison with that of Sussex Square and the Grade 1 Listed Buildings of the Kemp Town Estate.  It was shown in the second Nov. 2022 documentation, but has disappeared from the recent third Nov. 2023 Planning Statement.

It’s as though this really important and relevant information has been deliberately censored from the Planning Statement and the forty separate documents forming the Heritage, Townscape and Visual Impact Assessments.

It is an essential piece of the jigsaw that is needed for the public to be able to see what the relationship to the surrounding buildings in terms of the relative heights, scale and development layout patterns, so that the visual effect of this massive conglomeration of tall buildings on the closely adjacent Grade 1 listed heritage buildings of Kemp Town can be clearly evaluated.

As stated above we have been unable to find an updated version in the documentation for the third, Nov 2023 proposal.

That image, which shows the development in relation to the Grade 1 Listed buildings of Kemp Town is shown above.  Even from that elevated and distant viewpoint it shows how out of scale and character the proposal is compared with the relatively low rise Regency buildings immediately to the west.

Why has the Planning Dept not requested an image of the whole model or asked to see it in full 3D with a number of separate viewpoints which would clearly show the differences in scale, massing and character between the tall buildings of the Gasworks site and the Grade 1 Listed heritage assets just 100 yards away?

Why are there no fly-throughs either – these are now relatively common for larger developments.

We would have thought at the very least, that Historic England would need to see such information in order to be able to carry out its assessment of the effects of this planning application on adjacent heritage assets.

The application documentation we have viewed so far seems to deliberately conceal this relationship. The lack of this information is telling. It as though Berkeley are deliberately ignoring the problem in the hope that it will go away.

As a postscript to this criticism, we have just found the two images below – hidden away on pages 9 and 10 in a technical paper (Environmental Statement Vol.3 Appendix 12.1). 

What’s more they appear in a series of drawings following two blank pages (pp 2 & 3), almost as though these blank pages had been deliberately inserted to make people think that there was no further information beyond the blank p.3.

So the 3D model information does exist.  Why was it not used in the 40 documents  analysing Heritage,Townscape, and Visual Impact Assessments?

We can only assume that there was a deliberate intention to conceal and disguise the reality of the massing, form and heights of the proposed new buildings in relation to their much lower-rise and smaller scaled neighbours. 

Frankly, it’s disgraceful conduct to conceal such important imformation from public view and examination.

 

5.12 Alternative Vision

The Gasworks Coalition presented an alternative low-rise vision for the development of the Gasworks site to Council Officers at a virtual meeting on 13 July 2021.

 The purpose of this exercise was not to make a rival proposal to the Berkeley St William Homes scheme, but to demonstrate that a low-rise design arranged around public courtyard open space would relate far better to the surrounding neighbourhood, particularly the Regency Terraces to the west, and would fit much more comfortably into that traditional pattern of development than the grossly over-developed urban conglomeration of 11 tall blocks of flats currently proposed. 

 And it would still contribute 366 new dwellings to the city’s housing stock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This layout shows that a an alternative scheme  is perfecty possible which would make a very significant contribution to the Council housing targets, while resolving the majority of the objections to the Berkeley/St William Homes planning application.

 

Unlike the Berkeley Group’s proposals, it would be a low-rise lightweight design using sustainable timber construction so as to minimise the weight of the buildings and to maximise the sustainability of the construction. It would drastically reduce the amount of disruptive digging and excavation required into the contaminated ground below. 

No buildings would be higher than 6 storeys – ie – no Tall Buildings.

These low-scaled buildings are laid out around generous linked public courtyards open at the southern end to the views over the sea. The two Council-owned parcels of land at the northern and southern perimeters of the site are included within the development area.

They would provide 366 new flats, 60% of them being family units of 2 and 3 bedrooms.  This is a significant number.

This is the breakdown: 2 Studio flats, 141 1-bedroom flats, 152 2-bedroom flats and 61 3-bedroom flats.

Although the total is less by 167 units than that provided by the massive Berkeley blocks, much of this difference is accounted for by fewer studio and 1-bedroom flats.  There would be twice as many 3-bedroom flats for which the demand is highest.

For comparison, here are the comparable figures for the Berkeley proposal: 26 Studio flats, 162 1-bedroom flats, 306 2-bedroom flats, 36 3-bedroom flats.

5.13 Why is the Berkeley proposal such a massive urban conglomeration of tall blocks?

There is no valid reason for the Berkeley/St William design to be as high, massive and dominant as that proposed – other than Berkeley/St William’s ambition to maximise their profits. 

On the former Gasworks in Worthing, the same developer proposed a design which is much lower in both height and density, and far less massive and dominant in character than its proposal for Brighton.  Why can’t a similar approach be taken in Brighton?

Worthing Gasworks proposal.

 Its context is illustrated by being set within a 3D model – which isn’t the case for the Brighton planning application

Why not?

       

 

 

The other major and crucial advantage of the Alternative Vision described in para 5.12 above, is that its reduced height and courtyard-based layout would have a much more friendly and sympathetic relationship with the pattern of the historic Regency terraces and crescents along Marine Parade to the west, which would enable a new development to fit politely between those Grade I heritage assets and the locally listed Marine Gate building to the east.

 

6. Landscape – views and viewpoints

6.1    The planning application documentation is noticeably weak in addressing the question of viewpoints.  Virtually all of them have been selected specifically to minimise the visual effect this conglomeration of tall buildings will have from those mostly distant viewpoints.

Reading through the forty Heritage, Townscape and Visual Impact Assessments produced by City Designer, one would get the distinct impression that this massive conglomeration of tall buildings would be virtually invisible from everywhere. 

But that methodology completely fails to acknowledge or recognise that most people experience an area by walking around it at relatively close quarters.

6.2    A visual experience is not just experienced from a few individual distant viewpoints. It is the accumulation of experiences as one walks around the immediate area.  The Grade 1 Listed buildings of Kemp Town and this massive urban conglomeration are only a few yards from each other. Of course there will be a “jarring” visual impact.  (see para 7.2 below)

The Planning Inspector for the Cromwell Road/Palmeira Avenue scheme commented:             

 [Para 22]. “However buildings are not generally experienced from fixed viewpoints, they are seen in a sequence of views as the viewer moves through the locality.”

 This would seem to be obvious.  This “huge urban conglomeration of tall buildings” is only a few paces away from the Grade 1 Listed buildings of Arundel Terrace.  The views below show this clearly.  They are both taken from exactly the same place.  You will be able to experience both without even moving an inch.

 2 views from exactly the same place.  On the left the Grade 1 Listed Arundel Terrace and the French Convalescent Home.  On the right  –  looking towards the Gasworks site    

Where are these views above shown in the forty Visual Impact Studies documents submitted by the developer?

The methodology used in the planning application which only discusses views from certain limited and mostly very distant viewpoints is utterly flawed. 

People walk around a neighbourhood and experience buildings as a sequence of images at close quarters. 

The viewpoints appear to be have specifically chosen to paint this massive conglomeration of tall buildings in the most favourable light conceivable.

To claim that the high rise buildings of the Gasworks site will not have a detrimental effect on the settings of Grade 1 Listed Buildings is inaccurate and dishonest.

6.3    Much reliance in the visual assessments included in the application documentation is placed in contrasting the visual impact between the Gasworks proposal and the 2006 Marina proposals, in particular the tall 40+ storey tower block proposed for the latter. 

Now that the recent Marina development has been turned down at appeal, and because the 2006 proposal is now most unlikely to be financially viable because of the much deeper piling now known to be necessary, the arguments that the Gasworks proposals would be acceptable in the context of the tall buildings proposed in the previous Marina development proposals are no longer relevant.

Clutching at straws?  The 2006 Marina scheme is not a relevant factor in determining whether this proposal should proceed or not.

We find it amazing that City Designer, a supposedly reputable firm of planning consultants, has to resort to such misleading subterfuges to try to persuade presumably competent planning officers that this huge development of tall buildings will actually be almost invisible.

6.4    It is noticeable that the Visual Impact documentation prepared by Berkeley’s consultant is very careful to avoid showing any views in which both the tall buildings proposed for the Gasworks site and the listed Kemp Town buildings appear together.

We have previously drawn attention to the lack of a 3D model which would clearly show the difference in scale, massing and character between this conglomeration of tall buildings and the surrounding area.

See para 5.11 above.

The visual impact of a conglomeration of 10 closely packed tall buildings on a clifftop site so close to the historic Kemp Town Grade 1 listed buildings will inevitably have an enormous visual impact on the views from a wide variety of viewpoints around the site. The failure to demonstrate this relationship is telling.   

This view from Wilson Avenue to the north shows how massive and intrusive the development would be.  The gasometer is the equivalent of 9 storeys high.  Building D, just to the south of the gasometer is 12 storeys – three storeys higher. The others are all Tall Buildings over 18m high well over in many cases. They are massively out of scale in this low rise suburban setting.

This is a similar view of the completed development copied from the Visual Impact document ES VOL 2 No.31.  You begin to get some idea of the inappropriate bulk and massing of this urban conglomeration.

6.5    We have previously drawn attention to the lack of images of a 3D model (Section 5 above), which would clearly show the visual relationship in terms of height, scale and massing of the development, to the nearby Listed Buildings of Kemp Town.  This omission also applies to the visual relationship towards and from the South Downs National Park just to the north of the site.

 

7. Lessons from the Marina Appeal

7.1    The Marina Appeal decision dated 11 November 2021 refusing planning approval for the Marina development included the following decision criteria:

Para 27 p.5: “….the proposal at issue would undoubtedly be a major intervention that would have a significant status this being in respect of those designated heritage assets near the site, that is Lewes Crescent (Grade I), Chichester Terrace (Grade I), Arundel Terrace (Grade I), and Sussex Square (Grade I), the Kemp Town Enclosures (Grade II Registered Park and Garden), and the Kemp Town Conservation Area, and the linked Esplanade Cottages (Grade II), Old Reading Rooms (Grade II), and Temple (Grade II), and the Madeira Terrace, Madeira Lift and Shelter Hall buildings (Grade II*) and the East Cliff Conservation Area….…the proposed development would have a very strong visual presence in some views of, and/or from, these important buildings and spaces, with implications for how they are experienced as heritage assets (IR11.28). The proposal would not therefore respond to its context in a positive way, and would not reflect the ambition of these groups of buildings and spaces (IR11.29). The very strong visual presence of a significant, but incongruous, complex, in some views of, and/or from these important buildings and spaces, would be jarring (IR11.29), in particular in respect of Lewes Crescent.”

7.2    These criticisms of the jarring relationship of the Marina proposals to the Heritage Assets in the immediate vicinity which were key to the Marina planning refusal and were endorsed by both the Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State. Even more relevant and jarring to those same Heritage Assets will be the tall, densely packed buildings of the Gasworks development proposal which will be physically much closer to them.

7.3    In fact the impact would be even greater, given that they would be at the same elevated level on the clifftop as most of those Heritage assets, be completely out of character and scale with them, and will be be far more visible from higher ground and the SDNP, in an arc of views from the west, north and east than the Marina was.

7.4    These grounds alone would be sufficiently strong to justify refusal of this planning application. The Council must take note of the precedent set by the Marina appeal decision, and reject the Gasworks planning application.

 7.5    Other paragraphs in the Appeal Decision have parallels with the Gasworks planning application, in particular the statements relating to conflicts with the UDF:

Para 22 p.4: “The Secretary of State agrees with the Council that the updated NPPF gives even stronger weight to the need to follow local design guidance…. However given the significance of the areas of conflict, and the resultant degree of harm, particularly in respect of heritage, harm to the setting of the  National Park and living conditions, he considers that there is conflict with the newly adopted UDF, this being a material consideration in its own right.

 Para 23 pp. 4-5: “…he considers that the proposal is not in accordance with the aspects of the National Design Guide dealing with context, layout, form, appearance and public spaces.”

 If these are valid reasons for rejecting the Marina Appeal, they are even more valid when read in the context of the Gasworks site in a much more prominent position on the cliff top, and a much closer physical relationship to the Heritage Assets listed in 7.1 above.

The Marina Appeal decision has emphasised the importance of good design as set out in the latest version of the NPPF, together with the implications this has in determining the appropriate balance of benefits and harm.  The Marina appeal decision has set a precedent by which all future and current planning applications for large-scale developments such as the Gasworks should now be judged.

 

8.  Decontamination and public health issues

8.1    Decontamination and its implications for public health during and following the construction period, is a material planning consideration as well as a Health and Safety issue.

The Berkeley Group want to get planning approval for this development before they make any detailed proposals for how they will remediate the contaminated ground below the site, which they want to be approved as a condition afterwards.

There have been a number of developments on other Gasworks sites carried out by Berkeley/St William where severe health problems have been experienced by local residents following air contamination during construction.  The most serious of these has been at Southall, Middlesex. Some residents there suffered severe health issues after the Berkeley Group’s Gasworks development.  They still do. Problems have also affected other sites around the country.

In view of these health issues, it is vital that this process is under the control of the Council, or, if it does not have sufficient in-house expertise, it should be subjected to independent review – paid for the developer – both in the planning and construction phases.

Berkeley St William’s proposals could drastically reduce the control the Council would be able to exercise over these vitally important de-contamination issues.   

8.2    Concerns about how the decontamination process is carried out and monitored is very much a matter of public concern and there is a strong case for using the public consultation process on the planning application as a way of drawing attention to those concerns including the monitoring of the remediation process.

It is essential that the decontamination procedure is carried out with full transparency and is discussed with the community – not decided behind closed doors after any planning approval has been granted.

8.3    The developer needs to show that that they are able to remediate the site to be suitable for the proposed end use. For reference, The National Planning Policy Framework published most recently in June 2021 see:

 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-planning-policy-framework- -2

This states the following:

[Para 183]. “Planning policies and decisions should ensure that:

a) a site is suitable for its proposed use taking account of ground conditions and any risks arising from land instability and contamination.

This includes risks arising from natural hazards or former activities such as mining, and any proposals for mitigation including land remediation (as well as potential impacts on the natural environment arising from remediation);

b) after remediation, as a minimum, land should not be capable of being determined as contaminated land under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; and

c) adequate site investigation information, prepared by a competent person, is available to inform those assessments.

[Para 184]. Where a site is affected by contamination or land stability issues, responsibility for securing a safe development rests with the developer and/or landowner.

 [Para 185]. Planning policies and decisions should also ensure that new development is appropriate for its location taking into account the likely effects (including cumulative effects) of pollution on health, living conditions and the natural environment, as well as the potential sensitivity of the site or the wider area to impacts that could arise from the development.”

8.4    This makes it clear that planning policies and decisions are crucial to the issue of de-contamination and emphasises the need to ensure that the decontamination process is properly evaluated at planning application stage and is regulated during the construction stage.

The Council must be in control of this process – not the developer.

8.5    We note that the Statutory Consultee, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has previously expressed several concerns about the Environmental Statement included in the planning application.  Its final statement is a damning indictment.

“There is insufficient information contained within the planning application to be able to fully assess the impact of the proposed development on public health”.

8.6    We have seen a report commissioned by AGHAST (one of the members of the Brighton Gasworks Coalition), by Professor Roy M.Harrison, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Birmingham.

The report discusses the problems experienced by residents at Southall who experienced the health issues there (previously referred to), resulting from the Gasworks development carried out by the Berkeley Group.  His main conclusions are,

  • that a carefully planned remediation of the site is essential,
  • the on-site processing of contaminated soil in a soil hospital will lead to an increased health risk.Processing should be carried out off-site.
  • Independently conducted air monitoring carried out during the whole remediation period is essential.
  • Monitoring should continue for at least one year after the site is remediated and capped, both at a local residential location and at a site further away for comparison. It should continue for a longer period if problems were experienced.
  • Contaminated soil should be promptly removed from the site and disposed or treated off site, so as to minimise local toxic air pollution.
  • The alternative development option of capping the site prior to a different end use should be given careful consideration. This implies that a lightweight low-rise proposal as suggested by the Alternative vision described in para 5.9 above should seriously be considered as a better solution for this site.
  • There are precedents for appointing an independent adviser to oversee the remediation process. This would serve to ensure the use of best practice if the site remediation proceeds.

The Council, in the role we are recommending it should play in controlling the remediation process, must ensure that these recommendations are carried out in the interests of protecting the health and well-being of the residents of East Brighton during the remediation and ground construction stages of any development on the Gasworks site.

 

9. Affordable Housing

Late in the day, the applicant acknowledged the obligation to provide 40% “Affordable” Housing as required by the City Plan.

It has claimed that the FVA prepared by its consultants, demonstrates that “the maximum viable amount of affordable housing is nil”.

The Gasworks Coalition has taken alternative expert advice on the way this FVA has been calculated.

This raises serious questions about the accuracy of Berkeley’s FVA.

Key questions are:

  • It fails to account for potential benefits to the developer, such as improved cash flow, less risk on finding purchasers and reduced marketing costs.
  • It fails to take in to account those benefits of central government grants for remediation/tax allowances, etc.
  • The value of land, used in the FVA calculations appears to be overstated and incorrectly calculated in the FVA submission.
  • Some construction costs, indicated as “abnormal” should not be considered as abnormal to a developer’s team, which is highly experienced in dealing with former gasworks sites.
  • The Applicant’s FVA3 has been calculated using the same methodology as FVA2, despite the comments previously made during the 2023 consultation period.
  • The FVA calculations are based on current prices, but the build is unlikely to be complete before 2030/2031, so the viability would be subjected to rising build cost inflation, variations in interest rates, changes in housing and commercial prices, etc.

This raises 2 potential issues:

(i)   That an FVA Review Mechanism must be written into the S106 agreement, and considered by the LPA’s Planning Committee before approval. We are concerned that BHCC has an insufficiently robust process to ensure an FVA review is a truly independent exercise, and achieves correct results, of equal benefit to the local community and the developer.

 (ii)  Those urgently in need of housing may, therefore, have to wait a further 6 to 7 years, in addition to the 3+ years of “consultation” and abortive design work.

  • The affordable housing proposes a mixture of affordable rent and shared ownership – which both relate to market prices rather than local household incomes. So these would still be vulnerable to the growing gulf between rising property prices and (almost) flat-lining incomes.
  • A development of this size will impose a considerable strain on local infrastructure (e.g. traffic, parking, public sewers, schools, health facilities, parks, libraries, arts venues, etc). It is, therefore, unacceptable that the Applicant has made no allowance for developer contributions in the form of S106 or Community Infrastructure Levy).

The suggestion by Berkeley/St William that Homes England funding might provide the 40% affordable housing means that they will not be committed to use its own funds and indeed will have no risk but guaranteed sales and associated profit for any ‘affordable’ housing included.

However there appears to be no guarantee that Homes England funding will be provided.   Berkeley/St William are attempting to obtain planning approval without making ANY actual commitment to affordable housing whatsoever.

What happens if the suggested agreement with Homes England falls through after planning approval has been granted?  What happens then?

Brighton Gasworks Coalition has commissioned independent analysis of the applicant’s Financial Viability Assessment assumptions. It includes taking into account the applicant’s improved profit in relation to these “affordable” dwellings. We understand that the Brighton Gasworks Coalition will make this analysis open to the public. 

Will Berkeley/St William act in a fully transparent way and make their own FVA public knowledge too?

 

10.   Traffic, Pollution, Parking and infrastructure

  • The development is likely to result in well over a thousand new residents concentrated in a very small area.  This can only increase the following problems:
  • Further disruption of the already congested A259 heritage seafront road from additional traffic generated by the proposed development, during both the construction stage lasting several years and in its completed state.
  • Impact on residents of Kemp Town Estate and adjacent streets to the north and east caused by additional traffic. Eastern Road is already at capacity at peak times, for both private and public transport.
  • Pollution levels will increase resulting from increased vehicle usage (private / public / commercial)
  • Pressure on parking and public transport. Additional vehicles from the proposed development, both private and commercial will be competing for limited existing car parking spces in the surrounding area.
  • Pedestrian safety concerns from increased traffic.
  • No proposals are provided in the planning application for additional medical, education, recreational facilities, parking, or public transport, all of which are fully utilised by current residents.
  • It is unacceptable that the Applicant has made no allowance for developer contributions in the form of S106 or Community Infrastructure Levy).
  • As this high-density development is on the edge of Brighton, in what has been, to date, a low density housing area, and is not near a rail station, it has less transport links and amenities than other development site in and around the city.
  • If planning approval is granted, the Council must reserve powers under planning conditions for the funding of these vital infrastructure aspects.

11.   Community involvement and preferences

11.1 A community survey was carried out during the summer of 2021 to ascertain the views of residents and to record their concerns about the Berkeley Group’s proposals and their preferences in terms of what sort of development they would like to see on the Gasworks site.

The majority of people who responded lived within half a mile of the site.

The survey respondents rejected the Berkeley proposals overwhelmingly.

When asked how East Brighton could be improved, there was a range of responses, with the most popular being:

– additional local amenities (there are few GP surgeries in the area since the Kemp Town one closed),

– making the area more joined up

– increased social housing and affordable housing.

11.2 Community involvement in the planning process. 

There have been two public consultation exercises carried out on the Berkeley St William proposals .

In both cases the Brighton Society and many other groups lodged responses including those societies and community groups comprising the Gasworks Coalition.

No responses were received from Berkeley, and our concerns were ignored.

We can only conclude that Berkeley regarded the public consultation process as a tick box exercise and had no intention of seriously involving the community.

Since then there have been three different proposals submitted under the planning application BH2021/04167.  Well over a thousand objections have been registered on the Council website.  As far as we are aware there have been only two meetings, one in March 2023 and the other in August between Berkeley and AGHAST, representing the local community.  The meetings ran out of time and failed to discuss many issues included on the agenda.  Although it was anticipated following those meetings that another meeting would be arranged, it never happened.

A further meeting between Berkeley and representatives of local groups and amenity societies, to which local Councillor Gill Williams was invited, was arranged recently for 8 December 2023 at Hove Town Hall.  It was cancelled by Berkeley at the last minute. 

As the third proposal had already been lodged with the Council on 1 December without anyone outside the Council and Berkeley being aware of that, why on earth was that meeting arranged in the first place?  Several representatives of local community groups all wasted a lot of time preparing for (and actually attending at Hove Town Hall at the appointed time), before we learned it had been cancelled. 

But that typifies the appalling quality of public consultation we have all experienced since Berkeley/St William appeared on the scene in July 2020.

11.3 The Council needs to be aware of of the debilitating impact of a third swathe of 207 documents containing complex planning and technical information, in the form of what is effectively a third consecutive planning application, being imposed on local resident and community groups for a third year in a row.

There is no way that individuals, community groups and amenity societies  can adequately process and comment on the myriad of complex issues raised by this overload of documentation within a consultation period of 30 days. 

The whole process seems deliberately designed to overpower the ability of local residents of the city to respond anywhere near adequately to what are frankly totally inappropriate development proposals which will have a major detrimental impact on their lives, the quality of their local environment, and the urban heritage of the city.

It highlights the way in which wealthy and powerful developers can resort to bullying tactics by constant grinding down any opposition to their proposals.  This has to be a factor which must be considered in evaluating this planning application.

 

12.   Concluding Statement

For all the reasons stated above we strongly object to this appalling development. Rarely have we encountered so much opposition amongst local residents and others from the wider city area to a particular development proposal. 

It is incomprehensible to us that the city planning department, in its lengthy pre-application discussions with Berkeley St William apparently failed to appreciate the utter inappropriateness of this huge urban conglomeration of buildings on the Gasworks site, or to anticipate the high levels of community concern that this proposal would create and has caused

It looks very much as though Berkeley/St William bullied the Planning Department into attempting to change Council planning policy in their favour in order to allow tall buildings on the Gasworks site.  That’s when Berkeley/St William were preparing their first public consultation in July 2020 at the same time as the Council was preparing its draft Urban Design Framework which was introduced three months later in October.

How else can one account for the the Council’s consistent refusal over a period of nineteen months to provide to us the information requested under several FOI requests about the correspondence between the Council and Berkeley/St William during the first half of 2020?

Could there have been some connection`?  There was certainly a complete silence in response to our FOI requests.  We can draw our own conclusions.

Our attempts under the Freedom of Information Act requesting details on the pre-application meetings and correspondence between the Council and Berkeley St William have utterly failed owing to Council intransigence and delaying tactics.  Results from these could well have given rise to further grounds for objection from the Brighton Society and others.

Effect of this planning application process on the local community

This is the third consecutive year the public has had to respond to highly detailed proposals in a very limited consultation period time – particularly as in two of those years it coincided with the Christmas/New Year period.

It has been impossible, even for relatively committed and knowledgeable amenity societies such as The Brighton Society, to evaluate the sheer number of documents which have been submitted in support of this planning application.  There have now been hundreds of documents included in the planning application, many of which are very lengthy with over 100 pages of technical and complex subject matter, much of which is not always clear or easily comprehensible. 

How the average member of the public can get anywhere close to an appreciation of this proposal and its implications for them within the limited 30 day consultation period is an issue which needs to be further debated after this third planning consultation period ends.

We are aware that important material is daily becoming available on the comments section of the Council website, not only from individuals and organisations, but also from Statutory Consultees such as Historic England.

In the meantime we request that the serious issues raised by the Brighton Society in this objection document are taken fully into account in the preparation of the Officer’s report to the Planning Committee.

 

 

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