GASWORKS CAMPAIGN – Latest News
Gasworks Campaign update.
The planning application
The long-awaited planning application for the Gasworks was first made public on December 10th.
It didn’t get off to a great start. Many of the 214 documents comprising the application were initially in a sorry mess. Many of them were complex technical documents over 100 pages long. Dozens of them were untitled.
We wrote to the Case Officer as follows,
“We are concerned…. that the Design and Access Statement had been divided into 16 documents, none of which had any title or gave any indication on the website of the contents of each of those 16 documents…..The situation got even worse when we looked at the Environmental Statement Vol.2. This document has been cut up into 61 sections, not a single one of which gives any indication of its contents. This makes it virtually impossible to be able quickly and easily to find and view the content of all the 61 documents without spending an enormous amount of time.
Even we, who are used to trawling through planning applications, found it confusing and inconsistent. How Joe Public will be able to navigate his or her way through this impenetrable arrangement is beyond us.”
It took a week for the Council to arrange the documentation to make it a bit less confusing. But it still wasn’t very clear. There were still dozens of documents which gave no clue as to their contents.
But the upshot of this mess was that the date when the public consultation officially started was delayed to a week later on 17 Dec. Yes, just before we all downed tools to enjoy our Christmas break. We had to get our objections in by 21 January.
It led to a very hectic few weeks.
Members of the Gasworks coalition of which the Brighton Society is a member, have been meeting every week via Zoom to review and discuss the enormous number of issues raised by the planning application, our responses to all those issues and how best to to organise the campaign on the ground, via social media and using the Brighton Society and AGHAST websites, to get as many people as possible to object to the planning application.
So far as we can tell there have now been around 650 objections lodged with the Council. For comparison there were about 130 objections lodged against the huge Marina development which was recently turned down at appeal.
If you would like to lodge your own objection and haven’t yet done so, here is the link to our page which tells how to object and provides you with lots of potential objection material:
The Brighton Society objection runs to 30 pages. That’s probably a record for us. You can read the full objection on our website – www.brighton-society.org.uk
We have also been in contact with Historic England and Save Britain’s Heritage to inform them of our concerns about heritage issues.
There were so many objections in the few days prior to the end of the consultation period on 21 January, that the Planning Dept was forced to put up this notice on its website, saying that,
“over the last few days we have received 450 letters from people commenting on this planning application. Our team are working hard to scan them, redact personal information and upload them onto the Planning Register. However it is likely to take until the end of next week for all of these comments to be visible on our system”.
In other words they couldn’t cope. It took two weeks or so to get all the recently submitted 650 objections up on the Council website. Perhaps a small measure of our success so far.
Identification of the Brighton Society’s objection
Besides the number of objections, we have had one other small success too. For some years now we have been fighting a battle with the Council to persuade them not to redact information from objections lodged by the Brighton Society. Not only have they redacted (ie blacked out) the name of the Society from our objections but also our address, the name of the signatory – and even worse, they have refused to identify us on the list of objections on its website. So in a case like the Gasworks where there are hundreds and hundreds of objections, ours would just disappear without trace somewhere into the middle of pages and pages of other anonymous objectors.
We asked before Christmas that this policy be changed so that our objection would be identified. It was refused. So we asked again when our 30 page objection was submitted. And this time it was agreed! The Brighton Society’s objection has now been identified on the Council website. And it now stands out in the middle of all the others.
And there is more good news. Save Britain’s Heritage has made an excellently argued objection to the Gasworks proposals. To have the strong support of a nationally recognised heritage organisation such Save Britain’s Heritage is invaluable.
There are two important issues which have emerged.
The first is affordable housing. There is NO affordable housing currently proposed in the planning application. This contravenes Council policy. Under Council rules the application should never have been validated in its current form. You can read more about this under section 9 of the objection.
The second issue is Fire Safety. The Health & Safety Executive has lodged its strong concerns as it appears that the building designs do not comply with new Fire Safety policies introduced in August last year, partly as a consequence of the Grenfell disaster. Section 5.5 of our objection provides more information.
Email to councillors
The Gasworks Coalition has emailed the Head of Planning copied to all councillors requesting that the planning application be withdrawn as it should never have been validated. We are waiting to see what response we get before making a decision on the next steps. One option we are considering is whether to ask the Secretary of State to call in the application on the grounds that planning issues of national importance are involved in both the affordable housing and fire safety issues.
We have had a few responses from councillors including one from Cllr Phélim Mac Cafferty, Leader of the Council, promising that the Head of Planning, Liz Hobden would respond to our concerns.
She did respond to our email, but far from allaying any concerns we had, she has actually increased them. There are so many more questions that her reply has raised that we have felt compelled to ask lots more questions, which we have now fired back to her (again copying our response to all councillors).
What is the current status of the Planning Application?
Our concerns were inflamed even more by the publication by the Council of a statement on the Planning Portal. This seemed to imply – but didn’t say definitely – that the planning process was now subject to the outcome of discussions about further information on design and affordable housing issues being received from the Berkeley Group.
It just added yet another layer of confusion to the situation leading us to ask the following questions:
– What is now the status of the current application?
– Will there be another consultation following further discussions between the Council and Berkeley?
– If so, what would be the start and end dates for the further consultations?
– Where are we in the planning process? Is it stopped? Is it continuing?
– Who is in control of it?
– What is the significance of the March 16 “End Date” set out in the statement on the Planning Portal?
– Are the Council and Berkeley trying to force through a planning approval before the new government affordable housing measures relating to a 25% First Homes requirement come into force on March 28?
– Is that why the planning application was accepted earlier than it should have been, without either a commitment to 40% affordable or without an FVA?
We don’t yet know the answers to all these questions. But the Planning Dept now finally appears to have realised the extent of the opposition to this scheme and have announced a further round of public consultation. Quite what that means is anybody’s guess. We included the following comment in a long list of questions to the Head of Planning;
“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 need a meeting to discuss the answers to our questions
Local councillor for East Brighton ward Nancy Platts, in response to the questions we made to the Head of Planning, contacted her and the Council’s Legal Advisor. Although we haven’t had a reply from the Head of Planning the Legal Advisor made a few interesting comments:
“It is a matter of fact that an unredacted viability assessment for schemes proposing non policy-compliant affordable housing on viability grounds is one of the Council’s validation requirements. This is as agreed by the Tourism, Development & Culture Committee in January 2018. Accordingly a viability assessment should have accompanied the planning application.
However, in the absence of any court order quashing the decision to validate, the validation of the application without a viability assessment does not mean that the application must be held to be invalid and the process halted. Nevertheless, I must stress that the provision of affordable housing will, of course, be a material planning consideration in the determination of the application and the application will not be determined without the viability assessment having been provided. The applicant confirmed, yesterday, that the financial viability assessment will be provided by 16 March next at the latest.”
This shows that it would require a court order to quash the decision to validate. But crucially it does not deny the fact that the decision was unlawful.
It also confirms that discussions on affordable housing are ongoing between Berkeley St William and the Council. We have heard too (on the grapevine), that Berkeley are in discussion with a leading national Housing Association, presumably in an attempt to convince the Council that some affordable housing might be a possibility……..? We shall have to wait and see.
But the intervention from Nancy Platts has resulted in a suggestion from the Head of Planning that a few members of the Gasworks coalition and a few local councillors meet her to discuss our questions. The Coalition has replied to say that we are very happy to have a meeting – but only to discuss the answers to our questions. So we have written again to the Head of Planning as follows, listing 20 questions at the end of the email to which we would like her answers:
Dear Liz Hobden,
The Gasworks Coalition wrote to you on 1 February with a series of questions arising from your response dated 27 January to our earlier email.
Councillor Nancy Platts subsequently approached you to help get our questions answered.
We understand that you offered to arrange a meeting with Cllr Platts, up to two other councillors and a few representatives of the Gasworks Coalition to talk about our questions.
The Coalition has discussed that idea but the consensus view is that, although we would very much like to have a meeting with you, it would be far better to discuss your answers to our questions rather than just our questions, which have already been clearly expressed. We have also taken account of advice we have received from a Planning Consultant we have commissioned.
We have not had any answers from you yet – but we have seen a copy of an email from the Council’s Legal Advisor to Cllr Platts, dated 17 February, which does provide some useful information, in particular that Berkeley St William will provide a Financial Viability Assessment by 16 March at the latest, and following that, a further round of consultation will be carried out.
But otherwise it confirms our view that the validation requirement still stands and should have been complied with. It fails to explain why the application is not ‘invalid’ – stating only that the LPA registered the application despite it being invalid.
We are therefore requesting once again that you provide your written answers to our questions.
Once we have your responses and after a reasonable period to consider them, we would be very happy to attend the meeting you have offered to arrange.
We have set out the questions in the form of a simple list. We hope this format will help you to provide clear answers.
We also note that there are two outstanding Freedom of Information requests in relation to the Gasworks development to which the Council has consistently failed to respond. The status of the first of these (still unanswered after over a year), which requested information on pre-application correspondence between the Planning Dept and Berkeley St William, is currently the subject of a Decision Notice from the ICO, which has given the council until March 15 to provide the information requested.
The other is currently being considered by the ICO following our complaint to them that the Council has failed to provide the information within the required four-week period.
When we receive information on either or both of these FOI requests, we would appreciate being given time to consider the findings before the date of any Planning Committee meeting is finalised. 30 days would seem to us to be a reasonable period.
We look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely, on behalf of the Brighton Gasworks Coalition
Questions from the Brighton Gasworks Coalition: 23 February 2022
- Why was the application validated without either a commitment to 40% affordable housing or a Financial Viability Assessment (FVA)? We do not accept the argument that this gave more time for objections. If that was the case why did the yellow Public Notices put up around the area give a deadline for objections as 14 January?
- Who took the decision to validate the application without an FVA?
– Was it the Planning Dept?
– Was it discussed by TECC?
– Was it discussed with any councillors?
– If so who?
- Was the question discussed with the Council’s Legal Advisor before validation or after?
Or when Cllr Platts asked the question in her email dated 13 February?
- You say Berkeley is being “pushed” to provide its proposals on affordable housing?
Why, given that there was a requirement for affordable housing before the application could be validated?
- We now understand that an FVA will be submitted by Berkeley St William by 16 March at the latest.
– Will it be transparent, unredacted and open book?
– Will it be available for public inspection and comment?
– Will it set out the information in a readable format able to be understood by non-specialists, including all the key variables defined and their sources declared?
- Is the first consultation still proceeding or is it now stopped entirely?
- What discussions are being held with Berkeley? What are the topics being discussed which might result in further amended proposals?
- What timescale is being envisaged for these discussions? Has Berkeley agreed to any timescale?
- What does a “full round of consultation” mean? Is it the same as “further public consultation”? How long is a “full round”. When will this start?
- Who will be consulted again? The public? Statutory Consultees? Amenity Societies? All objectors?
- National organisations such as Historic England and Save Britain’s Heritage?
- What is the current status of the approximate number of 630 objections already lodged?
- Will they still be taken into account in a consultation on any future proposals?
- If new proposals are introduced, will the whole process have to start again?
- Will new objections need to be made to any new or revised proposals?
- Is the reason that the FVA was not insisted upon at the time the planning application was lodged, related to the fact that after 28 March, new government requirements will apply and at least 25% of affordable homes provided will have to be First Homes?
- Was this an attempt to circumvent these new requirements by validating the application before the required FVA was submitted, in an attempt to get the application decided before 28 March?
- If – as now seems highly likely – the application will be decided after 28 March, will the new planning rules referred to in Question 16 then apply?
- Why has the Council consistently for the past 12 months, refused to respond to the Brighton Society’s Freedom of Information Request asking to see pre-application correspondence between the Council and the Berkeley Group?
- Why has the Council recently failed to comply with our Freedom of Information request to see the minutes of three meetings with the Council on viability and affordable housing? These meetings are listed in the Planning Statement submitted by the applicant and should be in the public domain.
We are awaiting her reply.