Gasworks Coalition Objection
This is the Brighton Gasworks Coalition’s objection to Berkeley St William’s second proposals for the development of the Gasworks site in East Brighton, Planning Ref. BH2021/04167.
The Gasworks Coalition includes the following organisations:
Kemp Town Society
Southdown Rise Residents Association
Marine Gate Holdings Ltd
Brighton and Hove
Regency Squares Community
North Laine Community Association
Montpelier & Clifton Hill Association
The Kingscliffe Society
West Hill Community Association
Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum
Objection to plans BH2021/04167 : revised Gasworks proposal
The Brighton Gasworks Coalition strongly objects to the second amended planning application for the Berkeley Group/St William Homes for the Gasworks site Ref BH2021/04167.
To be clear, we are not objecting to the use of this brownfield site for new housing. We are fully in favour of redevelopment on this site, and acknowledge that some people might lend their support to any proposal however bad, which simply cleans up the site and might seem to be an improvement on the current eyesore – no matter how bad that proposal might be, which is what the Berkeley Group/St William’s proposals undoubtedly are.
There is no doubt that in its current condition, the Gasworks site is a blight on the appearance and quality of the local environment, the local community and the wider city as a whole.
It is essential that a well-designed and appropriately scaled housing scheme which will make a significant contribution to the city’s housing needs is built on this sensitive site on the cliff-top above Brighton’s historic seafront.
But the Berkeley Group’s proposals get nowhere near that aspiration, and they do not have the support of the local or indeed the wider community in the city.
Their first planning application for the site attracted well over 600 objections.
This second application does not resolve the major issue of its detrimental effect on the Grade 1 Listed Heritage assets just to the west – or resolve most of the other objections lodged either. The proposed changes to the form and details of the proposed new buildings are merely tinkering around the edge of the problem. The proposal is just too big, too massive, too out of scale and out of character with its surroundings and its sensitive visual situation on the clifftop above Brighton’s historic seafront.
It is utterly inappropriate to its sensitive seafront cliff-top situation and should be rejected outright in favour of a lower, less prominent and more sympathetically designed alternative.
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;
– recognises the changes in government planning policy which will reduce the housing target-driven priorities under which local authorities, including Brighton & Hove, and all over the country, have been compelled to approve regardless of the effect of those major developments on their local communities and their urban heritage;
– relates sympathetically to its heritage setting and,
– provides the housing types and additional facilities that the local community would like to see provided in their area.
The Berkeley St William proposal does none of these things.
We therefore object to this amended proposal as explained below.
Headings. Our objections and concerns are set out under the following headings:
- The Kemp Town Estate – a Conservation Area of National Importance
- Importance of Heritage Assets and Harm caused by the Gasworks proposals
- City Plan Policies and the Urban Design Framework SPD
- National Planning Policies
- Design – height, bulk, quality, fire safety, sunlight, daylight, overshadowing, open space.
- Landscape – views and viewpoints
- Lessons from the Marina Appeal
- Decontamination and Public Health issues
- Affordable Housing
- Traffic, Pollution, Parking and infrastructure
- Community Involvement
- Concluding Statement.
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 heritage 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 This site 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 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 The site is part of 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 which will further enhance the quality of the existing historic urban environment.
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 This 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, given the totally inadequate response of the Council’s Heritage Team to this planning application – see para 2.16 below.
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, and certainly still is in its current state.
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. It is important that another mistake like the Courcel building approval should not be made again.
The Berkeley Group’s proposals don’t come remotely close to achieving that aspiration to maintain the high standards of urban design and plug the gap in a sympathetic and appropriate way.
2.10 Its development proposal, comprising a conglomeration of eleven densely packed tall buildings between 7 – 12 storeys with some lower 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 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 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 more than three miles.
2.12 If this massive densely packed urban conglomeration of tall buildings is allowed to go ahead, the whole experience of that continuous 1.6 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) This applies even more to the effect the Gasworks development will have on the setting of those nearby listed buildings.
2.14 It is totally misleading to claim – as the developer does – that it will not result in damage to important heritage assets. It will stand out like a sore thumb. Not even the hackneyed phrase, a ‘blot on the landscape’ will do it justice.
2.15 In its eagerness to comply with the previous government’s housing targets, the Council, its councillors and its Planning and Heritage officers should not neglect their essential duty to protect, conserve and enhance Brighton’s architectural and urban heritage.
With the relaxation of Government dictated housing targets and the NPPF giving more weight to local design guidance, the Council now has more freedom to make its own independent planning decisions. Here is its opportunity to demonstrate that freedom.
2.16 The Council in its Heritage Assessment comment lodged on the Council website, completely fails 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.
In our view the Council’s Heritage Team needs to take a good hard look at itself and ask itself 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 conglomeration of tall buildings on Brighton’s historic seafront.
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. Yet here we have not just one Tall Building but a whole complex of them, mostly way higher than 6-storeys.
As part of the draft Urban Design Framework SPD introduced in 2020, 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.
This development 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 SPG15 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 Appeal Hearing last year 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’s 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 the 11 tall buildings as proposed here at the Gasworks.
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.”
These statements are discussed further in Section 6 – Landscape, below.
3.3 We think we know why they have been ignored. It is because the draft UDF introduced in October 2020, included a draft policy 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 FOI requests
The Council has consistently refused to release the content of any of its correspondence with the Berkeley Group despite several FOI requests and letters to the Council from the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO).
This refusal to provide the information requested under the FOI Act can only mean that as a result of those discussions between Berkeley and the Council, 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 tall buildings 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 proposed conglomeration of tall buildings.
These 11 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 SPG.
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 or 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.
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. In fact it just dismisses them as of no consequence.
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 5.9 below.
5. Design issues – height, bulk, quality, safety, sunlight, daylight, overshadowing, open space, density and architectural design quality.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) places great emphasis on quality of design.
In our view (and that of many many others), 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 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.
5.1 The Brighton Gasworks Coalition is 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.
5.2 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.
5.3 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.
This massively overdeveloped proposal for the Gasworks site doesn’t have the support of the local community or indeed the 14 city-wide amenity societies and community groups (the Gasworks Coalition), which united in their opposition to the previous and current proposals.
As well as the the sheer scale, massing and height of the proposed buildings, the size of the proposed buildings increase the risks of deep excavations into highly contaminated ground 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.
These proposals fail at every level.
5.4 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 false 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.
It looks as though the buildings are built down to a cost and not up to the levels of distinction or quality its situation demands. There is no indication of design quality whatsoever.
5.5 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.
If these two sites were to be added to the site area to be devloped, it would result in a lower density and less intrusive design solution, as well as 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.
5.7 Open space – poor design
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.
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?
The overshadowing diagrams included in this second application (they weren’t in the first), show that for most of the year, large areas of the central spine of open space will be in deep shadow for most of the days throughout the year.
It really isn’t an acceptable design for decent standards of public open space.
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.
5.8 Lack of a 3D model
A 3D model of the City showing the heights and layout of existing buildings and streets adjacent does exist.
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 Gasworks planning application documentation?
Did the Planning Dept not request an image of the whole model or ask to see it in full 3D? Fly-throughs are relatively common for larger developments.
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.
Why are there not views of a 3D model from several viewpoints, particularly those close to the development site?
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.
5.9 Alternative Vision
The Brighton 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, to show 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 tall blocks of flats currently proposed.
And it would still contribute 366 new dwellings to the city’s housing stock.
This layout shows that an alternative scheme is perfectly 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 would be 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 would be included within the development area.
366 new flats, 60% of them being family units of 2 and 3 bedrooms would be provided. 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 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.
5.10 Why is the Berkeley proposal such a massive urban conglomeration of tall blocks?
There is no reason for the Berkeley/St William design to be as high, massive and dominant as that proposed. 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
The other major and crucial advantage of the Alternative Vision 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.
6.2 A visual experience is not just experienced from a few individual 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.
The methodology used in the planning application which only discusses views from certain limited viewpoints is utterly flawed. People walk around a neighbourhood and experience buildings as a sequence of images.
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 The first proposal placed much reliance in contrasting the visual impact between the Gasworks proposal and the Marina proposals, in particular the tall tower block proposed in the 2006 proposal for the latter.
Now that the recent Marina development has been turned down at appeal, and because the 2006 proposal is now 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.
That comparison can – and is – no longer able to be made.
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
The visual impact of a conglomeration of 11 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. Buildings B and C, just to the north of the gasometer, are 11 storeys. Buildings F,G,H and I1 to the south and east of the gasometer are all 10 storeys They are massively out of scale in this low rise suburban setting
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 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, are even more relevant when applied to the relationship of the tall, densely packed buildings of the Gasworks development to those same Heritage assets described above.
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 the construction period or even afterwards 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.
This could drastically reduce the control the Council would be able to exercise over these vitally important de-contamination issues. Some residents in Southall Middlesex suffered severe health issues after the Berkeley Group’s Gasworks development there. They still do.
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.
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 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-planning-policy-framework
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.
The Council, in the role that 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
It would appear that the developer has only now recognised that its planning application should include provision for affordable housing as part of this development up to the figure of 40% as required by the City Plan. Homes England funding means the applicant will not be troubled to use its own funds to finance its Affordable Housing obligation; indeed will have no risk but guaranteed sales and associated profit for the 226 dwellings comprising the entirety of blocks A, B, E1, F and I1.
The Brighton Gasworks Coalition has commissioned its own independent analysis of the applicant’s Financial Viability Assessment, data, assumptions, claims and calculations. It includes taking into account the applicant’s avoidance of risk and subsequent improved profit in relation to these “Affordable” dwellings. This independent analysis will be made open to the public.
10. Traffic, Pollution, Parking and infrastructure
The number of dwellings proposed has actually increased in the current proposals. The development is likely to result in about 1,100 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.
– increased pollution levels resulting from increased vehicle usage (private / public / commercial).
– pressure on parking and public transport. Additional vehicles from the proposed development (private / commercial) will be competing for limited existing car parking spaces.
– pedestrian safety concerns resulting from increased traffic.
– no proposals are provided in planning application for additional medical, education, parking, public transport, all of which are currently fully utilised by current residents. Should a scheme be approved, the Council must reserve powers under conditions to return to the applicant for funding for 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 were two public consultation exercises carried out on the Berkeley St William proposals prior to the first planning application.
In both cases many amenity societies and community groups lodged responses including those societies and community groups comprising the gasworks coalition.
No responses were received from Berkeley St William, and their 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.
There was huge opposition to the first planning application. Well over 600 objections were lodged. Yet Berkeley/St William has not significantly reduced the heights and massing of the buildings or recognised the concerns expressed by Brighton’s leading amenity societies and community groups about the damage its proposals will have on Brighton’s urban heritage and historic seafront.
Nothing significant has changed.
The Brighton Gasworks Coalition thinks the Council also needs to be aware of the debilitating effect of a second huge swathe of planning and technical information in the form of what is effectively a second planning application, being imposed upon local residents and community groups for a second Christmas in a row.
It highlights the way in which wealthy and powerful developers can resort to bullying tactics by grinding down any opposition to their proposals.
Given that there are few significant changes in the second proposal, that has to be a factor which must be taken into consideration in the determination of this planning application.
12. Concluding Statement
For all the reasons stated above we strongly object to this appalling development proposal. Rarely has there been as much opposition amongst local residents and others from the wider city area to a particular development proposal.
It is incomprehensible 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. That’s when Berkeley St William was preparing for its 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 Council’s consistent refusal over a period of nineteen months to provide the information requested under several FOI requests about the correspondence between the Council and Berkeley St William in the first half of 2020.
Could there have been some connection? There was certainly a complete silence in response to the FOI requests.
In the very limited time available for public consultation on what amounts to a second planning application – particularly as both coincided with the Christmas/New Year period – it has been impossible for concerned residents and community groups to evaluate the sheer number of documents which were submitted for this planning application.
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 consultation period is an issue which needs to be further debated after this consultation ends.
We request that the serious issues raised in this objection are taken fully into account in the preparation of the Officer’s report to the Planning Committee.
For and on behalf of,
Brighton Gasworks Coalition, comprising:
Kemp Town Society
Southdown Rise Residents Association
Marine Gate Holdings Ltd
Brighton and Hove
Regency Squares Community
North Laine Community Association
Montpelier & Clifton Hill Association
The Kingscliffe Society
West Hill Community Association
Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum