Gasworks development : BHCC Failures Chapter 1 – Introduction
Chapter 1 : Introduction
This is the first of ten Chapters detailing the Brighton Gasworks Coalition’s serious concerns about Council Failures in the way the BHCC Planning Dept has handled the Berkeley/St William Group’s Gasworks development proposal.
The ten Chapters will be serialised on the Brighton Society website over the coming weeks.
The Chapter headings are:
Chapter 1 : Introduction (you are reading this currently)
Chapter 2 : The unlawful attempt to 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
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
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
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
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
Rather belatedly at the end of January 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
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 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
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
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. There are now 986 objections to Berkeley/St William’s proposals lodged on the Council’s Planning Portal.
Our many other concerns will be discussed in much more detail in Chapters 2 – 10.
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 is being published in 10 instalments on the Brighton Society website.
Look out for our subsequent chapters 2 – 10 which will be published on a weekly basis over the coming weeks