Gasworks development : BHCC Failures Chapter 8 – Failure to recognise the importance of the City’s Urban Heritage
This is the eighth article in our series of ten Chapters on BHCC failures relating to the Gasworks development. Read on……
The first four instalments have already been published on the Brighton Society website. These are:
Chapter 1 : Introduction
Chapter 2 : The attempt to extend the Marina Tall Buildings zone on to the Gasworks site
Chapter 3 : Failure to respond to multiple Freedom of Information requests.
Chapter 4 : Failure of both the Council and the Berkeley Group to respond to the Gasworks Coalition’s concerns about the public consultation.
Chapter 5 : Failure to comply with the Council’s own rules in validating the planning application
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.
Chapter 7 – Failure to clarify the status of the Planning Application in Feb 2022
Here is Chapter 8
The Planning Dept has consistently failed to recognise the value of the important Grade 1 Listed Heritage assets in the close vicinity of the Gasworks site.
From the Head of Planning’s statement in February 2021, “that the Gasworks site was within an area which Council policy states is suitable for Tall Buildings,“ her subsequent assertion that the Grade 1 Listed buildings of Lewes Crescent were too far away to be affected by the Gasworks development, to the Heritage Team’s totally inadequate response in their comments displayed on the Planning Portal, the Planning Department has ignored and failed to recognise the importance of Brighton’s urban heritage in its assessment of the Gasworks development during the course of all its pre-application discussions with Berkeley St William.
It has failed to take account of the importance of heritage assets recognised by the Planning Inspector in his comments in refusing the appeal against the Marina development:
“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)
If these considerations were crucial in his verdict on the Marina, how much more so would they be when applied to the Gasworks proposals, located so much closer to the listed heritage assets he lists, and situated on a much more prominent and elevated site on the cliff top overlooking the Marina?
Historic England in its advice to the Council said,
“You must give great weight to heritage asset’s conservation (and the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be). You should also be satisfied that any harm is clearly and convincingly justified and outweighed by the delivery of public benefits…
However we consider that the development proposal will cause some harm to heritage significance of the Kemp Town Conservation Area because of its height, massing and density. This is because its dominating presence in views from the Conservation Area and its dense city centre form and character would further hinder appreciation of of the origins of Kemp Town as an independent settlement surrounded by open space and sea…..
Therefore to comply with the requirements of the NPPF we advise you to consider; whether harm has been avoided or minimised, where possible, (NPPF 195) for example through lowering of the height of the tallest elements and a reduction in the density of the scheme and then whether there is clear and convincing justification for any avoidable harm that remains (NPPF 200)……
In the weighing [against public benefits] great weight should be given to the conservation of the Conservation Area irrespective of the level of harm (NPPF 199)
Historic England has concerns regarding the application on Heritage grounds. We consider that the issues and safeguards outlined in our advice need to be addressed in order for the application to meet the requirements of paragraphs 195, 199, 200, 202 and 206 of the NPPF.”
Save Britain’s Heritage said,
“We object to this application for two principal reasons.
Firstly we consider the scale, massing and density of the apartment blocks proposed to be fundamentally at odds with the prevailing character, scale and and topography of East Brighton and substantially harmful in heritage terms. We consider the current plans fail to demonstrate how a dense cluster of eleven tall buildings, some up to five times the prevailing height and scale of the existing urban fabric, can be considered as conserving or enhancing the setting and therefore significance of the Kemp Town Conservation Area (KCA) and the high number of grade I listed heritage assets which it is designated to protect.
Furthermore, we do not consider the scale and density of these proposed blocks to positively reflect local distinctiveness, as required by local policy. As a result we find these proposals to be substantially harmful and therefore unjustified in heritage terms.
Brighton & Hove City Council’s adopted City Plan (2016) Policy CP15 states that:
“The city’s historic environment will be conserved and enhanced in accordance with its identified significance, giving the greatest weight to designated heritage assets and their settings […] The Council will further ensure that the city’s built heritage guides local distinctiveness for new development in historic areas and historic settings”
National policy for the the protection of the nation’s historic environment states that conservation areas and listed buildings are designated heritage assets with the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act (1990) and NPPF (2021) requiring their conservation be given great weight in planning permission decisions. Similarly, paragraph 200 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2021) 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. Substantial harm to or loss of: assets of the highest significance, notably grade 1 and II* listed buildings…. Should be wholly exceptional.”
Given the high grade of heritage assets impacted by this proposal, and the inevitably significant intrusion any buildings of this height and number proposed would have in this location, we do not consider the high policy threshold of “wholly exceptional” to be satisfied in this case.
Secondly we we consider tall buildings such as those proposed to be contrary to local planning policy. The design criteria for Development Policy DA2 set out in the City Plan Part 1 is that developments should,
“demonstrate high quality design which positively contributes to the varying character of existing residential and commercial properties in the area to create a cohesive and attractive urban environment.”
However the site is not in a Tall Buildings Area or or corridor defined in the Council’s 2004 Supplementary Planning Guidance Note 15: Tall Buildings and the City Plan. It is considered unsuitable for tall buildings because of its situation on a cliff, proximity to heritage assets, and the relative heights of the buildings surrounding it. We note that there was an attempt to extend the existing Tall Buildings Area to include the gasworks site, but that this was unsuccessful. There is therefore no official Council policy which would permit or justify tall buildings (above 18m tall) on this site.”
By contrast with these comments from the two leading national Heritage organisations, the Council’s Heritage team in the 2nd paragraph of its response said this:
“Identified harm: As set out in more detail below the only heritage asset that would be directly affected by the development is the flint boundary wall….. the wall is identified as a non-designated heritage asset and has been assessed for addition to Brighton & Hove’s local list of heritage assets which is currently being reviewed.”
So in the opinion of the ‘heritage experts” in the Council’s Planning Dept responsible for protecting the City’s urban heritage, the fate of the flint wall is the primary consideration. And they haven’t even yet got around to designating it as a heritage asset after probably about 200 years.
Words fail us. The Heritage Team need to take a long hard look at themselves.
How could the Planning Dept fail to recognise the harm this proposal would do to Brighton & Hove’s Grade 1 Listed buildings less than 100 yards away from this conglomeration of desnsely packed tall buildings?
How could it fail to anticipate the strength, weight and quality of the opposition to the Gasworks proposals?
It seriously needs to re-consider its priorities.