Gasworks development : BHCC Failures – Failure to involve the local community – Civic Voice Case Study
This is the ninth article in our series of ten Chapters on BHCC failures relating to the Gasworks development. Read on……
The first eight 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
Chapter 8 – Failure to recognise the importance of the City’s Urban Heritage
Here is Chapter 9 – Failure to involve the local community – Civic Voice Case Study
In July 2021 The Brighton Society was invited by Civic Voice, the national association of Civic Societies of which the Brighton Society is a member, to show how the Society engaged with the wider community to form the Brighton Gasworks Coalition.
This was part of Civic Voice’s continuing campaign to improve community engagement in the Planning process. The paper below set out our response:
Brighton Society engagement with the wider community:
Brighton Gasworks Coalition campaign
In July 2020 developers Berkeley/St William Group announced their plans for the re-development of the former Brighton Gasworks on a prominent site overlooking the Marina and the sea, and just to the east of the Grade 1 Listed Kemp Town Estate.
The proposal consisted of a conglomeration of tall buildings between 10 – 15 storeys with a few lower blocks of 5 – 6 storeys along the western side – see image below. 600 – 700 new dwellings were proposed.
We sent our critical comments to the developer and published them on our website: https://www.brighton-society.org.uk/brighton-society-response-to-the-public-consultation-on-the-development-of-the-brighton-gasworks-site/
A group of local residents meanwhile organised a campaign against the proposals and made contact with us after reading our scathing criticisms.
This group subsequently named themselves AGHAST. Their concerns were based on a number of issues, not only the sheer scale of the development in relation to the surrounding low-rise residential streets, but also and very importantly, the health and contamination risks to the local community which developing a former Gasworks site would create. There were well-documented problems at other sites around the country in particular at Southall Middlesex, where severe health problems are being experienced by members of the local community.
After the consultation period ended we kept in contact and assisted AGHAST with their campaign wherever we could.
But in early January 2021 things moved up a step. Our two groups met via Zoom, and using the Brighton Society’s network of contacts with other amenity and community groups throughout Brighton & Hove, we made contact with other groups to canvass support in the campaign against Berkeley/St William’s proposals.
We were surprised and gratified by the response. Within a week seven groups, including the Regency Society (the other leading amenity society in Brighton), the Kemp Town Society, the Montpellier and Clifton Hill Association, the Regency Square Area Society and the Edward Street Neighbourhood Action Forum, met to discuss the campaign.
Within another week, these seven were joined by a further six groups, the Brighton & Hove Heritage Commission, the North Laine Community Association, Rottingdean Heritage, Marine Gate Holdings Ltd, Southdown Rise Residents Association and the West Hill Community Association.
We issued a joint statement summarising our concerns about the Berkeley/St Williams proposals which was sent to the Berkeley Group and to the City Council. You can read it here:
Immediately afterwards the Kingscliffe Society joined our coalition and two more groups, the Kingsway and West Hove Residents Association and Due East, a local community group joined us, so there are now sixteen member groups who are widely spread across the city from Rottingdean in the east, to Hove in the west. We are currently in discussion with three other community groups.
We now call ourselves the Brighton Gasworks Coalition. The intention is that we will continue as a coalition, in order to support other groups who oppose similarly out of scale and out of character development proposals which affect their neighbourhoods and communities.
Imminent planning applications expected for major developments are the Gateway Hove proposal in West Hove which will include several buildings of 8 – 10 storeys as well as a tower block of 20 storeys. Another imminent proposal is expected for over 200 new homes on the Brighton General Hospital (BGH) site which includes Listed Buildings and other conservation assets.
The Coalition will discuss these proposals and any resulting group campaigns will be termed the Hove Gateway Coalition or the BGH Coalition etc.
The Gasworks Coalition meets via Zoom every week and all group members are sent the agendas and invited to the meetings. Minutes are kept and distributed to ensure maximum transparency, involvement and sharing of information.
Coalition representatives have just had a meeting with Council officials including the Executive Director of Economy, Environment and Culture, the Assistant Director of City Development and Regeneration and the Chief Planning Officer, at which we detailed our concerns, particularly about contamination, heritage and sustainability issues.
We presented an alternative low-rise proposal arranged around a series of streets and courtyards which would provide a large number of new homes in a form, scale and character which would be acceptable to the local community.
We hope that the Council will recognise the strength and breadth of the opposition to the current Gasworks redevelopment proposals as well as the strength of the arguments we made at our meeting.
The extent to which they do so – or feel able to do so – will no doubt become evident in due course when the planning application is expected later in August.
But it is hard to see how “serious community involvement in the planning system” could be better demonstrated than by the Brighton Gasworks Coalition’s efforts to date in the pre-planning stages.
Such a widespread coalition of sixteen amenity societies and community groups is unprecedented. It is intended that its influence with decision-makers in the city will be proportionate to its widespread support throughout the communities of Brighton & Hove.
We do not expect the Berkeley Group to make any significant changes, and we will continue to structure our campaign strategy for objections and publicity during the planning application stage, and to prepare key documentation for what we think will be the likely outcome – either a planning appeal or a public inquiry.
END of RESPONSE TO CIVIC VOICE INVITATION
As a postscript to this submission we were subsequently invited by Civic Voice to meet with Griff Rhys-Jones, Civic Voice’s President, to update him on our campaigns and to take him on a short tour of the City.
We had an animated and lengthy discussion and we trust he went away with a better understanding of the issues and problems facing the city, particularly those affecting the threats to its urban heritage.
We fully support Civic Voice’s campaign to give local and community groups a formally recognised and stronger voice in the planning process.
As we trust the preceding Chapters illustrate, the Council has failed to take into account the views of the City’s community groups and amenity societies.
It has consistently refused to engage with us, it has consistently failed to respond to our questions and our Freedom of Information requests.
It has consistently appeared to put the the interests of the developer above those of the community.
Only when the Council changes its priorities will the stranglehold over planners and the planning process currently exercised by large and powerful developer interests be tamed, and the interests of the local community recognised and taken account of, in order to achieve a better city focused on the interests of its residents and its heritage.