Gasworks development : BHCC Failures – Summary of lessons to be learned
This is the tenth and final article in our series of ten Chapters on BHCC failures relating to the Gasworks development. Read on……
The first nine 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
Chapter 9 – Failure to involve the local community – Civic Voice Case Study
Here is Chapter 10. –Summary of lessons to be learned
At the heart of the problems highlighted by the Gasworks development is the lack of Community involvement in the Planning Process.
By the time the public became aware of the proposals for the Gasworks site, it was far too late.
Meetings had been ongoing in secret between the Council Planning Dept and Berkeley St William for some months prior to the announcement of the first public consultation in July 2020.
By then the basic components of the design had been agreed between the Council and the developer:
- Tall buildings up to 15 storeys high, up to 700 new dwellings;
- Total disregard for the likely reaction from the local community.
- Disregard for its own planning rules – not for the last time either – in unlawfully attempting to use the draft Urban Design Framework to permit tall buildings on the Gasworks site.
- Total disregard too for the effects on the Grade 1 Listed buildings of Kemp Town only 100 yards away, and the array of high quality heritage buildings all the way from Brighton Pier in the west, to the listed St Dunstan’s in the east.
- No insistence on any affordable housing to be included in the 700 or so new dwellings.
- No recognition of or apparent concern about the developer’s appalling record of decontamination of other Gasworks sites – for example in Southall, Middlesex.
The Council has included a Statement of Community Involvement in its Planning Policy documents.
The first two paragraphs of this Policy Document say:
“The council is committed to effective consultation, to open, accountable local government and effective community leadership.
Strengthening community involvement is a key part of the government’s planning reforms. This document sets out the standards for consultation on the planning documents that will be prepared to form the new development plan for the city; Brighton & Hove’s Local Development Framework. The document also sets out how we consider planning applications. Our approach to community involvement in planning is to enable the local community to say what sort of place they want to live in, at a stage when this can make a significant difference. Your involvement is important to ensure that new plans deliver sustainable development and reflect the kind of city in which you want to live.”
This statement highlights the final failure of the Council to live up to that aspiration in practice.
Throughout this whole sorry saga until very recently we have run into a wall of silence from the Council and a failure to involve the community.
Far from engaging with the community the Council initially,
- deliberately and persistently refused to listen and act upon our concerns;
- consistently prioritised the interests of the developer above those of the community and residents of the city;
- refused to respond to multiple Freedom of Information requests;
- ignored almost all of our emails expressing our concerns;
- shown an unprecedented degree of incompetence in processing the planning application in accordance with its own rules and protecting the interests of the public.
We trust that the information about the Council Planning Department’s failures set out in these ten articles on Council Failures proves those criticisms beyond any reasonable doubt.
We sincerely hope that the lessons learned will lead to significant improvements in Council performance and community engagement for future major planning and development proposals.
The ten papers on the Council Failures were written between February – March 2022 following the initial planning application made in late November 2021.
Following well over 600 objections to that application a second, amended proposal was lodged by the developers Berkeley/St William a year later on November 22 2022. This failed to respond to the vast majority of the objections lodged against the proposals. There are now almost 1000 objections on the Council’s Planning Portal.
Berkeley seemed sufficiently concerned by the continuing opposition to their proposals to have suggested a meeting with ‘a few’ members of the Gasworks Coalition, to have a ‘meaningful conversation focussed around planning matters’.
A meeting was held on 17 March 2023 attended by Berkeley, the council Planning Dept, Cllr Bridget Fishleigh and six Gasworks Coalition/AGHAST representatives.
Concerns about affordable housing, the Financial Viability Assessment and ground contamination were discussed; though on the agenda, there was no time in the meeting to discuss concerns about tall buildings policy, wind speeds, Freedom of Information requests, and inadequate public consultation, but the door was kept open for further discussions. Subsequently Berkeley made submissions in writing setting out its position on these issues. No consensus emerged from the meeting or any indication that Berkeley or the Council would change their positions in any significant way.
Further meetings were suggested but nothing has been set up in the following weeks and months.
We are not holding our breath. It could just be Berkeley’s way of finally ticking the box labelled “community involvement”. But given that Berkeley first introduced their proposals in July 2020 why did it take almost three years before they finally agreed to talk to the local community?
But in the unlikely event that further meetings might persuade Berkeley St William to seriously think again, it may be worthwhile to continue the dialogue.
As the Gasworks Coalition’s objection to the amended planning application argues, the recent refusals on Appeal of development proposals both for the tall buildings at the Marina, and the development on the corner of Palmeira Avenue and Cromwell Road in Hove, together with the Government’s relaxation of housing targets and emphasis on principles of good design – as well as (so far), the lack of a commitment from the developer to provide any affordable housing – mean that there could well be a good chance that planning approval would be refused if and when it is eventually considered by the admittedly new (and inexperienced) Council planning committee.
If that were to happen – where would that leave Berkeley St William? They – and the Council planning officers – have already spent three years trying to push this massively unpopular proposal through against the wishes of the local community.
The likely answer – unfortunately – is that Berkeley would probably appeal to the Secretary of State – whoever that may be by the time it happens – which given the current contradictions and confusion in government housing policy could well result in a totally unpredictable and probably unsatisfactory outcome.
There is no question that the city would benefit from the use of the brownfield Gasworks site to provide new housing and employment. Everyone agrees on that.
It is not unreasonable to insist that the Council, the developer and the local community work together to come up with acceptable proposals to achieve this. Enough time – 3 years now – has been wasted by Berkeley and the Council in trying to bulldoze through development proposals for the Gasworks site which are unacceptable to the community.