2017: Chairman report to AGM

2017: Chairman report to AGM

IMAGE CREDIT: Moshimo Skylight restaurant , Bartholomew Square

The Chairman’s annual Report is included in this newsletter together with the Agenda and Accounts. They will be taken as read at the meeting, and comments and questions will be invited.

Jeremy Mustoe, Malcolm Dawes,
Valerie Bolton

After the meeting there will be refreshments, followed by a power point presentation by Malcolm Dawes showing sites throughout the City- good and bad – that we have commented on, or which have interested us in some way

We have had another busy year, with upsides and downsides, successes and disappointments.

One downside was the illness which our joint founder and long-serving Hon Sec, Selma Montford, suffered last year, which led to her resignation from the committee. However we are delighted that she has agreed to become President of the Brighton Society, which will ensure her continuing active involvement.

This has led to some changes to the committee and I am delighted that Valerie Bolton has agreed to take up the role of Hon. Sec., and Allan Grainger – a leading campaigner for the Dyke Road Residents’ Association against the Anston House proposal – has agreed to stand for election, having been co-opted during the year.

Anston House
This was a disappointment. We campaigned vigorously against the proposal, and wrote a long detailed objection, including an alternative feasibility study which demonstrated that a low rise, high density scheme was possible for the site: see our February 17 newsletter. But in spite of this and hundreds of other objections, and a petition signed by thousands, it was approved – which led our former chairman, Malcolm Dawes, to describe in a long letter to the Argus “the most disappointing planning committee meeting that he had attended in 25 years”.

Construction is due to start this year, but I believe costs are coming in higher than anticipated.

Hove Library
A success – money was found to keep the museum and library as they are. We were named as being of particular help in the campaign.

King Alfred
Increased costs have also affected the King Alfred proposals, and the developers now claim more accommodation – and taller buildings – will be required to make the sums work. In an Argus article I commented that the whole scheme needs to go back to the drawing board.

Sackville Hotel site
This can also be counted as a success. Following the withdrawal of the dreadful 17- storey proposal to which we had strongly objected, a lower rise, rather bland 9 storey block was proposed. We felt this was still too high and pushed for a better quality design. To the architect’s credit he came back with a much better design – still too high, but stepped back at the top. We made some further suggestions and were gratified to see at the public consultation later that these had been incorporated – except for the height! But, overall, we felt that the improvements were sufficient to make the proposal acceptable.

We have continued our campaign against graffiti in the city, and are beginning to make progress in starting pilot schemes in particular areas. The Regency Square Area Society has started the ball rolling by persuading the Council to let them have some graffiti kits to enable prompt action in painting them out. Its success will depend on volunteer individual householders, unlike the Chichester scheme which is Council run.

CityClean is willing to co-operate in another pilot scheme in North Laine. This has not yet resulted in any action primarily because of a lack of political will and resources as well as a turf war between the “artists” and “taggers.” Currently the taggers seem to be winning.

Graffiti must be clearly divided into two categories – common or garden tagging which most would agree is vandalism, and “art graffiti”, often commissioned by property owners, and encouraged to an extent by its admirers and the Council, however inappropriate the location.

For tagging, the main remedy will have to be action by members of the public. It has to be removed repeatedly, and as quickly as possible after it appears.

“Art” graffiti is more difficult as it is popular with some. We are considering carrying out a project to highlight the problem of neighbours, faced with overpowering, and sometimes threatening, building sized paintings in their immediate area, who have no say in the matter. Article 4 directions must specify that house painting is included as otherwise there is no Council control over private owners. The murals are spreading widely and the Council should stop encouraging it. This remains a work in progress.

Old Town Conservation Area (OTCA)
We were on the steering committee for the Old Town CA character statement. Perhaps prompted by this work, Historic England has put the OTCA on its At Risk list. The final version has been approved by the Council and is now included in the Council’s Planning Policy.

City Plan Part 2
We responded to a Council sponsored consultation on the City Plan Part 2. We expect the draft Plan to be issued for further comment in
the autumn.

Moshimo Skylight restaurant , Bartholomew Square
This must be up with Anston House as one of the Council’s worst planning decisions in the past year. We were all caught out by this disaster and there are lessons to be learned. We wrote to the Council to ask why the plans by-passed the planning committee. It was apparently because they did not trigger any of the criteria required. There were not enough objections from local residents – because of course very few people live in the square. Another time we must object ourselves and not rely on a Conservation Advisory Group recommendation to refuse, and the CAG must specifically ask for such applications to go to committee. Astonishingly, Historic England supported it on the basis that the square is a lost cause and “needed something”, in spite of having put the Old Town CA on its At Risk list only the week before.

Madeira Terraces
We are now working with the Regency Society and the Georgian Society to examine the history of structural reports on the condition of the terraces with a view to accelerating progress on restoring them based on a realistic appraisal of what is structurally necessary.

Other projects
We have been consulted and have commented on other proposals during the year including Medina House, the new John Lewis store, the Preston Barracks development, Sackville Trading Estate and Toads Hole Valley. We have also been asked to become involved in a working group which is looking at improving the upper section of Church Street.

Members have attended a number of events during the year, including the Mayor’s tea party laid on specifically for us, which was a most enjoyable and instructive event. The Mayor paid a sincerely felt tribute to the contribution Selma has made to Brighton.

Some of the committee attended a seminar organised by Design South-East, a non-profit-making consultancy which gives pre-planning advice to the Council and developers on significant development proposals. There were some useful statistics on housing demand and densities and the effect of these on housing design. It was interesting to meet representatives not only from Design South-East but also from Historic England and commercial organisations.

We also attended a seminar arranged by Construction Voice on why some construction projects are not happening in spite of having planning approval. These include Circus Street and 27-31 Church Street – and of course King Alfred – where the process seems to have stalled. A point arising was that developers have only imprecise information on costs when they submit their plans. If these subsequently go up, the only solution – short of re-designing – is to chop into the public contribution – either by reducing s.106 commitments, reducing the affordable housing component or, as with King Alfred, looking to increase the accommodation on the site.

Tall Buildings discussion
I was one of five contributors at a Regency Society debate discussing the pros and cons of tall buildings. It was a useful opportunity to put the case for high density, low rise solutions.

Shoreham Harbour Public Consultation:
We commented at length on the Joint Area Action Plan (JAAP) for development in the Shoreham Harbour area. We met the planning officers, but it was a disappointing experience. There was nothing approaching a vision for the future. We are pessimistic about whether any of our comments will be taken on board.

Website and Membership leaflet
We are currently developing the website to improve our on-line profile and attract new members. We are redesigning the membership leaflet, and in future will be producing newsletters more regularly, aiming at 3 per year.

Other issues
There is no shortage of issues to look at. One major concern is the shortage of affordable housing, and who is buying what new housing is being built – we suspect much of it is investors, second home owners and the overseas parents of students. We need to consider radical solutions, such as building over car parks and commercial properties. We need to know how many affordable homes have actually been built in recent years.

We would welcome help from more of our members with getting answers to these questions and coping with all the other issues which arise.