16th December 2016
I recently attended the Planning Committee which gave approval for the three towers to be built on the Anston House site. I have attended many planning committee meetings over the last 25 years and this meeting was by far the most disappointing in that most of the councillors just ignored the concerns of the thousands of objectors and they did not seem to grasp the importance of debating planning issues.
At the beginning of the meeting the local residents group presented a strong case for rejection of the application in terms of overdevelopment, overbearing presence on the surrounding area, detrimental effect on the listed Preston Park and on the houses in Dyke Road Drive. All contrary to numerous planning policies. In addition the percentage of affordable housing was minimal and the amount of commercial space was inadequate. The previous application was rejected for similar reasons so logically there was little basis for this application to be approved.
I expected a debate on whether the new application could be considered to comply with the planning policies but instead we had a rambling discussion on various minor issues and the concerns of the 4200 objectors was never mentioned again. We had councillors who seemed to think they could negotiate directly with the developer in the middle of the meeting. We had questions about the quality of the tiles, traffic, cycle lanes and even sprinkler systems but unlike most of the meetings I have attended in the past no one wanted to examine how this application with its ludicrously high towers could comply with planning policies.
The massive reduction of affordable housing from 40% to 13% was in the end just accepted.
When councillors were asked which way they were going to vote the quality of debate deteriorated even further. Reasons given for approval were a liking of tall buildings; the site has been derelict for years so anything is better than nothing; dislike of the design but something has to be built on this site; we ought to be thankful for 13% affordable homes because its free. Only two councillors mentioned planning policies as a basis for their decision and they both voted against the application.
To add insult to injury the spokesman for the Conservation Advisory Group, Jim Gowans, who had been patiently waiting to speak for many hours was only called upon to speak after a majority of the councillors had confirmed that they were going to approve the application. So we heard about all the concerns of the conservation societies and Historic England – the overbearing presence of the high towers on the surrounding area; the detrimental effect on the listed Preston Park; the overwhelming effect on the cityscape; the precedent for more excessively tall buildings on sites to the north. But of course pleas for councillors to give careful consideration to these important points now fell on deaf ears as the majority had already decided to approve the scheme. Heritage and Conservation issues have certainly been downgraded to the bottom of the pile by this Planning Committee.
The councillors voted for approval and the Chair, Julie Cattell, said that she welcomed the approval, was fully behind the development, and that there would have been no basis for rejection – even though her own deputy voted for rejection and the terms for rejection of the previous application similarly applied to this proposed development.
Many critical questions were never asked or debated. What was the basis for the massive overdevelopment of the site – 230 flats and towers twice the height of any nearby buildings. Why were the issues of scale, height, overbearing impact, important views, overshadowing and overlooking not discussed and why were the policies that cover these issues completely ignored? How could it be acceptable for such high towers to be built up against small terraced housing? Whatever happened to the planning policies that specify that developments had to be sympathetic to the local area. How could the committee meekly accept that 13% affordable housing was acceptable when 40% has been the aim for many years.
Of course the one reason why all these issues were ignored is the desperation of the council to meet housing targets. The developer presumably guessed correctly that packing this small site with hundreds of flats would force the councillors to accept the development. But the result is an application that has driven massive holes in the planning policies. It will create a miserable environment for residents in the adjacent terraced housing and will set a precedent for 15 storey tower blocks to become the norm. The acceptance of 13% affordable housing for this scheme has now set the bar so low that other developers will see this as the percentage they will be able to get away with on any future projects. The council have effectively shot themselves in the foot in terms of achieving adequate levels of affordable housing in the future. This development will not contribute in any meaningful way to solving the housing problems of the city. Instead, the flats will now be marketed as a high class development with uninterrupted views across Preston Park and Brighton. London Estate Agents must already be celebrating. More second homes for the city.
Absolutely nothing to be proud of.