The Sad Future for Brighton’s Historic Georgian Manor House
In our November 2022 newsletter we asked “Will Moulsecoomb Place be swallowed up by high rise tower blocks?” Sadly the planning committee approved the planning application and Moulsecoomb place will indeed be surrounded by tower blocks.
Moulsecoomb Place is a very historic Brighton building dating back to the 11th Century. The current Manor House was constructed in 1790.. Attached to the rear of the house is a timber framed cottage dating from around 1500 or possibly earlier. Next to this building is the 16th Century Tithe Barn. All the buildings are listed with some Grade 1 and are probably the oldest buildings in Brighton
All will change now with huge tower blocks of up to 15 storeys dominating the area with the manor house and barn converted for commercial use.
We are sure that when the site is brim full of high rise buildings many residents will say how can this have happened? So we thought that we could at least provide a record of the process that approved of this awful development.
The council’s Parks and Gardens Department used Moulsecoomb Place as their headquarters when the Department had a national reputation with Ray Evison as their Director of Parks responsible for the immaculate gardens on the sea front and all the tree planting and flowers beds in the parks.
In 1993 Brighton University purchased Moulsecoomb Place and its grounds. In the following years Halls of Residence were built in the old gardens. Brick construction, 2 storeys and surrounded by a high flint wall to replicate the original kitchen garden wall. A design sympathetic to the Manor House in terms of height, appearance and not even visible from the front of the Manor House. The Tithe Barn was converted to house the University Children’s Nursery. Expertly carried out in consultation with the staff. A substantial investment by the University.
It was a very successful conversion that was still working well, until two years ago when the University’s Directorate told the Nursery Staff that it was to suddenly close within months due to financial losses. Not surprising following two years of Covid Closures.
Of course, a reason for closure of the Nursery may well have be down to the announcement last year that the site was going to be developed. The proposal to demolish the existing 18-year-old Halls of Residence and convert the barn for commercial use seems to be a follow up to the awful collection of towers now nearing completion to the south. So, a follow up on this tiny piece of land behind Moulsecoomb Place must have been a great temptation.
The existing Halls of Residence are well built and to demolish an 18-year old building goes against all the current aims of the construction industry to avoid demolishing buildings as new buildings create excessive carbon emissions caused by the manufacture of the materials for new buildings.
The Planning Committee considered the application at its meeting on April 5th. The meeting was not an impressive performance – better described as a threadbare process.
Held in the council chamber at Hove Town Hall with councillors spaced wide apart and a minimal number of council officers. There is no public gallery. Any member of the public that wishes to attend in person has to be invited by a councillor well in advance of the meeting. The council’s web site warns that an invite may nor ensure that a person can attend as the room has only restricted space for those wishing to attend. It is odd for the council to impose these restrictions on access at a time when Covid restrictions have been lifted elsewhere – theatres, cinemas, trains and even Doctor’s Surgery’s. The absence of a public gallery removes a basic form of accountability and leads to a very insular atmosphere at the meetings.
The committee meeting should have been attended by 10 councillors. Five councillors did not attend. Two gave no reason for not attending, one gave apologies for not attending and two arranged substitutes. So not exactly a committee meeting with experienced planning councillors.
There were some legal and planning staff present at the meeting who reviewed the application using a PowerPoint presentation of the drawings and text. The recommendation of the Case Officer was to Grant the application.
Councillors had a few questions, many with regard to conservation issues. The conservation officer was nominated to provide additional information using zoom as he was located elsewhere. It was not clear as to where he was speaking from, perhaps in a nearby room in the Town Hall or more than likely he was sitting at home. Not an ideal situation as he had no opportunity to interact with documentation as that was controlled by the staff in the council chamber.
The debate mostly centred around details of the application. There was little mention of the significant objectors to the scheme and only minimal mention of the scale of the buildings and how the tower blocks would affect the setting of the manor house.
Councillor Theobald asked whether the manor house would suffer reduced sunlight as the application did not include any analysis of sunlight for the manor house. The Case Officer said that the new blocks were too far away for them to prevent sunlight reaching the manor house. Case Officers should perhaps not believe all they are told by developers. Block D is not that far from the manor house and is positioned between south and-south west of the manor house. Some simple calculations would show that the manor house and barn will be completely shaded in the afternoons from November to January and partially shaded from October to February. The barn, scheduled for conversion to a pub, would in fact be completely shaded from October to February – not a cheerful place to go for nearly half the year.
There was no mention of the carbon footprint of the new buildings and the waste of demolishing a quality building less than 20 years old. Surprising that the four Green Party Councillors seemed to have so little interest in the huge levels of carbon dioxide that would result from new buildings. The Chair, Leo Littman mentioned it as an aside in his summing up saying the new buildings would be more energy efficient – minimal compared to the carbon dioxide resulting from the new build.
Even the Planners at the City of London now have a policy of new planning applications having to consider retention of buildings before consideration of demolition and new build. Yet The Green administration that was running the City’s planning in April showed so little interest in the high levels of Carbon Dioxide that would result from new buildings.
When the councillors were asked to give their views and voting intentions all the councillors were very positive about the application, some saying it was an improvement on what was there and the heights of the blocks were mostly dismissed by saying “we’ve got to provide housing so it might as well go here”. The only councillor who was unhappy about the 15 story tower block was Cllr Theobald so she decided to abstain from voting on the main application.
A webcam is provided so the planning committee debate can be viewed at a later date. But the quality of the production is truly appalling. The sound is about 10 seconds adrift from the images on the screen so it is very difficult to work out who is saying what. To confuse matters even more there are subtitles but many words are incorrect and the speakers are shown as numbers and not their names. So understanding any of it is almost impossible.
The whole process took 70 minutes with no votes for rejection and most of the councillors fully approving of the application. The favourite phrase was we need more housing so it’s got to go somewhere so it might as well be here. Moulsecoomb Place should be regarded as one of the gems of Brighton and you would have hoped that the planners and councillors would have done all they could to ensure that the site was protected for future generations. Sadly not the case – just somewhere to stuff some more housing blocks.
Councillor Littman, the chair, gave a brief speech a the beginning of the meeting presumably because he foresaw his departure from the council at the coming election. He said he had received valuable advice when he took on the job a chair. It was essential to carefully consider all the details of every application because you had to remember that approving an application would mean those buildings would still be there in 50 years’ time. I guess many people in just 5 years’ time will be completely mystified at how anyone could have approved this awful development.