notes from JK

Royal Alex conversion plans approved

Today I spoke to the Planning Committee about the site of the old Royal Alex Hospital, and how the proposals before them were imperfect but a decent compromise compared to all that had gone on before.

You will be able to view the speeches and deliberations on the webcast site soon (it takes about 24hrs to become available).

Yes neighbours on all sides are affected. There’s less affordable housing than I’d like. There’s no GP surgery. The new build designs are not as good as I’d like. The Victorian villa is being demolished. But overall the main building has been saved, there are decent section 106 contributions, many changes have been made to the plans to accommodate neighbours’ concerns and there will be some good green space on the site.

The plans were approved and I’m relieved. The site will not be decaying for much longer, Taylor Wimpey have said they are keen to start work quickly. The sooner it’s over with the better.

current affairs

Royal Alex complete demolition plans withdrawn!

It’s a crunch week for me — working on the council budget, a raft of exciting Open Knowledge Foundation work plus the planning applications for the site of the old Royal Alexandra Children’s hospital coming to Planning Committee this Wednesday.

Today I was informed that finally Taylor Wimpey have completely given up on their scheme to totally demolish the existing buildings on the site. For at least four years they have been presenting applications depending on razing the whole site — which the clear majority of the community opposed. In 2010 they submitted a new complete demolition scheme along with, for the very first time, a conversion scheme.

The full back story can be followed in my previous blog posts but most recently both Green MP Caroline Lucas and I had separately written to Taylor Wimpey’s CEO asking for them to drop the divisive and unwelcome complete demolition plans. Today, only a day before the hearing at planning committee, officers have confirmed that the demolition plans have been withdrawn.

So only the conversion scheme remains to be considered. Already a victory for the many residents and their associations who have worked so tirelessly over the years, as well as planning officers, to secure a better outcome for the site. The conversion option isn’t perfect but we’ve come a LONG way from what was on the table four years ago.

Click to read the submission to the Planning Committee I penned on behalf of Green councillors for the two wards the site borders (PDF).

notes from JK

Planning updates: Mitre House + the old Royal Alex

For those Brighton residents interested in the redevelopment plans for Mitre House and the old Royal Alexandrea hospital sites, read on…

Mitre House

An application (ref BH2010/01966) to convert part of the building from (disused) offices into a budget hotel was pulled from a planning committee agenda at the last minute. Officers had recommended refusal due to the lack of any transport plans in the proposal. However at the eleventh hour some transport studies appeared from the applicant. Officers are now studying these in details – to my untrained eye the applicant is claiming that the change from office to hotel will result in a significant reduction in journeys to the area, which I find very hard to believe. Transport isn’t the only issue with this application so I hope these late reports won’t distract from the wider impacts a hotel could have on this community. We’ll probably see a revised officer report come to committee in November. Until then officers are still receiving objections, if residents wish to submit them.

Meanwhile a new application (ref BH2010/03122) has just been lodged by the owners. This is to extend the southern block of Mitre House by at least a storey to create more flats. This will probably cause more shading for some households. I’ve not yet viewed the detailed plans as they’ve only just been lodged.

Planning application online lookup.
(I cannot link directly to applications online due to an irritating legal disclaimer you need to agree on the planning register. It is a goal of mine to get this pointless click licence removed!)

The old Royal Alexandra Hospital

Applications to demolish all the buildings on this site, including the landmark main Lainson building, have been refused several times by the planning committee – and upheld by the planning inspector. Taylor Wimpey, who own the site, are now trying again.

Strangely they are planning to double their costs by lodging two applications. One is another completely new build proposal slightly tweaked from the previous ones that have been refused. It meets the 40% affordable housing requirement in council policy, has a doctors surgery and so on. However none of the old buildings remain, despite residents, councillors and officers all clearly stating a preference for at least some buildings being retained.

The second application retains the main Lainson building and replaces all the others with new build blocks virtually identical to those in the demolition proposal. There is no doctors surgery in this and initially no affordable housing was mentioned. However after some strong words about this approach, including this letter from Sven and I, Taylor Wimpey are now floating figures of 12-13% affordable housing being possible in this scheme. This is an improvement, but still a very long way from the 40-50% we need to see in developments for this city.

With both applications there remain issues with the quality of the design for the new build plus shading and overlooking for existing residents on all sides of the site.

I don’t think the all new (demolition) proposals have any chance of being approved. Taylor Wimpey should focus on improving the conversion application. They’re never going to please everyone, but there’s much more latitude for meeting the majority of the community’s needs with a good conversion scheme than anything else.

I’m told we’re weeks away from Taylor Wimpey formally submitting something, so let’s see how they play it.

notes from JK

The Old Royal Alex site: A letter to Taylor Wimpey

This evening my colleague Sven Rufus and I sent this message to Taylor Wimpey. We’ve spent too long trying to get Taylor Wimpey to engage constructively with the community and the council’s adopted planning brief for the old Royal Alex site. They haven’t taken on board a single word we’ve said.

To: David Brown – Land and Planning Director
Taylor Wimpey South West Thames

Dear David Brown

Thank you for the invitation to participate in another meeting with you and your colleagues at Taylor Wimpey.

We have met and corresponded with you, your colleagues and contractors on many occasions in the hope of finding a positive way forward for the site of the old Royal Alexandra Children’s hospital. However these discussions have never led anywhere, you consistently have refused to take on board any of our suggestions to engage with the community or prepare plans centred on sympathetic conversion of the key buildings.

The planning brief is the preferred option for the council and the community. It is very clear in its requirements. We still hope you will offer an application that meets them.

Until then, we will see you at the Planning Committee meetings, and if necessary any further appeals you decide to lodge.

Cllr Jason Kitcat & Cllr Sven Rufus
Green City Councillors for Regency Ward, Brighton & Hove City Council

notes from JK

Old Royal Alex Buildings saved!

Jason in front of the old Royal Alex hospital

Yesterday was a good day for local democracy. Local residents and historical societies agreed that the main building (“Lainson building”) at least should be saved and that the proposed scheme, which depended on demolition, was nowhere near good enough. Thankfully councillors on the planning committee agreed and overruled the officer recommendations to refuse permission to demolish or build.

TaylorWimpey, the developer behind the scheme, have not conducted themselves particularly well throughout this process. For example at the committee hearing yesterday they claimed there were 150 letters in support of their proposals. In fact not a single letter was received in support, but many were received in favour of the doctors’ surgery finding a new home, which TaylorWimpey proposed to be in their scheme. They have continually tried to use the issue of the surgery as a fig leaf to cover all the many other failings of their schemes (I’ve lost track of how many revisions we’ve been through, this is the second refusal at committee).

You can read the letter I helped draft in opposition to the scheme (PDF) on which I based my comments when I spoke to the committee. You can also see the whole committee meeting in video online too. I’m delighted the Alex lives on and I hope we can now see a scheme worthy of the site.

UPDATE: My press release on this has now been posted, and The Argus has quoted a great comment my Green colleague Cllr Paul Steedman made at the meeting.