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live webcast : Planning Committee Wednesday 17 September 2014

As the Circus Street development comes before the Brighton and Hove City Planning Committee this afternoon (Wednesday 17 September), with a recommendation for approval, Civic platform guest blogger, Selma Montford, offers an alternative view of the scheme that will drive a coach and horses through the City Plan

The proposal for 20th Century slums on Circus Street Brighton goes to the planning committee at 2:00pm on Wednesday 17 September at Hove Town Hall. The Council is recommending permission is granted for its own scheme.

The Circus Street project is a public/private scheme between developers Cathedral Ltd, Brighton & Hove City Council and the University of Brighton, the 3 landowners of the site. So the Council is recommending that permission is granted to a plan from which they will benefit, an application to which it has added its name and given its support.

Our only hope is that the councillors who sit on the planning committee will be embarrassed at being asked to support such a greedy, unhealthy scheme.

  • 460 (reduced from 486) student rooms will result in so much noise that it will make life for the residents of the nearby Milner flats unbearable.
  • Student rooms have a fixed glazed oriel (1 side clear for daylight / 1 side obscured for privacy) with a separate vertical ventilation slit, to stop the students looking out. The openable vertical ventilation slit will allow as much noise to escape to the Milner flats as any other type of window.
  • Noise on the site as a whole will be an insurmountable problem.
  • Around 900 people could occupy the Circus Street site, an area of about 7,000 sq.m, i.e. 1,518 bedspaces per hectare. This density is higher than is found in any other parts of the City, and is 6 times higher than that proposed dwellings for Toad’s Hole Valley.
  • The residential housing is arranged in 4 blocks around a courtyard which measures 54 metres from north to south and 14 meters from east to west, is a minimum of 20 metres in height – like a deep sunless canyon. This is unlike the images of sunny courtyards which have been circulated by the developers, published in the Argus (10 and 12 Sept ’14) and exhibited in the café at the University of Brighton.

Apparently the Circus Street scheme cannot meet the BRE guidelines for daylight and sunlight and at the same time fulfill the development brief.

Could it possibly be that the development brief is asking for too much development on the site?

The BRE daylight and sunlight standards are not mandatory – just guide lines. However most responsible local authorities would be expected to ensure compliance unless there were exceptional reasons not to do so. So if Circus Street does not comply, the implication is that the daylight and sunlight standards provided are abysmal.

The office building should be omitted from the plans and the empty Amex building in Edward Street should be retained instead.

The Council’s own City Plan and its Tall Buildings Policy, limits the height of buildings in the Circus Street area (and which is not an area designated for tall buildings), to approximately 6 storeys.

Why then did the proposal include the following tall buildings?

  • Student flats: three buildings of 9 storeys – 25m high : one building of 12 storeys (twice the height limit)
  • Residential flats: 2 buildings of 6 storeys – but 22 – 23m high : 2 buildings of 7 storeys – 25m high :2 buildings of 8 storeys – 26m high :1 building of 10 storeys – 32m high
  • University Library: 6 + storeys but 19 – 29m high
  • Office building: 7 storeys but 34.75m high.

This drives a coach and horses through the City Plan and leads to buildings which are out of scale and sympathy with neighbouring areas – particularly the Valley Gardens Conservation Area – but also the Milner flats to the east of the site.

We believe that developers of nearby sites are already watching with interest to see whether the Circus street site gets permission for this grossly overdeveloped scheme, and which would result in a blue print for their own schemes.

The following amendments to the master plan have been proposed by the developers:

1 Library: half a floor omitted.

2 Block H: accommodation 1 floor omitted. Student housing set back from the west on new top floor. The width reduction is minimal.
Student Tower’ Block H part 6, part 13 storeys. Recessed 13th storey

3 Block F, student accommodation, moved away from Milner Flats by 1m . This is not enough to reduce the noise for the residents of the Milner flats.

Comparisons have been made between the height of this block and the 1960s Albion Hill Flats – inference is that they are the same height as the new reduced height block H.

So is the new test for good design based on hideous Albion Hill Flats – rather than the tall buildings Policy?

4 University of Brighton Library (6 storey equivalent) part 7 storey. Half a floor omitted.

5 142 residential apartments consisting of 1 and 2 bed units in 4 buildings (Building A part 7/part 10 storey, Building B part 7/part 8 storey and Buildings C and D both 6 storey); with ancillary retail café/restaurant and/or commercial within the ground floor of part of student cluster

The above reductions in height are minimal, do not solve any of the problems of overdevelopment, overcrowding, noise, excessive heights of the buildings and dark sunless canyons between the buildings. The alterations to the scheme are mere tokenism.

Let us hope that members of the planning committee are not taken in or feel comforted by these proposed minor changes to the plans.

All our original criticisms of the scheme remain: overdevelopment, buildings too tall on a site adjacent to the Valley Gardens Conservation Area and in an area not designated for tall buildings, unacceptable noise levels, unneighbourly scheme for residents of the Milner flats, and an unnecessary office block.

Selma Montford
Honorary Secretary
Brighton Society
12 September 2014