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To Build or Not To Build?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016 By Phil Graves

Do we really have a choice?

Brighton & Hove city is currently going through a period of change, the results of which could be a significant step toward how the city can cope with future growth plans, as a destination to either live or work and to test general ambition of it’s Council, residents and employers. The Local Plan is shortly to be adopted and this will set the model until 2030 for homes and jobs.

There is a decision making process on various potential developments which will have a huge bearing on the way the city operates, attracts visitors, the infrastructure and to cope with the demands of residents - and it all seems to be happening at once, although that is the way it has been perceived.

Is it a case of the City Council being proactive in trying to solve the problems under the ever changing regime or has it been forced upon them due to years of lack of attention?

If you read the local newspaper, listen to the radio station, jump in a taxi or just engage with your local business, you will hear an opinion on what is happening at the moment. Great topics of debate about new developments, transport solutions, the financial plight of our City Council and more, but that surely has to be good for the City.

“Consultation is key to evolving and it would be a huge mistake if decisions were not allowed to be out in the public domain.”

This brings me to my first issue - why is the decision making process on one of the city’s major projects being dealt with behind closed doors? The King Alfred is a development project like no other and will or should, provide community facilities, alongside housing for everyone to enjoy. Yet public consultation was pretty minimal and the jury is still out as to whether the new scheme delivers on the original planning brief. Design is always a subjective matter, but is this really good enough for our prime seafront? Let us hope there is an opportunity for public consultation with both the Council and chosen developer, to listen to the needs of the paying public. We cannot afford to get it wrong.

“Never underestimate the influence of public opinion.”

The same applies to the need for more housing. The Sackville Tower and the Astoria sites have notably been subject to recent criticism on development proposals. There should be an open debate to find the correct solution and decent quality sustainable design - but lets face it, not everyone is going to be satisfied. The NIMBY’s must wake up to change and both of these sites go a long way to providing homes at all levels of the housing ladder.

The outlying urban sites however, may need to be dealt with more sensitively. Our green spaces do need protection and we must work harder to find brownfield sites which are more suitable for change of use. Protecting redundant commercial buildings in a secondary area is a nonsense when a mixed use scheme with increased housing supply and more modern commercial representation works better. The planning authority must be more flexible with their approach and the current ‘redundancy policy’ supposedly assisting with ‘employment protection’ creates confusion for everyone involved.

Why do we also seem to hold stigma against students and student development? We should be very proud of our city student offer and the fact that it greatly helps us placing the city on the international map. One issue is that of private landlords creating student residences within houses that were built for local families. There is therefore going to be social disruption as the two lifestyles simply do not mix. We should not become anti, but to look for solutions in the form of purpose built student accommodation in the right locations. They offer modern living quarters, good facilities, are secure and well managed - which is more than what you can say for many private landlord houses. It makes sense to build close to existing academic buildings and to create student quarters in areas of the city.

“Not a week will pass without my office taking a call on a commercial property with the individual wanting a city base as they originally studied in the area.”

And Brighton seafront, between the Palace Pier and the Marina, what a disaster area. A total lack of investment for many decades has left us in this position and we must act swiftly and plan thoroughly to resolve the problems - but let us learn from some of the previous mistakes and make time for public consultation and plan for the long term future. A mix of viable uses on the various independent sites can open up some great possibilities for the now closed victorian arches. We do not have an artists quarter, but now maybe the time to create one.

So, an interesting time ahead and one which everyone should positively relish.