Filling the (housing) gaps

Brighton and Hove need thousands more homes but where can they be built? Roger Hinton looks at some potential opportunities – and the reasons why potential may not be fulfilled.

Every month, plans are submitted for new homes to be built alongside, behind or even on top of existing buildings. Planners have recently been considering, for example, a proposal for a small home on a site currently occupied by two garages behind Russell Square (below).

These efforts to provide much-needed new homes are welcome. Some will be refused permission, with good reason, but most will get built – but they won’t solve Brighton and Hove’s housing problem.

To do that, the planners need to think big, which is what they have been doing.

Early drafts of the city plan proposed a whole new neighbourhood at Toads Hole Valley in Hove. In spite of local objections, the council approved the idea. But the city plan’s final approval by central government will depend on the views of the government inspector.  She said that Toads Hole Valley was not enough. More of the urban fringe should be used for housing.

So the planners took another look and found places all around the edge of the city where homes could be built on green-field sites. Thanks to local pressure, including some from the Regency Society, most of the politicians agreed.

But planners don’t build houses – developers do. Now that the sites have been identified, applications have started to come in and, not surprisingly, developers want more homes per site than originally intended.

At Meadow Vale (top right), for example, just north of Rottingdean, the planners suggested  45 new houses on a fairly small site. The outline application currently being considered is for an expanded site with 100 homes. Likewise, the planners suggested 12 houses on land off Falmer Avenue in Saltdean. There is a current application for 36.

Undoubtedly, there will be similar cases. Each will need to be judged on its merits.

We have considered both Meadow Vale and Falmer Avenue and supported them –  the latter promises well-designed modern houses with plenty of communal open space. Meanwhile, away from the fringe, a controversial site in central Rottingdean has become available.  It is the playing field of the recently closed St Aubyn’s preparatory school, which has been bought by a housing developer.

The planners are preparing a planning brief for the whole site, including the school buildings and garden. The draft brief suggests that the playing field should be retained as public open space because there are important strategic views across the field and because it forms a buffer between the historic village and surrounding suburban development.

This sounds attractive but there are two problems. The first is that public open space needs maintenance and the council does not have the money to do the job. A wealthy philanthropist could, of course, step into the breach, but that’s probably not a sensible planning assumption.

The second problem is that the developer may apply to build on the playing field.  Even if the planners say no, the developer could well win an appeal. Otherwise the land might be left unused, providing neither homes nor public open space but merely an unkempt magnet for anti-social behaviour.

The Regency Society’s view is that this land could provide homes in an attractive location. A condition of planning permission could ensure that a significant part of the site remains as public open space that is maintained by the freeholder.

Meanwhile other major housing sites, including Toads Hole Valley and the gas works near Black Rock, have been identified for housing but nothing is happening.  What can the planners do to get them moving?

This is the question that the Regency Society will be putting to planning officers at a discussion forum. We’ll let you know their answer.

• See Garden squares lend inspiration for more on the St Aubyn's site.

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