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The Planning Forum, attended by members of the Regency Society and Hove Civic Society committees, meets monthly to discuss planning applications which the Forum considers significant.

Each society forms its own view on the applications and decides what action, if any, to take. 

In our latest meeting we considered the following issues: 

The Brighton Astoria story staggers on

The Astoria building in Gloucester Place, Brighton was built in 1933 to a design by  cinema architect, Edward A Stone. Some Georgian and Victorian houses were demolished to make way for it.  It was designed as both a cinema and a theatre but was operated, mainly as a cinema and then a bingo hall, finally closing in 1997.

In 2000 it was listed (Grade II) and the listing statement describes it as “ particularly unusual in its French art deco style”.

Since then various schemes have been proposed to develop it for office or residential use.  In 2011 demolition was approved together with designs for a six-storey business centre to replace it; the architects were the Conran Partnership.  Most recently a residential scheme was approved on appeal.

The planning authority is currently considering an application to modify this approved plan, including significant changes to the external appearance.

The original building has now been empty for over a decade during which time it has had several owners. Its current condition reflects the neglect it has suffered.  Historic England has indicated that it has no objection to demolition nor to this latest plan. The Regency Society shares this view.  It would be good to see the site re-developed to provide much needed homes.

Two contrasting housing schemes

The Regency Society has tried to support housing development in the city to provide much needed homes.  This month we have looked at two small schemes, both in Portslade.

The first is at 33 Mile Oak Road.  This site currently has just one dwelling.  The proposal is to demolish it and build seven new homes.  The plans show a pleasingly “casual” layout of the site and the houses themselves have a mix of interesting designs. We welcome this increase in housing density on the site and hope that the application will be approved.

The second site is in Clarendon Place, off North Street, Portslade.  At present it is an unattractive industrial area.  The plan is to build a terrace of four, three-storey houses and a small office building. The floor plans suggest that three of the four new houses will be very pokey.  This application poses two contrasting questions. On the one hand, is this rather run-down industrial area a suitable place to build new houses?  On the other hand, could a development of this kind kick-start the re-generation of the area?  Regardless of the answers to these questions, we hope the planners will reject the scheme because of the very poor standard of housing that it offers.

If you are a member of the Regency Society and would like to comment on our positions on any issue we would be delighted to hear from you:  please contact us. Further details of all current planning applications are available on the Council’s website.

The committee is sometimes asked why we advocate higher housing density for some proposed schemes. The answer has several elements - low density developments often lead to isolated communities with few local facilities and poor public transport. Low density new developments are a lost opportunity to address the urgent need for housing in Brighton and Hove, with all the attendant problems of homelessness.

Here David Robson traces the history and makes the case for medium rise housing.

The history of building upwards

In earlier times the heights of buildings were limited by our ability to build. They seldom exceeded three storeys and only monumental buildings reached above the general roofline. But as we became more skilled at making everyday buildings stand up, building heights were limited only by our willingness to climb stairs. When Rome became the first million city during the 3rd C. A.D. land shortage and congestion encouraged the construction of apartment buildings of up to six storeys, the maximum height to which Romans were prepared to climb.

The growth of cities: six storeys across Europe

Such heights were seldom matched during the Middle Ages, however, and it was only with the growth of cities during the 19th C. that height of residential buildings again began to increase. As cities grew, their physical area was limited by the reach of transport systems and, as a consequence, densities and building heights increased. In cities across Europe, such as Paris, Rome, Berlin and Vienna, six storey apartment blocks became the norm. Post-Haussmann Paris developed as a grid of boulevards lined with buildings of five or six storeys. A typical Parisian building would comprise a storage basement, a ground-floor given over to shops, a first floor of offices, three floors of apartments and an additional attic floor. Central Paris became one of the densest urban areas in the world, thanks to the consistent height and depth of its buildings combined with the relative narrowness of the intervening streets. And yet central Paris remains an attractive place in which to live and tourists still flock to enjoy the variety and liveliness of its street life.

Housing density in the Regency period in Brighton

Brighton’s first high-rise buildings appeared already during the Regency. Houses at the north end of Brunswick Square, built during the 1820s, originally comprised a basement, a reception floor, a piano nobile, and three upper floors with an occasional extra attic. The building footprint was about 200 sqm. and a house with its basement and appendages might have had a total floor area of about 500 sqm. A typical plot occupied an area of about 250 sqm. and the net density was about 30 per hectare. However, these houses have since been so sub-divided as to produce a density of around 180 dwellings per hectare. Even when the area of the central garden is taken into account, the density is still more than 100 dwellings per hectare. This can be compared with suburban Brighton where densities of about 25 per hectare are the norm.

Technology takes us upwards

Two 19th C. innovations were responsible removing the cap on building height: the development of sophisticated steel construction and the invention of the mechanical lift. Nowhere was this more apparent than in late 19th C. Chicago where office and apartment buildings broke through the six-floor barrier and rose up to heights of twenty or more storeys. Today, the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, rises 828 meters on 276 floors, while the Shard, the tallest building in the UK, rises a mere 309 meters on 95 floors.

Is there an upper limit?

Now, when building heights are no longer constrained by technology, by cost or by accessibility, we should ask ourselves, not what is possible, but what is desirable. Events such as the Twin Towers disaster and the Grenfell Tower fire have offered salutary reminders of the inherent risks of high-rise living – tall buildings are vulnerable to terrorist attack and to fire. In Hong Kong a friend lives on the 34th floor of a tower block. His view is fantastic, but the water in his fish tank gently slops from side to side as the building sways. And, after a severe typhoon, when the lifts were out of action for a week, he had to climb thirty-three flights of stairs, five-hundred-and-fifty steps, to reach his apartment.

Unfortunately, above certain limits, increases in height fail to produce commensurate increases in density. As buildings grow taller they require more land around their base and greater distances between them. My own studies suggest that there are diminishing gains when heights rise above ten storeys, and often no gains at all above twenty storeys

An example in Hove

I live in Furze Croft, a seven-storey block of flats in Hove. Our block contains 138 apartments of varying sizes and occupies an area of 9,000 sqm (less than one hectare), giving a density of about 150 dwellings per hectare. The total building area is about 11,000 sqm. and the building footprint covers 1,500 sqm. (i.e. about 16% of the site). Residents all own a small basement storage area and enjoy the use of over 4,000 sqm of shared gardens.

In Furze Croft, every flat has a visual link with the ground: lower flats see shrubberies and lawns, mid-height flats look into the trees, upper flats look across the tree tops towards the horizon. Each block has two lifts. However, if both are out of order simultaneously, the walk down to the ground is not impossible. There is a communal heating system and residents benefit from communal maintenance and security. The block requires less infrastructure than conventional housing – the entire street frontage is 100 meters, equivalent to 60 centimetres per apartment. The only drawback is that we don’t have balconies: a room-sized balcony has become the norm in countries like Germany and Switzerland and is an essential prerequisite of successful apartment living.

I’m not suggesting that Furze Croft is a paragon. It is one of a number of apartment blocks in the City, built between the Wars, that seem to offer a civilised way to build much needed homes at higher densities when land is in short supply.

Top image: Rome, Trajan's Market

All images by David Robson. 

Kate Jordan argues that prize winning Hastings Pier is a tangible glimpse of an optimistic future where local communities and councils collaborate with the best designers to produce a new kind of heritage, relevant to our time. 

If the Stirling Prize is a barometer of prevailing winds in architecture then last year’s winner, Hastings Pier, suggests a sober outlook. This stark, timber structure, designed to replace the original Victorian pier, which was destroyed by fire in 2010, is far cry from the ‘starchitect’ designed winners of previous years. Indeed, it would be hard to find more contrasting buildings than Hastings Pier and Foster's ‘Gherkin’ which picked up the prize in 2004. If the high production values of early 2000’s prize-winners trumpeted economic confidence and rejoiced in cutting-edge technology, what does the decidedly low-tech, plain-speaking Hastings Pier tell us about the current climate? And what does it say about the changing role of the architect?

...continue reading "Hastings Pier: so much more than a disappointed bridge*"

The Planning Forum, attended by members of the Regency Society and Hove Civic Society committees, meets monthly to discuss planning applications which the Forum considers significant.

Each society forms its own view on the applications and decides what action, if any, to take. 

In December 2017 we considered the following issues: 

Brighton Square

Society members may remember our previous thoughts about plans for Brighton Square.

There is now a new proposal for this site – read our latest thoughts here.

Toad’s Hole Valley

Plans for Toads Hole Valley have developed with the arrival of the Congar, the company which has now developed a masterplan. Read or response to this here.

Windsor Street

Conservation areas play an important role in protecting our city’s heritage. Windsor Street is in the North Laine conservation area which is characterised by small buildings, mostly of traditional design. A new application seeks to demolish two such traditional style houses with brickwork in subdued colours and replace them with a much taller, bright red brick building in a 20th century style. The existing buildings are themselves fairly recent, but they are somewhat traditional in design, with just three storeys and wooden sash windows. The replacement is an interesting design in itself but is quite out of keeping with its neighbours to the south. With its five storeys, it will overpower them. For these reasons we are asking the planners to refuse the application on the grounds that it will damage the character of the conservation area.

Surrenden Road

Varndean College are hoping to generate funds by selling off a rough plot of land at the edge of their playing fields. The plan is for ten new houses, designed in a way to avoid offending the neighbours on the other side of the road. The proposed buildings are small and low, thus allowing the neighbours to retain their southerly views across the playing fields. We are opposing this scheme as a missed opportunity. The site is large enough to provide significantly more than just ten new homes. We believe that the new buildings should match those opposite in massing and design ambition, rather than hunkering down in the hope that no one will notice they are there. This could be achieved while still retaining some of the neighbours’ southerly views.

If you are a member of the Regency Society and would like to comment on our positions on any issue we would be delighted to hear from you:  please contact us. Further details of all current planning applications are available on the Council’s website.

Toads Hole Valley is by far the largest urban fringe site identified for development in the City Plan. The Council has recently published a “Supplementary Planning Document” for the site. This sets out in more detail how they see its development.

The arrival of St Congar's masterplan

One of the challenges of a site as large as Toads Hole Valley is ensuring development is coherent rather than piecemeal. This now looks more likely with the recent arrival on the scene of development company St Congar. They intend to work in conjunction with the landowners on a masterplan. They will not undertake  development themselves but instead split the site into parcels of land for development by different investors.

...continue reading "Toads Hole Valley: recent consultation"

The Planning Forum, attended by members of the Regency Society and Hove Civic Society committees, meets monthly to discuss planning applications which the Forum considers significant.

Each society forms its own view on the applications and decides what action, if any, to take. 

In November 2017 we considered the following issues: 

Valley Gardens

Society members may remember that we opposed this scheme because it is unimaginative. It was approved by the Council’s Planning Committee in November. The Planning Forum noted that a late addition to the documents shows the related traffic scheme and suggests that southbound traffic travelling down the east side of the gardens will be forced from two to one lane in each direction for a section in Grand Parade. Although this is not a planning matter, it was agreed that the society should write to Gill Mitchell (lead councillor of transport) to ask what traffic modelling had been done to assess how this would affect traffic flows.

29 – 31 New Church Road

We are concerned the proposal for 63 flats plus a synagogue and community buildings on this one acre site could represent over-development. It will be necessary to see more detailed drawings before adopting a firm view.

It was agreed to write to Morgan Carn supporting the spirit of the scheme while expressing possible concern over the high density. We will ask for an opportunity to see the existing drawings again.

Significant proposals

We discussed two significant schemes currently under consideration for the Amex House site and a new tea house for Hove Park. Click on the images below to read more.

If you are a member of the Regency Society and would like to comment on our positions on any issue we would be delighted to hear from you:  please contact us. Further details of all current planning applications are available on the Council’s website.

Sadly, Amex House in Edward Street, Brighton is no more. Demolition is now  complete and the site is surrounded with hoardings.

The Regency Society campaigned for Amex House to survive as one of the best post-war 20th centre buildings in the city without success. We liked the look of the building and the way it was set back from the road, creating a pleasant open space in what is otherwise a lacklustre streetscape.

The new American Express building, which had been hiding modestly behind the old one, is now partly visible above the hoardings. But it won’t be for long if the planners and developers get their way.

...continue reading "New plans for Edward Street"

We need your help with our next project!

The James Gray Collection contains over 7,000 historic photographs. It is the most heavily used service the Regency Society provides. The JGC is a unique resource of historic pictures of the whole of Brighton and Hove. We are fortunate to have it.

However, The James Gray Collection website is now very out of date. It is hard to understand and browse. Many captions are now dated. It is also not suitable for use on modern tablets and phones.

How you can help

We want to give it a new lease of life with a new site. To do this, we need help from a lot of people who know and care about Brighton and Hove and are willing to help update the information about the images. We need help finding all the places in the photographs and recording what is there now. We also need help with other tasks. If you are interested in the project but not sure if working on updating the information is for you - don't be put off!

...continue reading "A new site for the James Gray Collection"

The Regency Society is delighted to be publishing Chroniclers of Brighton by Andy Grant and Steve Myall to coincide with the launch of our website of historic prints of Brighton and Hove. The new site is based on the private collections of members of the Society of Brighton Print Collectors. Read more about the new website here. 

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Regency Society, enabling us to fund more projects directly related to the heritage of Brighton and Hove.

The price of this hardback book, edited by RS trustee David Fisher, is £20 (plus postage and packing). You can order a copy at the bottom of this page.

...continue reading "Victorian Chroniclers of Brighton: a new Regency Society publication"