Campaigner lobbies Hove MP over laws on planning and squatting

Posted On 21 Mar 2011 at 9:50 pm

A prolific civic campaigner has asked an MP to question ministers about ways to prevent developers from scarring places like Brighton and Hove.

Valerie Paynter, who runs Save Hove and campaigns on planning issues, has written to Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove.

She emailed Mr Weatherley days before the budget when Chancellor George Osborne is promising to make the planning system easier for developers.

And her email accuses some developers of neglecting the buildings that they own so that they are more likely to be occupied by squatters, whose activities Mr Weatherley is trying to outlaw.

The Spearhead

She said: “If the planning system is to be relaxed to benefit developers, perhaps it could be done in a regionally emphasised way that motivates developers to look north.

“When developers target a property for purchase, demolition and development (Park House, the Astoria in Brighton, etc) and that property lacks either Conservation Area or Listed protection, then that property (like Anston House in Preston Road) can sit for decades a-mouldering or it is eventually squatted.

Derelict

“I am asking you with this email to ask a question in the house [the House of Commons] to establish what protection such properties can be given by the government in the period between acquisition and commencing development itself.”

She said that developers too often leave buildings sitting derelict for decades, such as Anston House opposite Preston Park in Brighton.

She accused them of demolishing buildings and leaving cleared spaces for years, such as the collapsed and demolished Sackville Hotel in Kingsway, Hove.

She said that some dangle the threat of derelict buildings deteriorating and creating toxic sites if the authorities do not give in to their demands, however unreasonable. She cited Park House in Old Shoreham Road, Hove, as an example of this sort of situation.

And referring to the long-running saga of the old Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children in Dyke Road, Brighton, she said that some developers deliberately sabotage inside closed sites.

She said that Councillor Averil Older and fellow planning committee members were visiting the old Royal Alex when they saw a worker with an axe causing deliberate damage.

Unacceptable

Yet others, she said, tried to blackmail planning committees by submitting a series of unacceptable planning applications until councillors were worn down and gave in.

Here, she cited Tesco and the way that it removed the protected frontage of its store at the junction of Holland Road and Western Road at the edge of Palmeira Square in Hove.

She said: “Tesco were forced to make their replacement window treatments more appropriate but never forced to reinstate the original appearance.”

She added that the supermarket chain dug its heels in and put forward unacceptable offerings until Councillor David Watkins, one of the ward councillors, said wearily at a planning committee meeting: “They’ll only put in another application, so we should just agree what is before us.”

She said: “Planning law needs to provide a more stringent duty of care of buildings bought for redevelopment until and after development to ensure responsible development.

“It is not good enough to outlaw squatting when outlaws are destroying the fabric of townscapes with impunity.

“Irresponsible custodianship prior to redevelopment by developers should be criminalised, not squatters.

“When did a squatter ever demolish and do permanent damage?

Gaddafi

“Developers do it every single day of every single year and the government is now close to giving them carte blanche with relaxation of planning rules to up the ante and Gaddafi their way round our towns and cities in search of profit.”

Her remarks come as Mr Weatherley’s campaign to criminalise squatting won a high-profile supporter in government.

Mr Weatherley said that Justice Secretary Ken Clarke had “voiced his support for a change in the law to end the days of squatters’ rights”.

The Hove MP tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons on Monday 8 March which says “That this house believes that squatting should be criminalised”.

Among the 21 MPs to have signed in support of the motion so far is Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown.

It is rare for early day motions even to be debated but they are one of the ways by which MPs publicise proposed changes in the law and government policy.

  1. Valerie Paynter, saveHOVE Reply

    And another thing! MEDINA HOUSE ON THE KINGS ESPLANADE! Can my spleen take any more! Sirus Taghan has owned that building (and abused and demolished bits of it) for nearly a dozen years while he puts in outrageous planning applications that can only fail and there isn’t a law in the land that can touch him it seems. It’s time planning law cracked down on people like this.

  2. S Smith Reply

    I don’t think the coalition government has any interests at heart other than those of the developers. All their policies are geared towards empowering the already powerful,

  3. Clive Reply

    A punitive tax on empty buildings – commercial and residential – would be a good idea. That would go to the heart of the problem. Unfortunately the Tories would rather beat up on squatters than do anything to inconvenience their rich chums.

    Medina house *could* theoretically be the subject of a compulsory purchase. Unfortunately English Heritage wouldn’t list it owing to it having been altered in the past. Be that as it may, it is still the only historic buidling in that stretch and the only reminder of the first era of Brighton/Hove sea bathing in the whole of the city (correct me if I’m wrong, Val). A shame the current owner doesn’t have the vision to do something worthwhile with it.

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