Plans to build two blocks of student flats in Brighton have been rejected by Brighton and Hove City Council Planning Committee.
The proposal involved demolishing Richmond House, a two-storey office block in Richmond Road, Brighton, behind the Sainsbury’s store at the Lewes Road Gyratory.
In its place, developer Matsim Properties wanted to build a three-storey building and a five-storey building with 144 student bedrooms and parking for 186 bicycles.
Planning Committee chairman Councillor Christopher Hawtree said: “We appreciate the need for purpose-built student accommodation in the city but to put three and five-storey buildings among the sloping terraces of Round Hill would be an overdevelopment in the wrong place.
“Not only would access be difficult with such a large development, but the area has a fascinating variety of terraced housing and it’s important to achieve a good balance.”
He described Richmond House as “an example of a site providing vital small-scale employment which is characteristic of Brighton and Hove’s economy”.
Neighbour Alan King, of D’Aubigny Road, Brighton, spoke on behalf of the 141 objectors to the scheme.
He said: “This is not a knee-jerk not-in-my-backyard response.
“We welcome diversity. Our area already has a diverse but balanced population.
“We recognise that the student population of our city help to keep it lively and are a hugely important part of what be called its personality.”
Mr King set out objections related to the scale of the scheme and said that it would mean the loss of work space for fledgeling businesses.
He added: “Obviously something needs to be done with the site but clearly not this.”
He urged the committee to reject the plans and send a message encouraging the developer “to work closely with the local community should they decide to plan a more appropriate, suitable and sympathetic development for the site”.
Paul Burgess, of Lewis & Co Planning, spoke for Matsim. He said that Kaplan International Colleges, an international educational organisation, supported the project.
He said that changes to planning rules meant that the owner would be able to convert it into housing. Difficulty finding business tenants meant that it would be unlikely to be used for offices for much longer.
Mr Burgess said: “While we appreciate that there have been a number of objections from local residents to the proposed development, the ward is currently identified as having a high number of students occupying traditional family housing.
“Surely it’s better to house them in purpose-built accommodation with bespoke sound insulation and 24-hour security and management staff on site.
“The applicant is willing to enter into a management agreement which will assign a neighbourhood liaison officer as a contact point for local residents.
“The provision of purpose-built accommodation will help to free up traditional hosing stock for local families and help with the current housing shortage in the city.”
Councillor Carol Theobald told the Planning Committee meeting at Hove Town Hall: “I do find it quite a horrible design. It’s very prominent on the hill.”
She noted that the scheme would mean a contribution of more than £260,000 from the developer under planning policies.
Selma Montford, representing the Conservation Advisory Group, said that the proposed buildings were next to a conservation area and she described the design as “reminiscent of a prison block”.
After councillors rejected the scheme, Matsim boss Andrew Lambor said that he would rethink the design and consider whether to submit a revised proposal.
He said that he had bought the site about 12 years ago and spent a lot of money restoring and maintaining it, adding: “I’ve endeavoured to keep the building for employment use.”
But it had been hard to find enough firms to justify keeping the site for office use and he said: “We’ve been hit by a number of insolvencies.”
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