An inspector calls today (Tuesday 22 October). Planning inspector Laura Graham is due in Brighton to start looking at the City Plan to test whether it’s sound.
This looks likely to boil down to a question of whether Brighton and Hove City Council intends to build enough houses and flats over the next 17 years.
What counts as enough is a matter of some debate and the government has a view on the matter but not everyone will agree with it or like it.
Depending on the planning inspector’s verdict, the City Plan could allow for about 2,000 new homes in multistorey blocks at Brighton Marina.
Among the other sites each with hundreds of new homes in the pipeline are Preston Barracks, Shoreham Harbour, Hove Station and Toads Hole Valley.
The inspector is not looking at detailed designs. Those will come later, if and when specific planning applications are submitted.
Local planning officials and councillors will continue to decide individual planning applications.
Their decisions, though, will be guided by the City Plan. And at this stage it seems safe to say that it points towards a growing number of taller buildings.
The council hopes to keep these confined to a limited number of places, such as the Marina and the New England Quarter and London Road.
Not every developer sees things the same way.
The inspector has written to the council setting out some of the matters that will help her to decide whether the City Plan is sound.
She said: “Is the range of 16,000 to 20,000 an accurate reflection of the full, objectively assessed need for housing?
“If so, the City Plan’s housing target of 11,300 new homes, albeit expressed as a minimum, is a significant shortfall against assessed need.”
If meeting this need would do more harm than good in a town with beautiful Regency squares and terraces and a thriving tourist trade, the housing shortfall may be justifiable.
The inspector has questioned the protection being given to green land on the edge of town – or “urban fringe” sites.
The council hopes that offering up Toads Hole Valley in Hove for at least 700 homes will be enough.
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, chairman of the council’s Planning Committee, said: “We must achieve a balance between providing desperately needed new homes and the right amount of space for jobs while protecting our rich heritage of buildings and open spaces from inappropriate development.”
He said that the 11,300 homes being proposed would make the best use of available land with “94 per cent of it on brownfield sites”.
He said that the number of new homes was “the highest we can go before we see a significant loss of employment sites and important open spaces”.
He said that he did not want housing to replace so many shops, offices, warehouses and factories that Brighton and Hove lacked jobs and became a dormitory town for commuters to Gatwick and London.
Much of the new housing will be concentrated in eight named areas
- Lewes Road including Preston Barracks and the old Falmer High School site
- Brighton Marina, the gas works and Black Rock area
- New England Quarter and London Road area including Preston Road
- Eastern Road and Edward Street area
- Hove Station area
- Toads Hole Valley
- Shoreham Harbour
- King Alfred site
The planning inspector has also written to the council to ask whether it has given enough thought to the need for “infrastructure requirements”.
She is not the first to touch on a subject that covers the debate about school places in parts of Brighton and Hove or whether there are enough doctors’ or dentists’ surgeries.
Miss Graham also asked: “Do the City Plan’s policies and proposals adequately address the needs of all employment-generating sectors of the economy?
“Is there appropriate flexibility in the policies and proposals? Is the protection of the specified primary industrial estates and business parks fully justified?
“Is it reasonable to require no net loss of employment floor space in mixed-use developments?”
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “The law requires that the plan has to start with the premise that we’re going to develop and we’re in favour of sustainable development.
“It also has to answer questions like: ‘How do we deal with the rise in housing demand over the next 17 years? How do we make sure we can provide space to create jobs for the people who live here? And enough places in schools?’ It’s a fine balance.”
Representatives of the three political parties on the council – the Greens, Conservatives and Labour – found a great deal of common ground as the plan was prepared although they are not completely united.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “The only area of real difference was housing. We all want inward investment and the growth of the local economy.”
But the City Plan does face a challenge from more than one direction.
About a dozen organisations have submitted criticisms of the plan. They are likely to take part in the examination in public which starts at the Brighthelm Centre in North Road, Brighton, today (Tuesday 22 October).
Many of their objections to the plan are focused on sites that they own or in which they have an interest.
Some want greater density or height enshrined in the plan so that they can build more homes on their plots.
Some are concerned about the high environmental standards being required for new buildings in Brighton and Hove.
Meeting these standards, they say, adds to their costs and could mean that it is no longer viable to invest in housing projects locally.
The council has commissioned a report making its case. Unsurprisingly, with a Green administration, it has been keen to achieve the highest levels of sustainability.
Some people will use the City Plan to guide their ambitions to build homes, shops or offices.
Some will use it to help them frame objections to new proposals.
And others will engage when officials consult the public and professionals about the City Plan Part Two, which will have more detail about specific sites.
If it’s to turn out all right, then we shouldn’t need an inspector to call to appreciate that we are all responsible one way or another.
The examination in public is expected to be completed on or by Friday (25 October) with a report to follow at an, as yet, unspecified date.
A clarion call
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty has written the foreword to the City Plan which sets out what sort of buildings will be permitted where between now and 2030.
He wrote: “The plan is as ambitious as it is robust and practical.
“Despite the difficult economic circumstances we currently face, the plan is a clarion call for the resilience of the local economy.
“It sets out a clear framework for future prosperity for our city’s communities, and endorses our optimism about securing jobs, training and apprenticeships while underlining our continued support for home-grown business in sectors such as the creative, digital and IT industries.
“Sustainability principles are integrated throughout the plan.
“As a strategic document, it affords us many opportunities for carbon reduction as we look confidently to the future with policies that reflect our respect for our planet and its resources.
“We aspire to high-quality modern design and thoroughly fundamentally sustainable building practices.
“Our city’s motto describing the relationship with the natural environment around us is particularly apt: ‘Between the Downs and the sea we flourish.’
“And through the life of the plan we can continue to flourish between the Downs and the sea if we understand our symbiotic relationship with our planet.
“Talking to residents, businesses and our many communities across the city has highlighted the many challenges that lie ahead.
“This vital input has helped to shape and improve the City Plan.
“Our focus now must be on achieving a balance between providing desperately needed new homes and the right amount of space for jobs while protecting our rich heritage of buildings and open spaces from inappropriate development.
“Our hope for this city, our responsibility for its future prosperity and our ambition to sustain its unique, finite environment drives us to prepare a plan which I strongly believe will carry us on a safe journey to 2030.”