Planners’ rejection of Sussex University masterplan was “a travesty”

Posted On 01 Jul 2015 at 6:41 pm

Sussex University said that it was “a travesty” when members of Brighton and Hove City Council rejected plans for 4,000 student rooms.

The bedsits were included in the university’s masterplan which was thrown out by the council’s Planning Committee at Hove Town Hall a year ago.

The 4,000 bedsits would replace 2,500 existing rooms that were reaching the end of their useful life and would ease demand for housing away from the university’s Falmer campus.

James Strachan, the barrister representing the university at a planning appeal in Brighton, said that council officials had backed the university’s masterplan every step of the way for more than 10 years.

Council repairs

He said: “The masterplan scheme reflects the university’s aspirations for growth to a level of 18,000 students.

“That growth is matched by the university’s commendable strategy of seeking to accommodate a greater percentage of students on the campus than ever before in the new student accommodation that is at the heart of the scheme.”

The plans also include replacement academic buildings and the construction of some “mixed use” buildings. Trees would be felled but a greater number planted to try to offset the loss.

Mr Strachan said: “The masterplan both in its original form and then as a planning application has been the subject of the most extensive pre-application meetings and discussions, not just with the council but also Lewes District Council, which is the planning authority for an area of the appeal site to the south east, and Historic England among others.

“The university has continued a process of consultation and collaboration that it started in 2003 in arriving at its scheme.

“It has been a paragon of consultation and agreement. As a result of that process, with consequential evolutions of the design, the appeal scheme received the endorsement of the council planning officers, the council’s internal consultees, including its specialist heritage and arboriculture officers, and no objections from statutory consultees including Historic England.

“This is a testament to the process the university adopted.

“The officer’s report recommended grant of permission on the basis that the masterplan complied with relevant legislation and development plan policies.

“It can also be noted that only nine local residents objected to the masterplan.

“It was therefore a bitter disappointment and a travesty of that process that the application was rejected by council members on the grounds which now appear in the reasons for refusal.

“In so far as it is possible to discern from those reasons and the minutes of the meeting any driving theme, it appears to be a desire to restrict growth of the university.

“The main concern expressed at the meeting was about supposed increases in students seeking accommodation in the wider area.

“That is an approach which is misconceived.

“There are no policies whatsoever within the (council’s) development plan or in any emerging policy, let alone national policy, which support it.

“The development plan and emerging policy strongly support growth of the university in recognition of the huge benefits that it brings.

“What is more, that approach is perverse. The masterplan scheme would in fact only serve to increase student accommodation on the campus and to reduce the proportions of students that might otherwise look for accommodation in Brighton itself.

“But there is in fact no policy support for this theoretical objection anyway.

“As to the other reasons for refusal relating to the effect of the proposal on the character of the area, including the effect on the listed buildings and trees, there is no merit in these either.

“It has been difficult to articulate any coherent case on these reasons from the reasons for refusal, or the council’s statement of case, but the evidence you shall here demonstrates that these are concerns without foundation.

“The scheme can only serve to enhance the campus and to bring a huge range of benefits which have simply been ignored in the council’s decision.

“Among other things the masterplan will secure the provision of modern academic facilities, and fit for purpose student accommodation, to allow the university to continue to compete on a national and international level.

“This growth will provide extensive economic benefits to Brighton and Hove and the region.

“The university is already one of the largest employers in the region. The masterplan will contribute to the local economy, including but not limited to the creation of jobs for an additional 105 academic staff and 281 support staff.

“The growth in student numbers will result in an additional £9.3 million GVA (gross value added) and support 161 jobs in the local economy.

“The masterplan proposals involve a net increase of 2,530 student bed spaces.

“Combined with the development of sites off campus, this means that 98 per cent of the new demand for accommodation created by the university’s expected growth in student numbers will be absorbed and there will be an increase in the overall percentage of students accommodated on site.

“This in fact provides an opportunity for the council to improve its position in meeting its own housing needs.

“To the extent that the appeal site proposals have any interaction with the listed buildings or their settings, it can only be positive.

“The co-ordinated approach to design and removal of unsightly development on the campus generally could only be positive.

“The scheme inevitably involves the removal of trees to provide for this development but losses are matched and exceeded by the proposed replacement plantings of types intended to improve the species mix.

“The scheme brings with it opportunities for biodiversity enhancement, sustainable transport improvements, sustainable energy enhancements and a generally more effective and efficient use of the site as a whole.

“The council’s refusal of the scheme does not stand up to scrutiny.

“The case for the grant of permission will be overwhelming.

“It is no coincidence that this is a scheme which has attracted no objection from any statutory consultee, let alone Historic England as the guardians of the listed buildings on the site.

“It is no coincidence that it enjoys the unanimous support of all the council’s professional officers.”

Mr Strachan referred to the university’s original architect Sir Basil Spence, adding: “Objections based on harm to Spence’s vision are a travesty of his own ideas.

“He would undoubtedly have been shocked and appalled to find the very growth of the university that he so supported stifled in his name.

“In true Spence style, it is a scheme which celebrates the proper preservation of the buildings and the landscape of the University of Sussex but takes it forward into the future.”

The planning appeal, which is taking place at the Hilton Brighton Metropole, started yesterday (Tuesday 30 June) and is expected to end next Friday (10 July).

  1. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    Other, new buildings were approved over the past few years, and I was under the impression that earlier, now-poor buildings would be replaced.

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