Brighton’s ugliest building is to be demolished after standing empty for 30 years after planners approved a scheme to build 229 flats in three tower blocks.
The scheme to replace Anston House, in Preston Road, Brighton, includes shops, offices or cafés at ground floor level and underground parking for 111 cars. There will also be parking for five motorbikes and 432 bicycles. Work could start in the next few months.
Some 470 people objected to the new scheme – up to 15 storeys high – with just 13 people writing in to Brighton and Hove City Council in support of the plans.
The Brighton Society said that the reasons for rejecting a previous scheme still applied – the overbearing height, density, bulk and form – and that the new scheme was worse.
Councillor Kevin Allen, who represents Preston Park Ward, which includes Anston House, said that the previous scheme was also thrown out because it contained too little affordable housing.
The new scheme contained less, he said, and well short of the council’s policy of 40 per cent for schemes of this size.
Besides, he said: “Affordable simply means marginally less unaffordable.
“Are you telling me it won’t suck in richer commuters from London? And investors?”
But he criticised the proposed tower blocks as “the three sore thumbs” and condemned what he described as the Manhattonisation of the area.
Councillor Allen said: “The three sore thumbs are grotesquely high for the surrounding area.
“The towers will help to frame Preston Park and give it a sense of place, the developer said, like Central Park.
“I know we don’t make planning decisions by plebiscite but when public opinion is so overwhelming and so unanimous it really should be taken into account.
“They have not given their permission to change the nature of Brighton and Hove.
“They have not given their permission for the Manhattonisation of the area.”
Elliot Lipton, from the developer First Base, said: “The height is very sensitive.
“We have to find the right balance between respecting Preston Park, respecting our neighbours in Dyke Road Drive and coming up with a scheme that is viable.
“Every time you come forward with a scheme you’re always trying to get the right balance between design, affordable housing and massing.
“The building has been designed to complement Preston Park with a landscaped frontage and new elm trees.
“We’re very pleased that the Friends of Preston Park do not believe our scheme has any detrimental impact.
“We will be bringing forward much-needed homes and jobs.
“We have a generational opportunity for change. Our plans are deliverable. We are ready to start.”
He accepted concerns about the number and percentage of affordable homes being provided on the 15-acre site.
Mr Lipton said that he would have liked to have included more but the mix of affordable housing demanded by the council had affected the total.
He said: “We want to deliver more affordable homes as part of that if we possibly can.”
There would, he added, be a review mechanism so that if the scheme made more profit than expected, more flats would be let or sold as affordable homes.
Mr Lipton added that the scheme had been drawn up by the internationally renowned design studio Conran and Partners after a great deal of consultation with people living and working in the area.
He also said that the scheme would create almost 300 permanent jobs as well as the much-needed housing and would include a contribution of £1.3 million to local services.
A report to councillors set out the contribution to local services under what is known as a section 106 agreement. It included
• Open space, recreation and indoor sport: £592,664 towards improvements in Preston Park, Dyke Road Park and Blaker’s Parks and the Withdean Sports Complex and Prince Regent Swimming Complex
• Education: £397,780 towards nursery (various nurseries in the locality and/or start-up funding for a new provider), primary (Stanford Infant School and Stanford Junior School, St Bartholomew’s CE Primary School, Downs Infant School and Downs Junior Schools and St Bernadette’s CE Primary School) and secondary education (Dorothy Stringer School and Varndean School)
• Transport: £125,115 towards sustainable travel and public realm improvements in the vicinity of the site and to improve access for all, by all sustainable modes, to but not limited to Preston Park, local railway stations and other local amenities.
• Public realm enhancement £120,000
• Local Employment Scheme £69,900
• Training and employment strategy using a minimum of 20 per cent local labour during the demolition and construction phases
Councillor Leo Littman, who also represents Preston Park Ward, said: “We desperately need a replacement for Anston House and we desperately need more housing in the city but it’s important we don’t let desperation guide our decision.
“It will affect a number of people very directly in the short term and it will affect literally millions in the long term.
“I had hoped I would live long enough to see a good replacement for Anston House. I don’t think this is it.”
He said that plans were rejected three years ago and the latest proposal failed on exactly the same basis.
The building had been empty since before he was born and he didn’t want it to be empty for another 30 years.
He had concerns about the red facing of some of the proposed buildings on the site but added: “There are only so many times developer will try to develop this site.
“We have asked developers to go higher and when they come we reject it.
“There will be an impact on the residents of Dyke Road Drive but the developers have done as much as they can by lowering the back of the development.”
Labour councillor Lloyd Russell-Moyle quoted his political rival – the former Conservative council leader Mary Mears – in lamenting the shortage of affordable housing in the area.
He said: “We do not have the balls to uphold our policy of seeking 40 per cent affordable housing.”
Going for a miserly proportion – lower than 20 per cent – was “throwing the baby out with the bath water”.
He also criticised the council and developer for withholding figures shared with the district valuer to enable him to assess the level of affordable homes.
Councillor Carol Theobald said that the height of the scheme took her back to the 1960s and 70s and also criticised the lack of affordable housing.
“It’s an eyesore,” she said, “and it’s been empty for far too long.”
Councillor Jayne Bennett said that the scheme was too high but we needed the housing.
Councillor Lynda Hyde, who used to chair the Planning Committee, said: “Some affordable is better than none. And housing is being provided. Some people think housing is only about affordable but it’s not.
“If we ask for too much from developers, it will not be viable and then we won’t have anything at all.
“The only reason we have this here today is because the economy is buzzing.
“It is too tall. I would prefer it to be shorter but it does comply with our tall corridors policy.
“I love the quality of materials … and I wouldn’t want to swap quality materials for three or more affordable units.
“I’m very sorry to the people who live in Dyke Road Drive. There will be an impact on you. I’m sorry about that but we need the housing.”
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty said that the scheme would be a big deal for the people living in Dyke Road Drive.
But he said: “We do need to get on with things like this. If we can better than this, where is it? If there’s something out there, it has managed to evade this particular spot.”
The proposal in front us represents something very bold, he said. It represents hundreds of jobs although we have to push harder on affordability.
Councillor Mac Cafferty, a former chairman of the Planning Committee, added: “We need more affordable homes in the city but we have an application in front of us and we have to say yes or no. I will be voting for.”
Councillor Dan Yates said: “I don’t have a problem with tall buildings (and) it’s quite clear we’d all rather something else. It’s not the bees knees.
“I don’t think that Aston House is the ugliest building in Sussex. At least Anston House has the excuse of being empty but Telecom House next door is even worse – and that’s occupied and people have to go to work there.”
Regardless of the number of affordable homes, 229 flats is better than none – “and the sold mouldering away for another 30 years”.
“There is a recourse to getting more affordable units in there if that’s possible as it gets nearer to completion.”
Jim Gowans, representing the Conservation Advisory Group, said that the group recommended refusal because of the harm that the scheme would do to the grade II registered Preston Park.
Councillor Clare Moonan said: “It is big. It is huge. But we have a tall buildings corridor in our City Plan and we have it for a reason.”
She said that if we are to provide enough housing, we are going to have to go up.
Councillor Moonan said that she would have preferred to have seen more affordable housing but accepted the plans before her.
Councillor Penny Gilbey said: “To me, it’s just to overbearing. This is much much taller than anything around it.”
Councillor Julie Cattell, who chairs the Planning Committee and also represents Preston Park Ward, said: “What I struggled to find was a sustainable reason for refusal (but) it does meet all the policies.
“I want to see the site developed. It is hideous. We do need new houses and, as Councillor Moonan said, we’ve got to go up.
“Having said that, I like the design. It has a playfulness about it.”
The scheme was agreed by nine votes to three by the Planning Committee this afternoon (Wednesday 14 December) in a meeting at Hove Town Hall, with dozens of neighbours in the audience.
Afterwards Mr Lipton said that he was delighted with the decision but was mindful of the concerns of people living in Dyke Road Drive. First Base would try to be a good neighbour during construction, he said, adding that he hoped preparatory work could start in the first few months of next year.