Outline plans for 45 homes on a greenfield site have been turned down by Brighton and Hove planners this afternoon (Wednesday 10 May).
The developer Lightwood Strategic applied for outline planning permission for 45 homes in Meadow Vale in Ovingdean.
The nine-acre site is currently an area of open land and paddocks bordered by Falmer Road, The Vale and Ovingdean Road.
A previous application by Lightwood Strategic for 85 homes was rejected and thrown out on appeal, in part because the developer wanted to build too many homes there.
And after a passionate debate at Hove Town Hall, members of Brighton and Hove City Council narrowly rejected the scheme.
The council’s Planning Committee voted six votes to five after a three-hour debate having heard representatives of the hundreds of objectors, including wildlife experts.
Councillor Julie Cattell, who chairs the Planning Committee, said: “We have a housing crisis. We also have an adopted City Plan which all the parties have signed up to.”
The plan includes the prospect of building on the urban fringe of Brighton and Hove, with Meadow Vale identified as a possible site.
Councillor Cattell said: “I want to see 45 new houses, with 40 per cent (of them) affordable. We can’t be small minded here. We have to look across the whole city.”
But he was “trying to strike a balance between housing need and the environment” and said: “Brighton and Hove has very limited space to expand. We have to compromise.”
We can’t just turn the clock back to Victorian times, the independent councillor said.
Although there were over 500 objections, he passionately supported the proposed housing and urged officials to keep the harm to the environment to a minimum.
Councillor Carol Theobald said: “I used to live in Ovingdean and I’ve always regarded it as a rural area. This will change the whole nature of the area.”
She added that she was concerned about the damaging effect on local wildlife.
Councillor Joe Miller, who represents Rottingdean Coastal Ward, which includes Ovingdean, said that he was concerned about the extra traffic and the harmful effect that it would have on air pollution in an area where pollution levels were already above the legal limits.
He said that it was a really important site and formed a crucial gap between the three villages of Ovingdean, Rottingdean and Woodingdean.
And former Planning Committee chairman Councillor Lynda Hyde slated what she described as the arrogance of Lightwood boss James Sorrentino after comments he was reported to have made before the meeting.
She highlighted the hundreds of objections and mentioned the ecological concerns similar to those that she had when voting against a housing estate planned for open space in Mile Oak last month.
She also mentioned a rare local plant found on the site, the red star thistle. She said: “There can be no justification for the destruction of this very rare species.”
Councillor Kevin Allen spoke about the housing need and said: “Not all of it can take place on brownfeld sites. Some of it has to be on greenfield sites and that will cause controversy and dismay.”
He praised ecologist Jackie Thompson, a botanist for Arbeco, for her authoritative presentation.
She told the Planning Committee that Meadow Vale was home to more than 800 species including a number of rare and protected species.
Lightwood’s plans contained too little or no mitigation for the harm that would be caused by its plans.
Grassland species are dying out, she said. “We need to protect what remains.”
She had been surveying sites where building was proposed for 15 to 20 years and even much bigger sites rarely contained such a rich variety and number of species.
“All sites such as this are protected or designated,” she said. To develop Meadow Vale would set a dangerous legal precedent.
“It’s death by a thousand cuts. You can’t keep losing these sites.”
Councillor Clare Moonan reiterated the need for housing, saying: “This is a pressing need across the whole of the city. We have a City Plan which all three parties signed up to.
“There is a small percentage in the urban fringe. It needs to take it share.
“When it comes down to sites in our own back yard we have to take a broader view.
“I’m very mindful of the ecological point of view. I care passionately about the environment.
“The officers and the developer have tried very hard to mitigate (the ecological damage).
“Transport and air quality has already been addressed by the inspector.
“We could lose an appeal with considerable costs imposed on us. We have to be responsible.”
She praised the inclusion of affordable housing, with 40 per cent of the homes expected to be classed as affordable.
Councillor Leo Littman said: “Councillor Moonan has made good points. We have only got our City Plan in place because we have agreed to building homes on greenfield sites.”
The harmful extra traffic, pressure on school places, etc, were an inevitable consequence.
But in this case, he had reservations. He said: “We got this one wrong. This area has no potential for development without causing significant damage.”
He reminded his colleagues of their duty as planners to conserve and protect the natural environment and added that he was not impressed by measures to mitigate the harm.
He said: “This site should not be developed. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
He was concerned about further loss of chalk downland and said: “I recognise the fact we have massive housing pressure.”
Councillor Penny Gilbey said: “I voted against this before. I’m very upset that it’s not a designated site.”
She praised the proposals aimed at mitigating the environmental damage and added: “Sadly, I’m going to support this because we do need housing. I’m mindful of what the (planning) inspector said.”
Jim Gowans, from the Conservation Advisory Group, said: “A rural gap should be maintained between those historical villages of Rottingdean and Ovingdean.
“They are conservation areas and what’s special about them is that they have a village character. What is a village? It has countryside around it.”
Former Planning Committee chairman Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty spoke about the village character and said: “The only reason these are villages are because they were built on what would now be national park land.”
Among the objectors were ward councillor Mary Mears, a former leader of the council, and Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby who said that the site was not suitable for development.
Mr Kirby said: “The developers were turned down last time for 85 houses. They are now coming back with a number that they hope will be more acceptable. However, the basic objections remain.”
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