The battle to stop retirement flats from being built in a flood-prone part of Patcham has come to an end – for now.
A planning appeal, held over three days at Brighton Town Hall, finished today (Thursday 15 June) with McCarthy and Stone arguing that Brighton and Hove City Council’s remaining objections were “misconceived”.
Most of the argument centred on two objections – the design of the scheme, which neighbours say is overbearing, and the flood risk.
McCarthy and Stone propose building 44 apartments in Old London Road on raised ground – above the level of any previous flood.
But neighbours and the council fear that, even if McCarthy and Stone residents are kept safe, the scheme could have knock on effects and leave nearby properties at greater risk of flooding.
In her closing submissions, the council’s senior planning solicitor Hilary Woodward said: “The council’s position (is) that it was unacceptable to add vulnerable people, such as the proposed future occupants of the appeal scheme, to an area which has a significant history of groundwater flooding.
“The aquifer was a complex thing and it was not completely understood how groundwater moves and rises.
“The proposed storage led to uncertainty as to how groundwater would behave.”
She said that the objection set out by the council’s flooding expert Maggie Moran had not been dispelled.
Mrs Woodward said: “There are benefits that will arise from the application should it go ahead, including the need for extra care housing.
“But as the council’s evidence has shown, and as sustained through the inquiry, the location of the development in a flood risk area, the vulnerability of the proposed residents in relation to this and the fact that the design is such that it would be of detriment to the character and appearance of the street scene of this lower-density area with its semi-rural character leads the local planning authority to the conclusion that the appeal scheme should not be granted permission and the inspector is respectfully invited to dismiss the appeal.”
Robert Walton, the barrister representing McCarthy and Stone and its subsidiary business YourLife Management Services, said that McCarthy and Stone had modified its plans to overcome the council’s objections to the design of the scheme.
The company had even submitted a revised landscaping scheme as part of its plan to build “44 much-needed assisted living apartments”.
Mr Walton said: “The council has plainly failed properly to assess the scheme.
“It did not even take into account the full suite of planning benefits that the scheme would deliver.
“The officer’s report did not undertake a balancing exercise as to the one benefit it accepts the scheme would deliver versus the harm it considers it would cause.”
As Mr Walton had the last word, the council was not given the chance to respond at the appeal hearing.
But afterwards an official said that the benefits and harms were properly weighed up for every planning application even if this wasn’t explicitly stated.
In his closing submissions Mr Walton said that the benefits included the much-needed specialist housing, the freeing up of under-occupied homes, significant economic and environmental benefits and the efficient re-use of land.
He said: “The council has never carried out a proper assessment of the scheme. Rather, the council’s position is that the scheme causes some harm and should therefore be refused.
“That is plainly an unreasonable position to adopt.
“In any event the scheme would not be harmful either in terms of flood risk or design.
“The council’s case in respect of flood risk did not stand up to scrutiny. The council’s case is that the underground tanks and piled foundations might worsen the impact of groundwater flooding on third party properties.
“The council concedes that this is unlikely to happen.
“The sole question is whether the design and operation of the scheme would appropriately respond to the identified flood risks.
“In layman’s terms this is a brick in a swimming pool.
“In any event the council has put forward a number of conditions designed to deal with flooding issues.
“The council’s position on this issue is misconceived. The council’s residual concerns can plainly be dealt with by conditions.
“The appeal scheme is safe. The operational management plan will be fit for purpose.
“The prospect and reality of flooding can be very worrying to people but that is not a reason to prevent development which is physically safe and operationally fit for purpose.
“There is no possible basis on which to conclude that elderly people should not be allowed to live on the site.
“The council’s residual concerns are misconceived and in any event do not come close to justifying the refusal of planning permission.”
He urged planning inspector Katie Child to grant planning permission for the £4 million scheme which he said would create up to 17 jobs and put more than £500,000 a year into the local economy.
She is expected to reach a decision by late August or early September although no date has been set.