Hundreds of homes are to be built as councillors gave planning permission for a £300 million regeneration of the long-derelict Preston Barracks site in Brighton.
The Lewes Road scheme includes 369 homes and 1,338 student flats as well as a Central Research Laboratory for Brighton University and a new home for the university’s business school.And a bridge will be built across Lewes Road for pedestrians and cyclists to reduce the impact on the flow of traffic.
Eighty neighbours objected to the scheme, with concerns including the height of some of the buildings – the tallest is 18 storeys high – and the effect that this would have on their homes.
But more than 400 people wrote to Brighton and Hove City Council to support the scheme, not least in the hope that it will ease pressure on family homes in the area. Many have become shared houses largely occupied by students.
Many councillors expressed reservations but they voted unanimously in favour of the scheme proposed by Brighton University and developer U+I, formerly known as Cathedral. The firm is also behind the scheme in Circus Street, Brighton.
Councillor Lynda Hyde told a meeting of the Planning Committee at Hove Town Hall this afternoon (Wednesday 27 September): “This goes towards meeting our housing need (and) I welcome the investment in our city.”
She said that she had concerns about what would happen to the historic barracks buildings – either being lost or dwarfed.
But she added: “It’s a big scheme and it’s a good scheme. We’ve got the best that we can get.
“I’ve watched Brighton University grow from being a poly and a teacher’s training college to become grander and grander.”
Her Conservative colleague Councillor Joe Miller said: “It’s been empty for my entire lifetime which I don’t think is acceptable given there’s housing crisis.
“On car parking, there are some potential issues going forward.
“You can never have perfection and if we looked for perfection on every scheme then we’d never pass anything.
“I like the design. It’s a clever design. The architects have done a really good job.
“And there is much-needed student accommodation. Brighton University, like Sussex, are now trying to be build student accommodation.”
Councillor Anne Meadows, who chairs the council’s Housing and New Homes Committee, said: “This is a huge development and it’s welcome.”
But she criticised the low level of affordable housing – 15 per cent compared with the council’s policy of 40 per cent.
Councillor Meadows said: “Only 81 of those homes will be for rent and 67 for shared ownership. The rest will be priced out of the reach of ordinary residents which concerns me.”
Her Labour colleague Councillor Adrian Morris echoed criticism of the low proportion of affordable housing.
He also criticised the design for lacking cohesion and said that it had been inspired by architectural fashion with buildings that were too tall.
Parking was also a problem, he said, adding that the student blocks should be car-free. He also criticised potentially dangerous new junctions and the loss of bus lanes.Councillor Leo Littman said; “Everything we do here, we do on balance. I have reservations. I’d prefer it if it didn’t look quite as though Manhattan had had a baby in Lewes Road.
“It’s too tall. Nonetheless it’s a site that needs to be redeveloped. We are looking for sites. It’s a brownfield site. Overall as a project, it’s a good one.”
His Green colleague Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty said: “We need to consider just how big this is going to be. It’s going to bigger than the Bedford Tower which is 17 storeys.
“It will change entirely not just this bit of the city but the way into the city as well.”
He said that he had concerns about air quality and the need for better medical provision in the area.
But he added: “Some of the architecture is gorgeous.”
Councillor Julie Cattell, who chairs the Planning Committee, said: “The overall scheme to me is a really good example of place-making. The design is great.
“It’s not just a collection of buildings. I see it as a cohesive whole. I like the palate of materials.”
Richard Upton, deputy chief executive of U+I, said: “This is a major milestone for the Preston Barracks project, one of the largest and most ambitious regeneration projects to have been brought forward in Brighton for a number of years.
“We have the opportunity to transform this area of Brighton, which has been derelict for 20 years and deliver a huge number of benefits to the local community and the wider city.
“Our Circus Street project is also moving forward at great pace, regenerating another important part of the city.
“We will deliver world class, imaginative urban design on each project, building on the bohemian audacity of the Prince Regent and leaving a lasting legacy that befits such an inspirational city.”
Brighton University vice-chancellor Debra Humphris said: “We are delighted that our plans have been approved.
“This partnership aims to deliver one of the most ambitious and transformational projects for the city in a neighbourhood where meaningful regeneration is long overdue.
“The scheme has the potential to have a huge positive impact both for the local community and wider city as we look to deliver on our aspiration to create an inspiring place where people can live, work and learn together.”