A Brighton nursery has been granted planning permission to replace its old pre-fabricated hut with a new wooden building.
Gingerbread Day Nursery, in Saltdean Park, faced opposition to its plans from its neighbour and business rival Boomerang Kids which is based in the grade II Saltdean Barn.
The planning application divided opinions, with 68 letters of objection sent to Brighton and Hove City Council and 126 letters of support.
Conservative councillor Mary Mears opposed the application at a meeting of the council’s Planning Committee at Hove Town Hall yesterday (Wednesday 12 June).
Councillor Mears represents Rottingdean Coastal, the ward which includes the Brighton side of Saltdean. She said: “This is in a public park and we need to understand where we’re going with this. It is important for the community.
“This has caused an awful lot of bad feeling in Saltdean. People are entitled to their opinions but it has caused so much bad feeling.”
She told the committee that she was concerned about the size and bulk of the proposed nursery building, taking up space in the oval park.
And she asked for restrictions to prevent the building from being converted into a shop – a request that was supported by the committee.
Saltdean Residents’ Association representative Cathy Gallagher also opposed the plans, telling councillors that the hut had been sited next to the listed Barn as a youth club in 1987.
Now 30 years later, she said, the association was objecting to 400 square metres of public park being used for a commercial business.
Mrs Gallagher said that the association had constantly objected to the nursery using the public park.
Labour councillor Daniel Yates asked how long it had objected, given that the site was in use from 1987 and the residents’ association had existed since 1935.
Councillor Yates said that a nursery had operated from the cabin since 1992 and a second nursery from the barn since 2005.
Mrs Gallagher said: “There was no planning permission or any permit (and) we have complained to planning enforcement and licensing about the fencing.”
The manager of Gingerbread’s neighbouring and rival nursery, Helen Hicks, said that when the extension to the barn was approved, it had to be in oak and not overhang the roof, in keeping with the listed building.
She also said that there was not a shortage of childcare spaces in Saltdean and her own nursery was operating at 55 per cent of capacity.
Boomerang Kids has 81 places, according to its most recent Ofsted report, with 124 children on the roll – as not all children attend at the same time.
Gingerbread Day Nursery has 25 places and 46 children on its roll. The planning permission restricts the number of places to 42.
Ms Hicks said: “There is no public benefit to increasing numbers. Increasing by 17 children means four extra staff. This would be at least 20 extra vehicles in what is already a problem parking area.”
But Gingerbread owner Nick Childs told the Planning Committee that he wanted to keep the number of places to a maximum of 30.
He said that he and his wife had lived and worked in Saltdean for 15 years before taking on Gingerbread two years ago.
He said that he wanted to improve the facilities, with a report to councillors saying: “The existing building is in a poor state of repair.”
And Mr Childs said that he wanted to create a rest room for staff breaks as well as new teaching facilities.
He said that the design of the proposed wooden replacement building had been drawn up with support from the council’s heritage officer and was in sympathy with the barn.
The prefab hut was put up 1987 and the fencing around it in 2014, both predating current planning policy.
Mr Childs said that the fence had been put up legally under “permitted development” rights but added: “The site is of poor quality where there is a surplus of open space.”
Conservative councillor Joe Miller, who represents Rottingdean Coastal, asked Mr Childs if he planned to increase the number of children at the nursery to 42 as suggested by Ms Hicks.
Mr Childs said that the number of children depended upon the number of staff but added that he wanted to keep the nursery to no more than 30 children. It currently had a maximum of 25 children attending at any one time.
Conservative councillor Dee Simson said: “We could do with anything that can be done to make the area look better (but) I am concerned about the increasing size of the building and the effect on parking.”
Councillor Yates said: “The cabin has been there for a significant length of time. The fence has been there for a significant length of time. So the public has not had public open space in that part the part for a considerable period of time.”
Given the unsightly hut on the site at present and the better-looking replacement being proposed, he added: “Overall the public benefit and public spaces are improved.”
The planning application was approved by eight votes to two, with Councillor Simson and her fellow Tory, Councillor Carol Theobald, voting against.