It turns out, after all, that the climate emergency in Brighton and Hove, according to the Greens, is hot air!
On Thursday 4 March, two of the three representatives of the Green Party on Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee voted in favour of the Moda development on the Sackville Trading Estate.
They did this despite saying they were “not happy with it” and despite calling the scheme “old fashioned”.
I was there when the committee met at Hove Town Hall and I spoke against the development. I was hoping (I was heartened by a fellow councillor saying “hope is possible” not that long ago) that my Green colleagues would vote with their gut and stick to their principles rather than be mindful of officer scaremongering about the need for housing in the city and need to tackle the shortfall in housing numbers built over the past five years.
If you believe in the climate emergency, then there are matters that outweigh the need for more housing.
We all saw how change was possible when Plan B Earth v Secretary of State for Transport in the Court of Appeal recently delivered a partially successful challenge to Heathrow expansion.
The court ruled that the government should have taken the Paris Agreement on Climate Change into account when designating the Airport National Policy Statement.
Maybe colleagues here should contemplate that for a while.
There’s been other good news. The Chancery Lane project recently published a climate contract playbook and sets of model laws and the House of Lords issued a research briefing on the interrelationship of climate change and biodiversity, both of which are in the Brighton and Hove DNA.
We do not need to look to big cases. Small cases also demonstrate that the ground is shifting.
Planning Inspectorate appeal reference 3236423 proved that the impact on the landscape outweighed the provision of new housing (permission refused for a residential development at Langford).
On the other hand, appeal reference 3238171 showed that the need for new housing outweighed other considerations including the declaration of a climate change emergency (permission granted for a residential development at Minster).
For Hove and the Sackville Trading Estate, it could have gone either way then – a 50/50 chance. That’s why I strongly disagreed with Peter Kyle, the MP for Hove, when he said about the development, “Hove is not going to get better than this from a private site.”
Hove deserves better than this. And we will fight for better than this in Hove Park ward.
For me, my three minutes speaking to the committee against the development was intended to offer colleagues on the council confidence in the right decision.
In addition to the legal examples above, which officers should have cited for members, we have had, from the Conservative government, ministerial statements wanting to see zero-carbon homes built as standard.
What we have from colleagues in the city in return is what can only be described as a lack of confidence.
An independent councillor on the committee who voted in favour of the development did so after stating that traffic “will be dire”.
Another Green colleague cited the urban heat island effect in the development, jokingly adding that the wind tunnel effect might then cool residents. He voted in favour of the Moda application.
Credit has to be given to a Labour colleague who said that he would not want to be held over a barrel by the landowner while making his decision.
In my statement, I said that I was angry that Coal Pension Properties, the landowner, was playing hard ball, offering 10 per cent of units at discount market rates contingent upon the council not seeking any future viability reviews.
The District Valuer Service, not the best in the world (according to council committee papers), in what was probably the only good thing to come out of its report on the scheme, advised the council that consideration should be given to a review mechanism.
That was not what the landowner wanted to hear.
In spite of this, we had the MP for Hove – and one of the councillors for Westbourne (who by the way works for the MP) – singing the praises of the developer who was asking the city to accept 10 per cent affordable homes (well below policy levels) and even agree not to review the provision if market conditions improved.
During the committee meeting, there were questions from members about trees. No questions were raised though about the absence of accessible green roofs, green walls, sustainable drainage or protecting groundwater resources (all in emerging city policy).
This was after all the best Hove could hope for.
One last area of contention for me was the failure of some members to question why the council officers had not acted on their own emerging policy to play a proactive role in co-operating with other landowners to achieve comprehensive redevelopment in the area.
By this I mean improve permeability into the site by providing accessible pedestrian linkages to Sackville Road, and from the eastern end of the existing Coal Yard to Hove Station.
There’s an old tool called compulsory purchase orders which the city appears very reluctant to employ.
In the round, this was a very disappointing decision. And the debate was more disappointing. What made it so was that, in this year of climate action, and even with, as we are always reminded, a climate and biodiversity emergency, our Green colleagues voted in favour of a scheme that did not embed strong environmental principles, did not respond to the climate emergency and, even worse, only provided 10 per cent affordable housing.
What left an even more bitter taste was that the “best Hove can hope for”, according to Peter Kyle, would have been heard at a planning inquiry next month no matter what decision the Planning Committee took.
Colleagues were not brave enough and, in the process, killed off the city’s best opportunity to deliver a “net zero” development that would have greatly helped us meet our carbon neutrality commitments for 2030.
RIP the Climate Emergency in Brighton and Hove.
Samer Bagaeen is a professor of planning. He is also a Conservative councillor and represents Hove Park ward on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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