Councillors have approved an £18 million scheme to build a block of 83 “co-living” flats for young professionals on the site of an old garage and joinery in Brighton.
They voted five to three in favour of the scheme to put up a six-storey block of “build to rent” flats in Melbourne Street, Brighton, despite reservations about “affordable” housing.
The developer Brundell Property also plans to include a roof terrace, gym and community space, 587 square metres of co-working business space and a café on the one-and-a-half-acre site.
Part of the basement would be earmarked for the Nam Yang Community Association martial arts club which would have a separate entrance.
The space would also be available to children from nearby St Martin’s Primary School.
But once again the question of affordable homes dominated much of the debate as Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee discussed Brundell’s planning application.
Green councillor Steph Powell, who represents Hanover and Elm Grove ward, which includes Melbourne Street, addressed the “virtual” meeting of the Planning Committee this afternoon (Wednesday 8 July).
She questioned whether young graduates would be able to afford the prospect of £1,200 a month in rent, describing it as “extortionate”.
And she criticised the proposed £120,000 contribution towards affordable housing elsewhere in Brighton and Hove as limited.
Rob Shaw, who spoke for Brundell, said that the rent would include access to the co-working space, wifi and gym as well as management and running costs.
He said that the extras on offer came to about £500, making the rent “more affordable” than a typical one-bedroom flat in Brighton.
Conservative councillor Joe Miller said that the amount going towards affordable housing was a “measly” sum, roughly equal to the cost of 40 units receiving a 25 per cent discount for one year.
He said that the Planning Committee should defer making its decision in an effort to secure 40 per cent of the proposed flats for young people on the council’s housing waiting list.
Councillor Miller said: “The city needs more affordable housing and we’re not going to get the opportunity again.”
But none of the other members of the Planning Committee backed Councillor Miller’s proposal.
Outside the meeting, he said: “It’s a total disgrace. It should have deferred at the very least.
“We were simply told by housing officers that 33 affordable units in perpetuity there is not suitable but there was no further justification and the housing officers weren’t there for us to test it.
“So we accepted the equivalent commuted sum for only one year – at £120,000 – rather than 40 to 50 years, coming to £4 million to £5 million.
“Labour and Green councillors consistently promote affordable housing but, in practice here, they rolled over when we had solid grounds to get at least another 33 units in our city.
“They clearly have not here practised what they preach.”
The committee’s solicitor Hilary Woodward said that the developer had not agreed to Councillor Miller’s proposal and councillors would need strong justification or the application could go to appeal.
Independent councillor Tony Janio supported the scheme, describing it as an “imaginative” way to move forward.
He said: “It is how young people want to live these days. It is the perfect stepping stone to get them into independent living.”
Labour councillor Chris Henry said that it was how the future would look in a post-coronavirus world.
Councillor Henry, who raised concerns about the quality of cycle parking, said: “We see our city as a youthful, funky, cool city. Unless we start embracing developments like this, then we are nothing of the sort.”
Green councillor Sue Shanks said that the scheme was a great idea, adding that too many people leaving university ended up in the same sort of grotty student digs as they had while studying.
She said: “Inclusive rents, which I believe includes bed linen and cleaning, is a good idea.”
Brundell would be expected to pay more than £360,000 in “developer contributions” including £90,000 towards “sports provision” and “enhancing open spaces”.
This could include lighting and seating in Saunders Park and making the park more accessible as well as tree planting in The Avenue, in Bevendean.
The committee was told that the developer had committed to a 25-year management project to maintain the tree belt behind the site, by the entrance to the Woodvale crematorium.
The scheme was said to be car-free, with tenants unable to secure parking permits for the area where parking was already limited. But those moving in would be offered a year’s free car club membership.