More student flats planned – but not just any old student flats

The Marks and Spencer in London Road in Brighton in 1960 – Picture courtesy of the Marks and Spencer company archive

A 1930s shop building may be demolished to make way for dozens of student flats – but not just any old student flats.

Plans have been drawn up by McLaren Property to demolish the old Marks and Spencer building next to Aldi in London Road, Brighton.

The developer wants to replace it with a five-storey building with 156 purpose-built student flats and shops on the ground floor.

The current tenants on the ground floor of 5-8 London Road are Peacocks, Iceland and Poundland, with M&S having vacated the premises in 1986.

But the McLaren scheme, valued at about £50 million, is due to go before members of Brighton and Hove City Council next week when the council’s Planning Committee should give its verdict.

McLaren’s design and development team, including architects Morgan Carn, gave the London Road Local Action Team (LAT) a presentation about the scheme in September.

LAT chair Philip Wells sent a comment to the council although his details were redacted on the council’s website.

Mr Wells said that the presentation was well received, particularly by people living in Providence Place.

He said: “The site adjoins and overlooks Providence Place Park – which was the subject of a detailed improvement programme in which the LAT was an enthusiastic and involved participant.

“The architect was clearly aware of the issues and potential of the immediate area – and the design clearly reflected that concern.

“Should the development go ahead, it will certainly be an improvement in this regard.”

The McLaren proposal for 5-8 London Road in Brighton, formerly Marks and Spencer

A neighbour who objected to the plans, whose details the council redacted, was concerned about the noise and the effects of the demolition process.

They said: “If this new demolition goes ahead, it will disrupt the day-to-day living of the residents and affect people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Please consider this at highest priority as it involves residents’ wellbeing and quality of life.”

A person who followed the LAT presentation, whose details were also redacted, wrote in support of the scheme, saying that they hoped the security at the student entrance to the building would have a positive effect in Providence Place which had problems with drugs and anti-social behaviour.

They said: “Should we keep ugly, badly planned, dirty buildings, whose doorways contribute to anti-social problems in place, because of temporary noise and inconvenience?

“Or should we look to the future with new, purpose-built, mixed-use buildings of interesting design where thought has been given to the different needs of residents and traders?

Graffiti covers the back of the old Marks and Spencer in London Road as seen from Providence Place

“The bigger picture is one where, after due consultation with all concerned parties, a cleaner, brighter, more appropriate building will enhance the area for all.”

Another neighbour, whose details the council has also kept secret from the public, said: “It is likely, especially with the thousands of new student dwellings at the university and in Lewes Road, the developers will soon apply for a change of use.

“The area has too many students already who, at such a number, do not add to the community and increase the amount of anti-social behaviour such as drinking and creating late-night noise (already a problem).”

Ardmore Language Schools managing director Martin Corr said that the scheme would provide “much-needed” accommodation not just for students during the academic year but also for the summer conference market and year-round language school academic provision.

He said that the language school ran courses with both Brighton College and Brighton University.

But a letter from Sussex University said that it would not be taking out a “nomination agreement” to promote the flats to its students.

Peacocks, Iceland and Poundland occupy the old Marks and Spencer building in London Road in Brighton

The university’s deputy director of estates, facilities and commercial services Francine Hill said that the location was “positive”.

But students regularly raised concerns about the lack of capacity on the 25 bus to the university campuses at Falmer and Moulsecoomb at certain times of the day.

McLaren Property development director David Atherton said: “Unfortunately, the existing building has now reached the end of its economic life and is sadly attracting anti-social behaviour.

“The proposed replacement incorporates fit-for-purpose retail space and makes efficient use of the site to also provide properly managed student housing that will help take the pressure of local housing stock.

“We are pleased to receive the positive comments from local institutions and for the support and input we have had from the LAT, Regency Society and local ward councillor.”

The scheme has won the backing of council planning officials but councillors will have the final say.

The Planning Committee is due to decide whether to grant planning permission at a virtual meeting next Wednesday (10 February). The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council website from 2pm.

  1. Hove Guy Reply

    Of cxourse this will go ahead. More students means more votes for the Greens, who are not at all interested in the disruption this causes to the lives of other residents.

  2. Bear Road resident Reply

    “Or should we look to the future with new, purpose-built, mixed-use buildings of interesting design where thought has been given to the different needs of residents and traders?” – How does a further 156 student flats in an town desperate for housing for its local population address “the needs of residents” – we need homes for local people not more student accomodation blocks. When will this council realise that not everybody in Brighton is a student?

    • Robin Hislop Reply

      I think the council’s strategy is that these purpose built student blocks will reduce demand for shared student housing in residential areas, thus freeing up houses for families and reducing the friction that can occur.

      • stephen Hetherington Reply

        Looking at the rents asked on the U+i website and by the other PBSA providers the purpose
        built units cost from £200 to £320 pwk, thats twice as much or more than a HMO house share in
        The Lewes Rd ‘student corridor’ and Hanover. The Abacus { old coop site] on London Rd the three builds on the Lewes Rd gyratory all seem to house Chinese students as only foreign intake can afford the rent.
        Speaking as someone who lives next to a row of 5 student houses in Hanover I can say I am not aware of a single HMO that has been let to a family because it would have to be half the rent
        unless the family could afford £120 pwk for a room.
        The new builds simply accommodate the expanded foreign student numbers.
        The PBSA builds are not subject to council tax or business rates. From 2017 to the present we have gained 4400 and counting purpose built student blocks, how many homes for locals?

        • stephen Hetherington Reply

          That should read £120 PER room.

    • BrightonReader Reply

      The council isn’t building these student flats.

      It’s giving planning permission. If it denied permission the developer would just appeal and the planning inspector grant it anyway.

      Blame the developer for wanting student flats rather than flats for non students.

  3. Sonja Reply

    The original 1930’s facade should be kept without a question, we don’t need yet another drab ‘modern’ facade which drains all the uniqueness of the town, by all means up date and improve but retain the history, we have far too many student places being built currently, what we need is genuinely affordable homes to rent and to buy as well as more council housing and some decent shops to come back to London Road!

    • Paul Reply

      That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it, for me however I don’t see the original building as unique or particularly interesting design wise, It’s just a brick box with a few windows in it!

      If it was something like the old Co-op or the Astoria then yes I’d agree with you, mind you the new building proposed isn’t anything special either!

      Time for some genuinely interesting design rather than more of the same, or keeping the existing just because it’s there!

  4. Bear Road resident Reply

    Whilst the council isn’t building the student blocks they haven’t attemped to raise any objections to these builds or (as in other cities) imposed a moratorium on excessive student houses destroying the demographics of an area. One could be tempted to infer that the green party who rely on the student vote to stay in power may be more than a little influenced to approve all these builds.
    As to the old saw that they will free up houses for families there is absolutely no evidence that the massive influx of student blocks on the Vogue Gyratory, Hollingdean and London Roads has reduced the number of student HMOs at all. Let’s face it once a three bedroom family house has been converted into a six/seven student cupboard house it’s unlikely to be converted back again.
    We need to face up to the facts that the Universities that have long ago ceased to establishments for providing further education and are now merely money making machines will continue to increase student numbers ad infinitum and the greedy properly developers will be more than happy to accommodate them…

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