A councillor took aim at the developer who wants to turn the landmark old St Dunstan’s home for blind ex-servicemen into luxury flats.
Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh criticised the “measly” approach taken by the James Taylor Group to their obligation to include “affordable” housing in their plans for the Ovingdean site.
Another councillor weighed in, saying that the developer expected to make a profit of £7 million on the £35 million scheme.
And now the project will be delayed while further talks take place to try to obtain a better deal on affordable housing.
Councillor Fishleigh, who represents Rottingdean Coastal ward on Brighton and Hove City Council, blasted James Taylor at a meeting of the South Downs National Park Authority’s Planning Committee today (Thursday 8 December).
She said: “The developers knew when they bought the site what your requirement is when it comes to affordable housing.
“The price they paid for the site should have reflected this requirement and been reflected in their business plan.
“If they overpaid for the site or if reconfiguring the inside layout is more expensive than anticipated, then that’s their problem.
“The measly £500,000 affordable housing contribution – with a possible additional £500,000 – is less than one of the largest flats will fetch in a few years’ time and a clear breach of policy.”
The national park authority’s policy is that developers proposing to build more than 11 homes should ensure half of them are classed as “affordable”.
But James Taylor said that this would not be possible at the old St Dunstan’s site, known more recently by the charity’s new name, Blind Veterans UK.
The company applied for planning permission to turn the main building, the grade II listed Ian Fraser House, into a mix of one, two and three-bedroom flats.
As well as the 64 flats, James Taylor hopes to include a cinema, gym and swimming pool – for residents’ use only – in the makeover of the site.
The company initially said that it could not offer any affordable housing on the site but it was prepared to pay a “commuted sum” of £500,000 and a further £500,000 from any excess profits.
At the meeting in Midhurst, Councillor Fishleigh asked why the national park authority was considering breaking its own affordable housing policy.
She also urged the Planning Committee to prevent any of the flats from being sold as second homes or holiday lets – but members were told that that was not possible.
Savill’s planning director Guy Dixon spoke on behalf of the James Taylor Group and said that the restoration was sensitive to the grade II listed property.
Mr Dixon said: “The building, built in 1938, is no longer suited to its current use, with the seven floors particularly unsuited for a much older resident population than the building was made and intended for.
“The existing facility is highly specialised, under-occupied and the size, age and listed status make its management and ongoing maintenance expensive.”
Blind Veterans UK has moved to more modern premises at the old RAF Benevolent Fund holiday home, Princess Marina House, in Rustington.
Ian Phillips, who chairs the national park authority, asked the Planning Committee to back further talks to allow a potential affordable housing contribution of more than £1 million.
He said: “There’s an issue with the cap of £500,000. If there’s a 50 per cent contribution, why is that capped? That surely doesn’t relate to the cost of restoring the listed building. It’s profits. Could we get a better deal?”
East Hampshire district councillor Robert Mocatta said that he had “issues” with commuted sums because the developer expected to make a £7 million profit on the £35 million scheme.
Councillor Mocatta said: “Why reduce what we get? This is a 64-unit site and we’re effectively getting no affordable housing and it’s not policy compliant.”
Alun Alesbury, a West Sussex parish councillor, said: “This discussion has been a very good example of what happens when you’ve got an intelligent planning committee, some of whom think they could have done the negotiations better than our professional planning officers and advisers.
“These things are difficult and my own experience in the planning field leaves me to believe there is nothing exceptional in the balance officers have agreed here.”
The committee was told that the authority used developer contributions to help organisations such as community land trusts buy land for affordable homes within the South Downs National Park.
The committee voted by six votes to five in favour of more talks with the developer about affordable housing.
The vote gives Heather Baker, who chairs the Planning Committee, and the national park authority’s director of planning Tim Slaney the delegated power to grant planning permission after further talks.
Members voted to grant listed building consent unanimously, permitting the internal alterations necessary to convert Ian Fraser House, in Greenways, Ovingdean, into luxury flats.
An extension which houses the swimming pool and gym is due to be turned into maisonettes while the sports hall would become a cinema.