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Crescent Rd-fails the permitted development tests

See also, shorter article providing a summary of
the exemptions to permitted development.

Dear Andrew Huntley (Case Officer for BH2014/00841),

My objections to BH2014/00841 fall into categories [1.0 ] and [2.0] below:   

[1.0]

BH2014/00841 DOES NOT MEET THE TERMS OF THE PERMITTED DEVELOPMENT RIGHT INTRODUCED IN MAY 2013

The Design and Access Statement describes proposal BH2014/00841 as “Conversion of former Offices at 28 and 28b Crescent Road” and discloses that “The site has been partly vacant for several years and the last Tenant of 28; Geo Environmental Services Ltd recently vacated their offices in December 2013.

[1.1] DISCREPANCY RE USE

The Application Form for BH2014/00841 makes the assumption that all the former offices have most recently been in B1(a) office use. When asked in section 4 of this  form “What was the use of the building immediately before 30th May 2013 or the last use before that date?” the applicant gives a one-word answer “offices”: without writing anything further within the large input box provided on the form. A complete and transparent answer to this question would verify the "class of office use" based on the nature of work carried out by Geo Environmental Development at the time when the change of rule came about.

It was stated in section 22 of the withdrawn application BH2014/00124, lodged just a few weeks earlier in January 2014, that all the office space on the site is classed as "class A2 use" (Financial and Professional Services).

"Class A2 use", which is NOT covered by the new permitted development right, conforms with the reasonable and limited impact which Geo Environmental Services’ operation had in recent years on the large number of residential properties surrounding the application site. No complaints about this light use of the site were made to The Round Hill Society (our the local residents’ association). See
Guide to "use categories" in England, May 2013 Other classes of office use which are outside the terms of "permitted development are B1(b) Research and development of products and processes, and B1(c) for any industrial process (which can be carried out in any residential area without causing detriment to the amenity of the area). Only B1(a) [Office other than a use within class A2] qualifies for conversion to residential under the new permitted development right introduced on 30th May 2013. This too is subject to prior approval process, previous use timings, limitations, and exempt areas.

[1.2] DISCREPANCY RE  AMOUNT OF OFFICE FLOORSPACE

The longer application form containing thirty sections submitted with BH2014/00124 commits the applicant to declaring the most recent use of the offices. I was quite happy to see the class of USE in section 22 of this form described by the applicant as A2 Financial and Professional Services.

However, I was puzzled by the figure of 313 square metres given for the AMOUNT of office floorspace. The previous planning application (BH2009/01665) to record the amount of office floorspace belonging to  28B Crescent Road (note under other tenants) gives the amount as 116.58 square metres.

Nowhere on the planning register is there any evidence to demonstrate that there was ever more than 166.58 square metres of internal office floorspace since 2009.  Application BH2009/01665 was an attempt to add 15 more full-time employees to the 13 full-time employees already on the site by increasing office floorspace from 116.58 square metres to 156.48 square metres. However, Application BH2009/01665 never succeeded: [DECIDED 18 August 2010 FINALLY DISPOSED OF]. From 18th August 2010, there was no more than 116.58 square metres put to office use on the site. Has that grown since? On the contrary, as we are told in the Design and Access Statement for proposal BH2014/00841, “the site has been partly vacant for several years”

The application site has seen a variety of uses. There has undoubtedly been some B1(a) use on the site during past tenancies; at one time, it was even permitted to stable horses there to pull laundry vans. However, B1(a) use was not the case during Geo Environmental Services tenure which coincided with the period immediately before 30th May 2013. It is this more recent time-frame, which is the test to see if application BH2014/00841 can be made under permitted development. 

I contend that BH2014/00841’s assumption (not statement!)  of B1(a) use immediately before May 2013 is incorrect. Also, BH2014/00841 assumes, and BH2014/00124 states, that there are 313 square metres of office floorspace. Yet, planning history shows no more than 116.58 square metres of office space belonging to 28B Crescent Road in recent years, and only partly used.

While it is plausible that the applicant may need as much as 313 square metres of floorspace to create 5 residential flats, there is no evidence that the whole office floorspace at 28B Crescent Road was any more than 38% of this amount. Supposing there were substance in the unsubstantiated assumption in the application form for BH2014/00841 that Geo Environmental Services use of 28B Crescent Road could be re-defined as B1 (a). This does not change the inflated amount of floorspace they are claiming to fall within B1 (a) use.

[1.3] SPACE ALREADY IN RESIDENTIAL USE:

 28 CRESCENT ROAD is NOT currently office floorspace

The description of proposal BH2014/00841 in its Design and Access Statement is “Conversion of former Offices at 28 and 28b Crescent Road” contains a misleading assumption about the use of 28 Crescent Road, which has in fact been in residential use since 19th January 1999.

The assumption could be used to imply that there is more office floorspace on the application site than the 116.58 square metres which truly reflects the amount belonging to 28B Crescent Road i.e. barely sufficient for 2 flats if a permitted development right in fact existed for this limited amount.

BH1998/02541/FP (for conversion of ground floor offices and first floor flat into single private dwelling house) relates to 28 Crescent Road alone. This application was approved on 19th January 1999. The drawings submitted with BH2014/00124 and BH2014/00841 do not show 28 Crescent Road to be affected by the conversions, neither have I found evidence to suggest that 28 Crescent Road has reverted to office space. 

 [1.4] THE CURRENT APPLICATION FORM: LACK OF INFO

NOTIFICATION OF A PROPOSED CHANGE OF USE TO DWELLING(S)

The applicant has provided the minimum information possible (10 words other than dates and addresses!) on the five-section application form in BH2014/00841 which substitutes for the thirty-section application form required for BH2014/00124. The assumption that the applicant has some Class B1 (a) office floorspace to convert to C3 dwelling houses, is written into the rubric of the notification form itself. Nowhere on this form does the applicant need to verify the assumption or declare the amount of office space they propose to convert. The public can only deduce that the 313 square metres of office floorspace (described as A2 in BH2014/00124) is the amount proposed in BH2014/00841, but there is no explanation as to why the class of use has suddenly been redefined as B1(a) and no measure of the space except in the drawings for the proposed houses in 

BH2014/00841 which are equivalent to those in BH2014/00124. The decision to remove access to the documents for BH2014/00124 on the Council’s Planning Register aids this lack of transparency. Without having access to the application form for BH2014/00124, there is no direct way of seeing that in BH2014/00841 the applicant is claiming the existence of 313 square metres of office floorspace was in B1 (a) use immediately before 30th May 2013 when the rule on permitted development was changed. 313 square metres is a lot more than double the amount of office floorspace claimed as belonging to 28/28B Crescent Road in any previous application. 

When searching for previous applications on the planning register, note that different ones are returned depending on whether the search string is “28 Crescent Road” or “28B Crescent Road”. This too makes it tricky to review the planning history of a freehold which already appears to be in part-residential and part-business use.

The notification is also an attempt to change the use of any land within the curtilage of the freehold at 28 and 28B Crescent Road to residential. Even if the attempt succeeded, the notification would not deliver any permission to change structures (annexes/outbuildings/sheds) on the site which were never recently in B1(a) use to residential buildings. Separate planning permission(s) would be needed for that. The applicant gives no specification of the structures (annexes/outbuildings/sheds) on the site, identifying just how much business accommodation has recently been in B1 (a) use. Half-page windows are given on this short application form where he can specify and prescribe and perhaps indicate an amount. His only description of the proposed development is (9 words) “Conversion of former offices into five self contained flats”. He is then asked: “What was the use of the building immediately before 30th May 2013 or the last use before that date?” His one word reply is “Offices” without specifying a class of use. He does not explain that his plans do not relate to a single building, but a hotchpotch of structures including annexes. Application BH2014/00841 stretches the terms of the new right introduced in May 2013 beyond breaking-point. 

It should clearly have been a full planning application and not trimmed (with vital information downplayed, omitted or hidden away) to fit a notification form.

[1.5] ASSOCIATED EXTERNAL PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT MAY STILL REQUIRE PLANNING PERMISSION

Under the new permitted development rule introduced in May 2013, associated external physical development may still require planning permission.  This freehold contains an untidy warren of buildings and annexes which are not on a street frontage. This sprawl has spread over the years, not through any attempt to improve the overall design, but by patchwork.  Application of the permitted development right is entirely inappropriate when a developer is working towards a result which goes so far beyond simple conversion. All the tests (e.g. for contamination & flood risks)  on a much larger area of the land than the footprints of the existing office buildings, point to a much larger plan. The destruction of wildlife habitat on the green open space, which has so much upset local residents, points to the same. The proposal is not like converting a building on a street frontage (e.g. Marcia’s hairdresser’s) to a home and making a garden out of land within the curtilage. What BH2014/00841 actually targets is a valued open space which offers visual and environmental benefits to circa 50 residents. Should BH2014/00841 be allowed to succeed, the permitted overdevelopment would need to be very closely prescribed and must in no way form a precedent to facilitate further overdevelopment on the application site.

 [1.6] AMOUNT OF EXTERNAL PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT NEEDED IS DOWNPLAYED

The developer’s supporting documents downplay the amount of external physical development which would be essential to convert a hotchpotch of buildings into adequate 24/7 residential accommodation. For example, I understand that all the existing felt on the roofing will need replacing with a more expensive membrane, though there was notably no mention of roofing material in the developer’s applications. The external alterations which would be needed both to mitigate for unreasonable instances of overlooking and to show adequate regard for Round Hill’s Article 4 direction (which dates from 2002) would be significant. This is the missing part of the proposal. BH2014/00841 supplies drawings but these exist in a vacuum. Barely any reference to surrounding households is evident in the designs. Some external alterations have been declared: the use of coloured fibre cement boarding for infilling walls, the use of vertical mullions in windows, window enlargement, lowering some of the heads of higher windows. There is no architectural rhythm whatsoever in the spacing of windows and doors and this clashes badly with the classic beauty of the Crescent Road and Belton Road terraces as they march down the slope. The amount of external alteration needed to create suitable homes out of remnants from the laundries which have had a number of different uses, is beyond what the new permitted development right is intended to cover. The patchwork proposed is totally out of sympathy with conservation features which define the character and appearance of a neighbourhood which residents care for. The period features of Round Hill are showcased all around the application site. The latter is a very narrow strip, no wider than my own street including its pavements.

[1.7] FURTHER DISCREPANCY RELATING TO THE CURTILAGE OF THE PLOT

The Location Plans included in BH2014/00841 and BH2014/00124 are slightly different in area. BH2014/00124 shows an extra parcel of land to the west of the site which does not fall within the freehold of title deed plan ESX234885 for 28 and 28b Crescent Road. This has been omitted from BH2014/00841. However, the drawings submitted with BH2014/00841 and BH2014/00124 are equivalent. They identify a proposal to convert 313 square metres of office space into five residential flats. It would appear that office space has been invented which was not actually used at 28/28B Crescent Road immediately before 30th May 2013. Residential development on this site should only be contemplated under a normal planning application. Given the applicant’s eagerness to develop the whole of what is a very narrow strip where more homes would impact significantly on a large number of households (already tightly knit), any permissions given would need to be very closely prescribed. 

I do believe that an appeal inspector would see the unreasonable nature of the proposal and support the above arguments, should BH2014/00841 ever go to appeal.

[2.0] TRANSPORT AND HIGHWAYS IMPLICATIONS OF BH2014/00841

[2.1] In order to accommodate the transport and highways implications of BH2014/00841, the Council would need to ditch its condition for genuine car-free housing [policy HO7(b)] within The Local Plan. The latter has been referred to in three different appeal decisions where the transport implications of proposed residential developments (including car-free) in hilly Round Hill has been found to be unacceptable. Local residents contributed to the latest of these appeal decisions by submitting their own on-street parking survey to appeal inspector Isobel McCretton. 

[2.2] Does the existence of Round Hill’s CPZ, implemented in Sep 2012 accommodate more infilling and loss of greenspace? Round Hill residents voted by a very narrow majority for a CPZ, so it would be unfortunate if residents in The Triangle Area / Elm Grove / Hanover who could improve their streets so much by embracing residents’ parking schemes got the message that in doing so they were voting for city cramming and subsidising the profits of developers. It would neither be good planning policy or good politics to allow CPZs to serve invisible as well as visible agendas.

[2.3] Appeal inspectors who have made site visits to Round Hill in 2005, 2007 and 2010 to form views on whether to dismiss appeals on transport grounds (i.e. pressure on on-street parking & safety considerations) have agreed with residents rather than the assessment of the Highways/Sustainable Transport Department. The cut-off time for tour CPZ is 8pm. Isobel McCretton, who anticipates an imminent CPZ in her appeal decision, reiterates the concern that parking difficulty in Round Hill is most acute in the evenings.

[2.4] The presence of a CPZ  [HO7(a)] is only ONE of the TWO conditions needed to satisfy the Council’s conditions for genuine car-free housing. Appeal inspector, Roger Mather, makes explicit reference to [HO7 (b)] where it can be demonstrated that the proposed development will remain genuinely car-free over the long term. “Parking-permit apartheid" in our hilly neighbourhood, which does not belong to Central Brighton, could not last for very long without legal challenge.

See www.roundhill.biz for the appeal references and to review three appeal inspectors’ comments on our parking difficulties. The problem of evening parking in Round Hill was one of the main issues aired at The Round Hill Society’s most recent AGM (attended by Cllr Pete West) on 17th October 2013, one year after Round Hill’s CPZ was implemented. Granting a development on the back of a measure which residents pay for to reduce parking difficulty is not the best way to advertise the benefits of CPZs.

Yours sincerely,

 

See also, shorter article providing a summary of
the exemptions to permitted development.

This page was last updated by Ted on 27-Jan-2019
(registered users can amend this page)