Gardens & wildlife

Richmond House 2013 2nd Proposal evaluation

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Richmond House  

A webcast of the meeting where members of the Council's planning committee refused the proposalsee agenda ] is available. 
Report on the planning committee meeting
review the 6 main reasons for refusal
BH2013/02838 Richmond House 138-room proposal

Main objections The officers' recommendation is given in a document called The Plans List. This also summarises residents' concerns. The Council has clearly picked up on the following. 1. Disproportionate size - read more on points 1 to 4
2. Who exactly is the building for?
3. Would effectively delete D'Aubigny Road from being part of a conservation area noted for period architecture
4. Noise breakout into D'Aubigny Road & Richmond Road
5. The Draft City Plan's pledge to protect the Centenary Industrial Estate for B1 (business), B2 (general industrial) and B8 (storage & distribution) uses. Potential uses: B1c/B2/B8." Housing between 100 and 200 late-teenagers on the industrial estate would severely compromise its intended use - read more on point 5
In relation to point 5, access to the proposed block would have been unsuitably located on the corner of the lorry/van service route to Lewes Road Sainsbury. Failure to plan sufficiently for the spatial requirements of such a large number of residents (will disabled occupants & visitors need to use bicycles?), to plan adequate drop off / collection points for service vehicles (e.g refuse collection, taxis, emergency & delivery), would have risked public safety as well as jeopardising the operation of a hitherto successful industrial estate.

Who spoke in favour of the proposal?
Architect and agent for the unsuccessful Richmond House scheme was Nick Lomax, who is regarded positively by many in the city for his involvement in the Jubilee Library and Open Market schemes.

He explained the ways in which he had tried to answer criticisms of the first Richmond House scheme (unanimously refused earlier in 2013) by reducing the impact of the second proposal on The Round Hill conservation area. All entry points (including fire escapes) had been placed on the Hughes Road side. He contended that there was no way through up the embankment for students who wanted to take a short-cut to access Round Hill since the building would offer a buffer. The pitched roof on the Round Hill side was designed to be compatible with the roofline of houses in Richmond Road and D'Aubigny Road.

Nick Lomax also reported that the Council's Conservation Advisory Group had made no objection to the proposed development on conservation grounds. However, the CAG's representative (Selma Montford) informed the planning committee meeting that in spite of a tied vote (a casting vote being given by the Chair) there were deep reservations expressed in CAG's comment about the effect of such a massive building on The Round Hill conservation area. She herself considered siting homes on an industrial estate as unsuitable - "an unfriendly environment for such young students"
Emphasing the need for a greater supply of dedicated student accommodation in Brighton and Hove, Nick Lomax stated that there were 37,000 students here but only 5,000 dedicated rooms for them. Dedicated provision for them in our city was therefore at one of the lowest rates within the UK. A very recent report in the Argus has projected a dramatic increase in student numbers at The University of Sussex within a short period.

What did the planning committee say?
Our ward Councillor, Ian Davey, reiterated safety concerns about housing so many young students on an industrial estate used by heavy vehicles. Councillor Linda Hyde observed that the Centenary Industrial Estate was not that busy, but explained that she was voting against the proposal because of the disproportionate bulk of the 5-storey 138-room building and the adverse effect it would have on the Round Hill conservation area, a neighbourhood where she once lived.

Much of the debate centred on policy CP21 in the emerging city plan which sets guidance on sites specifically identified for student housing. The Centenary Industrial Estate is not one of them, though a recent Appeal Decision allowing a mix of student housing and commercial occupancy on the former Buxton's site in Ditchling Road might appear to undermine the draft city plan policy.

Councillor Graham Cox liked some aspects of the proposed Richmond Road design (e.g. the courtyard), but was not convinced by architect Nick Lomax's assertion that the scheme would take pressure off neighbourhoods being colonised by HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation). When questioned about the identity of the intended occupants (how young they were; whether they were British or from Overseas), Mr Lomax's response was: "I'm an architect".

Councillor Mike Jones shared Councillor Cox's opinion that the case for the proposal, in terms of removing the pressures on housing need, had not been made convincingly.

What did those speaking against say?
Ward Councillor Pete West focused on:

1) the disproportionate scale of the building in relation to the appearance & character of Round Hill and the potential for noise breakout and attempts to access Round Hill by climbing the embankment.

2) the adverse effects (loss of light, sunlight, overshadowing) on the living conditions of residents housed in single aspect units in the recently built Diamond Court, a development which fronts onto Hollingdean Road and backs onto Hughes Road.

3) the failure in recent years to make a concerted attempt to market the commercial use of the existing Richmond House, yet the potential (with the economic recovery) for The Centenary Estate to successful draw new enterprises compatible with its intended business and commercial uses.

4) the lack of information in the proposal on how such a large residential development could be serviced from an industrial estate (refuse & recycling collections) and how flood risk could be prevented.

D'Aubigny Road resident, Annie Rimington (also Chair of The Round Hill Society) reinforced the Council Officers' first reason for recommending refusal This recognises the value of the green embankment tracing the path of the corridor previously belonging to the Kemp Town branch railway corridor, now the NE border of our conservation area. "...In addition the actual/visual loss of the existing embankment would result in erosion of the distinct barrier between the Conservation Area and the less cohesive streetscape (now The Centenary Industrial Estate) located to the north of the site, this in turn would have a harmful impact upon the distinctive layout and predominance of green space of the area when seen in longer views. The proposal is therefore contrary to development plan policies QD1, QD2, QD3, QD4 and HE6 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan..." Annie emphasised the value which Round Hill residents attach to the green ribbons between our period terraces: our conservation area's green NE border (still close to a railway corridor) has a significant role to play in bringing wildlife into our area providing visual amenity and a feeling of openness

Annie also mentioned how tightly knit our successful community is already. With circa 2,300 residents living within half a square kilometre Round Hill already has twice the population density of a medium sized UK city suburb. Had Annie had more than 3 minutes to make her comment, she could have elaborated:-

Although Round Hill's very high population density is reflected in our community's main concerns (e.g. parking difficulty, street cleanliness, noise disturbance), there is still a feel-good factor about living on a green hill with spectacular two-way views, which would be severely undermined if the gaps between our ends-of-terraces were filled in by massive amounts of brick, concrete and glass.

Photos of Round Hill appear regularly in both national and local newspapers when journalists wish to feature Brighton's Regency and Victorian period architecture which still remains largely intact (more uniform than in the centre of our city which is less residential in character and punctuated by high buildings such as American Express). A centre-page spread of Round Hill (unattributed) appeared in The Guardian recently showing both our neighbourhood's charm and the high density of dwellings
Annie did find time in her 3 minutes to emphasise the inadequacies of housing so many 16-18 year old pupils from overseas (not a category which one associates with long-term tenancies) without the level of supervision which mainly EFL students would get within host families. She added that the proposal could undermine Brighton's host family market which spreads economic rewards as well as offering educational benefits to learners of English.

A reasonable Richmond House brief?
Interestingly, Councillor Linda Hyde got an answer from one of the Council officers to the useful question of what was a reasonable amount of accommodation to place on the Richmond House site:

The officer quoted;
"12 units with mixed use (some residential)"

The campaign against the 2nd proposal
In autumn 2013, Matsims Ltd has lodged a revised application BH2013/02838 to demolish Richmond House and erect a 138 room student hostel. The proposed building (internal floorspace: 4164.7 sq m) would have over five times more internal floorspace than the existing (internal floorspace: 803 sq metres) pictured below: Richmond House

1. Disproportionate size - it's like extending a home in NE Round Hill so that the building covers the whole garden, also eating up the green hillside which defines the boundary between the conservation area and the industrial estate
Several Round Hill residents are concerned that a huge building with over five times the internal floorspace than the current Richmond House would effectively delete D'Aubigny Road from the conservation area, making a nonsense of the Article 4 restrictions (on doors, windows, bays etc) which attempt to preserve the character & appearance of the neighbourhood's period architecture. The existing gaps between ends of terraces provide an open-feel to a neighbourhood which already has over twice the population density of the average UK city suburb. Stopping up these gaps will sever the connections between our conservation area and neighbouring suburbs.
2. Who exactly is the building for? The developer repeats the mantra about "housing students separately from residents". However, their justification for a huge building seems to rest on an agreement between the University of Brighton and a private company which is predominantly providing English as a Foreign Language to overseas students of a younger age group than those you would find in HMOs. Has it been made clear to you who would be using the proposed building during term-times and holiday times, or will local residents and The Council only find out once planning permission has been granted and the construction is up? Are the stated uses (pre-university students!) both credible and sustainable or will we end up with a poorly specified hotel on an industrial estate?
If the proposed development were truly to accommodate university degree students (including some from the UK), there may be some justification that it is needed in terms of returning HMOs to family accommodation. Housing 16-18 year old (Secondary School aged pupils from overseas) in large numbers with inadequate supervision, would not relieve such pressures. It would merely damage Brighton's host-family economy, a far more appropriate way of providing adequate supervision for this age-group, giving the young visitors greater access to native English speakers, distributing income more evenly (i.e. to hard-working families) and fostering good cultural and international relationships. A giant hostel, deprived of natural daylight on two of the five floors, with poor access onto an industrial estate, would isolate language learners from the settings they need to apply what they learn in class.

3. Noise breakout into D'Aubigny Road & the bottom of Richmond Road would alienate the visitors from the very families who should be hosting them. For successful language learning & social integration, these young visitors need to be dispersed and to be hosted at in some ratio with native speakers of English. Otherwise, the extra pressure on Brighton and Hove's limited infrastructure has little or no social or educational justification. Economically, a huge hall of residence (for these vaguely defined visitors) would make money for a developer. If (as it seems) the intended occupants are principally 16-18 year old EFL learners, the precedent of isolating the group in this way could undermine the success of the host family system which spreads rewards to residents while delivering both socially and educationally. Noise breakout from a giant isolation block could also set the interests of "adolescents from overseas" (who should be seeking integration with native English speakers) against the interests of "local residents".

Justification for the development
will it free up accommodation for people on the housing list?

Is this kind of accommodation sustainable for students from overseas whose main aim is to improve their English language skills?
Will political events, developments in technology, social trends or awareness that educational opportunities are being wasted change the current demand for it?

Mortar Developments are using the University of Brighton's affiliation with Kaplan, which specialises in pre-university language programmes (currently English) at Brighton International College (not university degree programmes), as a justification for the proposed Richmond House development. This suggests that the learners who the developer seeks to accommodate would be in the 16-18 age range.

The developer refutes that tenancies would be short-term, though after 5 weeks (at the age of 17) learning French in Paris on The University of The Sorbonne's summer course in French language and civilisation, my memory is that I was quite glad to return to my 6th Form in the UK.

Having taught EFL to multilingual classes of students (including this age range) in Brighton and Hove for almost two decades, I would not deny the educational value of cross cultural exchange, whatever the language used. However, in terms of English language development, I always felt that "time spent in the classroom" and "time spent in an English-speaking host family" went hand in hand. The latter consolidates learning by making it necessary to use English outside of the classroom soon after new syntax, vocabulary and language functions have been presented. The value of "the host family" is capitalised on in the design of many language teaching materials (I offer my own as an example to show my long-held belief that learners gain most from being hosted in this way) First Time in England. Another such material is Welcome To Britain by Brighton-based authors Jimmie Hill and Michael Lewis.

The policy of the school where I taught is still to refrain wherever possible from placing more than one student of the same language background in the same host family. This promotes use of the target language: i.e. immersion in English rather than over-use of students' native languages, wasting the opportunities provided by a UK setting.

Impact on RH Conservation area
What will Richmond Rd look like if BH2013/02838 is built? View the developer's own photomontage on page 42 of their 55-page PDF Design and Access Statement (Enter the page number).

What will D'Aubigny Rd look like if BH2013/02838 is built? View the developer's own photomontage on page 44 of their 55-page PDF Design and Access Statement (Enter the page number).

The gaps between Round Hill's street terraces facilitate the long views into & out of the conservation area which many Brighton and Hove residents value. Filling them with buildings which are unsympathetic architecturally to their surroundings will destroy what makes Round Hill special.

The developer contends that creating a crescent to fill the outer junction of Richmond Road and D'Aubigny Road would improve the streetscape. My own view is that filling this gap would give an unwanted sense of enclosure to residents living at the east end of Richmond Road. Living in Princes Road, I would not like to see the gap between the terrace of the east end of my own street and the northern end of Mayo Road plugged in a similar way. This would take away the feeling of openess which people get when they look eastwards from the summit of Princes Road.

Would residents of D'Aubigny Road still feel part of a conservation area?

The developer refers far more frequently to Richmond Road than to D'Aubigny Road when describing the impact of their own proposal on our conservation area. Of the two streets, I feel that the impact on D'Aubigny Road is a lot more depressing. D'Aubigny Road is a short street with circa eight Victorian houses on each side. The addition of six large dormers, each providing window space for four studio apartments (two on the 3rd floor and two on the 4th floor) with 36 studio rooms (three floors of 12 rooms) looking out onto the east side of D'Aubigny Road risks removing the feel of a Victorian-period conservation area from the whole street.

Different CA rules for different interest groups

Existing residents would still be expected to observe the Article 4 direction which regulates window & door design at the front of their homes, even though the windows in the proposed Richmond House proposal are grey-coloured, polyester-powdered coated aluminium, composite double glazed.

It is fair to mention that the windows in the existing Richmond House are blue single-glazed crittal metal. However, this building predates the Article 4 direction attempting to preserve the unity of our period architecture and covers a far smaller footprint.

Proposed Floor Plans: Ground | 1st | 2nd | 3rd | 4th | Roof There is no provision on the Centenary Industrial Estate for any outdoor amenity space. Close supervision will be needed to ensure that the students do not congregate outside the main entrance where too many of them would spill over onto the service road to Sainsbury's delivery yard. The small enclosed triangle of outdoor amenity space at Round Hill level is unlikely to prove satisfactory for a 138-room development. The revised application limits access (to & from the proposed development) to The Centenary Industrial Estate. However, with on site outdoor amenity space so limited, it is difficult to believe that access via Round Hill entrance(s) would not not be requested at a later stage with better public open space (borrowed infrastructure!) so close at hand and quicker and safer routes to transport links such as London Road Station.

Creating a precedent which could quickly take away the feeling of living in a conservation area

Granting this proposal would create a precedent which could allow similar development along the tree-lined embankment between the end of the NE terrace of Richmond Road and the junction with D'Aubigny Road. Industrial units may be removed to make way for more intensive development. This is called maximising a site's potential or urban cramming depending on your point of view.

The gap between the ends of terraces at the junction of Princes Road and Mayo Road may also invite similar proposals if a first high-density residential development on the Centenary Industrial Estate is granted. The recent 5-storey residential development on the old Esso Garage site in Hollingdean Road was cited as a precedent by this developer, and so it goes on at such a frantic pace now.

For well over one hundred years, our densely populated conservation area has been compensated by the open-feel of its green ribbons (the former drying fields for laundries), the Coastways railway corridor (which was meant to be a designated greenway) and tree-lined northern boundary to the NE of Richmond Rd once leading to Lewes Road Station - the first stop on the Kemp Town branchline at the junction of Richmond Rd and D'Aubigny Road.

Removal of the vegetation and trees, filling the gaps which afford long views into & out of Round Hill, can only take away the feeling that our neighbourhood its connected with other parts of NE Brighton. The openness which people feel when walking down streets like Richmond Rd and Princes Rd or looking out onto neighbouring districts from their windows would disappear, to be replaced by a feeling of enclosure. The period-feel of a mainly Victorian neighbourhood will also disappear. The unity of our neighbourhood's architecture, which has for the most part been spared from the conflicting styles of building which have been erected in most other parts of Brighton and Hove, would no longer define a conservation area.

Unsuitable materials for Round Hill
Application BH2013/02838 proposes to replace this building. Richmond House
WALLS: proposed existing
buff brickwork, white render,
resin board panels,
colour to approval
white render and
stock brickwork
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ROOF: proposed existing
grey polymetric membrane asphalt
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WINDOWS: proposed existing
polyester powdered coated aluminium composite double
glazed colour grey
single glazed crittal metal windows painted blue
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DOORS: proposed existing
polyester powder coated
aluminium double glazed doors
colour grey
single glazed crittal metal doors painted blue
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Boundary treatments
low brickwork and
rendered walls
with planting
low brickwork wall
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The proposed building (internal floorspace: 4164.7 sq m) would have over five times more internal floorspace than the existing (internal floorspace: 803 sq metres).

Microsoft Word documents used in the campaign
why the application should be refused and
proforma letter
This page was last updated by Ted on 13-Feb-2019
(registered users can amend this page)