King Alfred: Another one bites the dust (gets a shove out the door)

11 October 19…..Last Wednesday morning, 2nd October, I met up with Rob Starr for a coffee at his invitation.  He wanted to update me on where things were in the wake of partners, Crest Nicholson, withdrawing in August from the King Alfred redevelopment process (towards signing a Development Agreement).
I already knew from him that he had two replacement partners lined up – and going with Legal & General was  his choice. So over coffee he told me more.
Instead of 80% market housing with only 20% so-called affordable (mix of rental/part buy, part rent) from Crest, as partners to deliver the same scheme within the existing bid, Legal & General would provide mostly rental (including that 20% affordable element) and only 10% market flats.  Within the Legal & General offer would be a 60+ Guild Living area taking 30% of the housing.  And just have a look at what that means….not just flats, an urban retirement community scheme announced by Legal & General in May.  This and build to rent are now where long-term investment is going.  That kind of “developer” is infinitely preferable and infinitely more cost effective than the usual hit and run developer who just builds, sells and is gone.
His big news though was that, instead of welcoming and seizing this opportunity, Brighton & Hove City Council officers (Nick Hibberd & a commercial law officer) wanted to terminate the procurement entirely.  As he spoke I was thinking….’when is the next P&R meeting?’….  He told me that there had been an agreement to inform councillors of his new partner offer which had not been honoured, he told me he was organising a response to the legal opinion from the Council that proceeding would break procurement law.  At this point I stopped his flow to point out that P&R was scheduled for the 10th – one week away and it was my betting that he would have the rug pulled out from under him at that meeting.  No agenda was yet up and not expected til The next day at noon.  He had not known about this calendar event.
He had been under the impression that BHCC would wait for his lawyers to rebutt and argue their lawyer’s interpretation of procurement law on the point about replacing Crest with Legal & General.  We ended our coffee meeting with him going away to contact Nick Hibberd.  That afternoon, exceptionally, the P&R agenda was posted online to the Council’s Calendar of Meetings page.  No more waiting.  Give the decision to the Councillors.  End of.  I checked with Sarah Booker-Lewis too.  The Local Democracy reporter confirmed that the agenda had gone up that afternoon (and not before as someone reportedly told Rob Starr).  Such unseemly haste, no?
SHINING A SPOTLIGHT….
Brighton & Hove News provided a briefing note that everyone should read.  I wonder if any P&R Councillors read it.  All Starr asked for was positive intent and an opportunity to just see if any challenge to the change of partner would emerge following a notification and standstill period.  Reading quotes from the report to P&R it is painfully clear that BHCC was in cut and run guillotine mode!
The Argus put a small report of the upcoming meeting in its print editon on the Thursday but nothing more until THIS, splashed over the front page of the print edition and placed online for all to see on the day of the fated P&R meeting itself.  By now the Argus had been provided with a lot of background detail but mostly what they provided was the drama, little of what the Starr Trust wanted the city to get from the scheme using Legal & General.  By now though, it was true, the kindly and affable Rob Starr had become a very angry man.
THE POLICY & RESOURCES MEETING
Entering the Chamber it was clear that the publicity had not gone unnoticed.  CEO Geoff Raw chirpily greeted Rob and his lawyer and Nick Hibberd was Mr. Congeniality 2019 and greeted the subdued Rob Starr like an old mate.  The kisses before the hit.
Why did Rob Starr have to ASK to address Councillors for the first time in all the 3 years since winning the bid?  And he did have to ask.  It was not offered.  He first demanded Deputation time (which was refused) and got offered a 3 minute address ahead of item 56 being called and dealt with.  Councillors were able to ask him questions.  They did not bother and with the Agenda pack of meeting reports there was an addendum – from the Greens.  It added a bit to the recommendation to withdraw the procurement.  The dye was cast.  During deliberations there was heavy heart lamentation from King Alfred ward Councillor Clare Moonan, careful words and a bit of flattery from Nick Hibberd but only Councillor Robert Nemeth (replacing Cllr Tony Janio who that day left the Tories!!) had any serious questions to ask.  Two.  And then it was all just rubber stamped.
THE ARCHIVED WEBCAST
I asked a public question – there is a considerable cost/benefit analysis that was not done ahead of asking Councillors to abandon 3 years of officer work, £15.2m of HIF funding, etc. along with survey work on the KA and costs of maintaining it going forward for who knows how long?  Every year it is not redeveloped also means a loss of council tax and business rates revenue of over £1m too.  What is the ongoing cost of dumping this scheme? The blinkered meeting was ONLY about dumping the scheme on one interpretation of procurement law.  And the briefing for that opinion is itself questioned.
My PQ begins just past the 16 minute mark and the King Alfred item was brought forward and follows it along with the address from Rob Starr.  It is worth watching the webcast of the KA item to just read the mood and motives.  It is absolutely clear that the Greens and Labour who have already aired collaborative intentions at the Housing Committee meeting, already have an alternative direction in mind for that site.  Finally, it looks like they realise how unsuitable the actual Planning Brief is too  (I hope).
THE REALLY SAD PART
They COULD continue.  That is plain.  They don’t want to.  And the January P&R meeting DID agree to look at alternatives if Crest did not sign the DA by the end of March (when we  were due to have Brexit sorted).  The consequences of this are that Rob Starr is left hugely out of pocket and as collateral damage.  He is unlikely to challenge further.  It all feels deeply unethical.  Starr put the scheme together according to the demands of the brief and both Crest and now BHCC led him  down the garden path only to then let him down and swan off.
Good! Many will declare, especially down along the Esplanade beside King Alfred.  But none of them will be happy if the redevelopment of the leisure centre means relocating it elsewhere.  That early morning pool swim?  ….and that IS now on the cards.
The chances are the King Alfred could even end up closed and empty in years to come….what is the betting?
Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , ,

The Crest Nicholson withdrawal from King Alfred – keeping the record straight

20.08.19…..Last Monday, on the Glorious 12th, a phone call out of the blue from Rob Starr informed me that a press release was to go out in a week’s time announcing that Crest could not proceed.  But…and there was an ugly but, there was more to his reason for ringing.

The Back-story

Let me begin with a reminder.  The Starr Trust began to consider going after the King Alfred site in 2012, at a time when BHCC were not tendering to redevelop.  It was in part Starr’s interest that got the Green Administration (2011-15) to consider the time was right (that recovery from the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown was secure enough),  and interest was high enough, to again welcome bids to redevelop the King Alfred/RNR site. 

A new Planning Brief

Developers do not decide what goes on a proposed site.  Planning Strategy operating with other council officers do that.  The Local Plan policy demanding a leisure centre plus a lot of housing was carried forward to the replacement City Plan Pt 1 (within policy SA1) with little change.  The old Karis era Planning Brief was tweaked a bit and specifies  interior content for the leisure centre.  The new Planning Brief was agreed by cllrs at P&R in July 2013.  
Prospective developers bidding to redevelop King Alfred were required to deliver a leisure centre with specified content along with over 400 units of housing.  The leisure centre would be for BHCC to own and run.  There are still huge numbers of people blaming the winning bidders for the lack of a 50m pool in the scheme and tower blocks of housing.  Read and LEARN!

A competition was opened

Rob Starr had never done a development in his life before.  But he was a highly successful businessman in the financial services sector.   And he organised and got the architects, and whoever else was needed for The Starr Trust to create and tender a worked-up bid.  And that included knowing what he could not do and getting a big housebuilder on board to deliver his scheme.  Crest Nicholson made a deal with him.  Get to the short list and we will come on board.  And the Starr Trust did exactly that and, with their 50/50 Crest Nicholson partner, won the bid in 2016
That is the backstory you need to have absolutely clear.  Be clear who is responsible for what process.  And either credit or blame the right people. 

And then along came BREXIT!

From 2016 on, the entire housebuilding and other construction areas have really struggled to make things work.  Bid costings could not be held onto because of soaring material costs and labour shortages as well as the value of the Pound, BREXIT chaos and uncertainty.  But as well, Crest played hardball with BHCC AND its Starr Trust partner even as the financial press were reporting on the health problems of Crest Nicholson itself. 
There were rumours that Crest was trying to push the Starr Trust out completely and take over.  Too, Brighton & Hove City Council appeared to concentrate all their interest on Crest as did the media.  At least one councillor believed the Starr Trust was completely insignificant and that Crest Nicholson had put the scheme together and were the de facto bidders.   They were 50% of it and put NOTHING into the bid until the Starr Trust made the shortlist.  Rob Starr bore the cost of creating that bid up to the shortlist point.  I dare say his collaborators bore some cost too.  It is common practice for architects to work on spec for bids and only get paid if projects go ahead.  It’s brutal stuff!
Whatever can be said about the Planning Brief and the latest scheme worked up to deliver it, it should be acknowledged that Rob Starr and whoever he has with him in the Starr Trust orbit, pulled off something extraordinary given he had no experience of doing a development before.   What he did have was serious and acknowledged financial expertise.   And no doubt too the heft of contacts to aid his judgment in organising the bid.  Plus, he is local born and bred and the Starr Trust would tenant part of the scheme, complete with  bookable community spaces, as a further benefit for the area.  Unfortunately, the fact so little of the scheme’s content was divulged put the public’s back up quite a lot over and above horror at the (basic) bid design and scale of the project.

So what was all the delay about?

Crest Nicholson proceeded with the brakes on.  They were bearing the multi-million Pound cost of post bid-delivery along with the usual affordable housing haggle and making the costings work.  The profit level  leaked away as time went on and viability issues spooked – AGAIN – as happened with the Karis/Frank Gehry scheme (2005-7).  BHCC agreed to put £8m towards the cost of the leisure centre and a major Housing Infrastructue Fund grant  was achieved as BHCC worked to save the scheme.  But there were also rumblings in the financial press about Crest Nicholson too…. and a No-Deal BREXIT continued to haunt their worst fears.
Crest were slow to throw in the towel.  The site is high profile, prominent and potentially highly prestigious.   The January 24th Policy Resources and Regeneration Committee meeting was key and I had suggested to the e-list that this was a good opportunity for anyone to ask a Public Question on King Alfred.  A relatively new supporter lobbed this in….  WATCH the webcast of the Public Question from Charles Harrison (public involvement) and later on in the agenda, when the King Alfred item came up (114) , listen to what Cllr Ollie Sykes had to say when he challenged Nick Hibberd with hard concerns about how that public question (with its supplementary) was answered.  Mr. Harrison is a Quantity Surveyor.  Please note this webcast is only viewable until September as the BHCC provider has changed and we will lose the archive.  Which is, of course, outrageous. 
That 24 January PRG meeting was very very revealing and very very angry and what is in the Minutes does not reflect its importance.  Watch the whole 114 segment on KA to hear angry Cllrs unhappy about how Crest have treated the Council and spitting their frustrations at the officers for not keeping them in the loop, and, and, and.  The Question from Mr. Harrison was a jaw dropper.  Why hadn’t BHCC required the developers to post a performance bond…and what about the risk register Question….?  Why was so much on trust just because Crest are a plc?
Crest were given until the end of January this year to sign on the dotted Developer Agreement line after which BHCC would be free to think again about the King Alfred site.  Then the end of March, then because of BREXIT the situation was allowed to drift with an informal option to continue if BREXIT was resolved.  An election was upcoming and presumably BHCC did not feel able to initiate any alternative over ensuing months anyway.  But officers may have been having a think.
The Starr Trust were always poised, pen in hand, but Crest were dithering.  Indeed in 2018 I was aware that Rob Starr had been to London to interview prospective Planning Agents to prepare the planning application material – five of them (all of whom, he rang to tell me, questioned him about saveHOVE!!!).  He continued to work towards an outcome with total belief in the project.
And while Starr and BHCC waited….BREXIT got worse.  The March 29 date of departure from the EU came and went….and clearly Crest have zero confidence in Boris Johnson and where things are going now – even as the Pound nosedives and a looming global recession is absolutely guaranteed.  Crest dragged their heels, but Rob Starr at no point dithered and still wants to continue. So now we come to the ‘but’ from my opening paragraph.

Here we are folks…now what?

When Rob Starr rang me on ‘The Glorious 12th’ the Crest announcement was scheduled for the following week because Starr would be abroad for 5 days; but he did not trust Crest to honour that timing.   I tipped off the Argus that a press release was due the following week, but if it came in the next few days, please call me.  Glad I did that because Crest did not wait for Starr’s plane to leave UK airspace before it sent out the press release it had written WITH BHCC.   That is what my mother used to call “dirty pool”.  Why shaft the Starr Trust like that?  What is that dishonourable behaviour all about?  I do hope Cllrs will be asking officers about this and that BHCC has an explanation for why this was a Crest/BHCC press release and not a Starr/Crest/BHCC press release or even press conference to answer questions.  And where was the new Council Leader, Nancy Platts, in all this?

Strange Days

Rob was on a flight to Croatia and I missed the Argus phone call on August 13 when the press release was received by the media.  Rob Starr was able to give Frank le Duc an interview on the 13th in spite of Crest’s press releasing in his absence and Brighton & Hove News also duly reported from the press release as well, with the only comment Nancy Platts was to provide anyone.
August 14th I gave Andy Dickinson (ITV Meridian News) a few fast minutes for his allotted 90 seconds on King Alfred.  And missed the 7am call from Sussex Radio who I am told found some old stuff from God knows when and clipped out a bit of me saying “I am over the moon”.  Not happy about broadcasting THAT.  I also learned that the Leader of the Council, Nancy ‘can do’ Platts had, apart from what she gave Frank le Duc (link), ignored requests from other media – ITV, the Argus to give a comment.  She has also ignored emails from Rob Starr.  I put it all down to her being a quite new councillor, as well as the new Leader of the Council – meaning she is too under-briefed about the situation to be able to engage.  She is at the mercy of officers it seems to me and perhaps still trying to work out what is what. 
Jody Doherty Cove got angry quotes for the Argus from Robert Nemeth who had been on the Project Board that had not met for a couple of years even and it is clear that the January 24 revelations inspired some of what he had to say, including a wish to see some heads roll.
Rob Starr plays with a straight bat.  He is very open and people should not misread that as naivety and underestimate him.  He told the Argus he wants to continue and has not stood by idly while Crest dithered.  He has two potential replacement partners who could deliver the scheme – neither one of which requires a quick return on investment, both of which invest for very long-term security and returns and Starr believes BHCC “would be mad not to continue with him”.
BHCC are at a crossroads.  Free to dump Starr after the January PRG decision and free to dump the Planning Brief that has brought nothing but grief THIS WHOLE CENTURY!  They could also try to continue – after all a HUGE amount of money has been spent/invested.  Do they throw the baby out with the bathwater?  Get a new baby?  Use borrowing powers and rewrite the Planning Brief and revise the City Plan policy?  Will a cost/benefit analysis come to P&R this autumn?  Where do we stand with freedom to tender if we do BREXIT? 
Much STILL depends on…..BREXIT, but also on how the i360 debt disaster is going to be handled too.  And then…there is the looming recession to prepare for too…..
Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , ,

Grim redev attempt in a sensitive Brunswick & Adelaide Conservation Area

18.07.19…..As many of you know my health is a big brake on keeping up and keeping this website useful.  Last summer’s torn shoulder is unrepairable and as I type on the laptop my arm gets weaker and weaker.  I have maybe 1,000 words max to ‘spend’ before my fingers seize up. Wahhhh!

77 Holland Road Application BH2018/01805

I’ve been emailed by a resident seeking our help concerning a redevelopment attempt in Holland Road – beside a lovely locally listed heritage asset (synagogue), opposite another locally listed heritage asset (Gwydr Mansions) and adjacent grade 2 Listed Palmeira Yard (flats that used to be a big storage facility).  My limitations meant I had overlooked it.  Mistake.  Big mistake.
The site is currently a car rental employment site (anyone know its designated use class?).  And they seek relocation making it available for a needed visual upgrade and more intensive use of the site which cannot be objected to.  A 2017 attempt went to Appeal for non-determination and failed.  What is now proposed addresses reasons for that failure and is a variation on that scheme.  It is worth looking at documentation of the Appeal to gain an orientation towards looking at the current application.
The present application was registered on 17 June so is technically past the consultation deadline but is still live.  It seeks to put in a basement and ground floor of office space and 4 floors above of 9 x 2 bed flats with balconies.
It is ugly and too high and I put in a brief objection yesterday with more to follow as I find time.  Please have a look yourself and add an objection of your own.  Read existing objections online to see what new can be said.  It insults the surrounding context and fails to enhance either the CA or the settings of the Listed and locally listed buildings it seeks to join on that street scene.  It disrespects the needs of the adjacent synagogue which is orthodox.  Imagine half naked people hanging off the proposed balconies watching or making noise if a wedding or sabbath or high days and holy days observance is going on right below.  It is not on and is disrespectful and incongruous in my view.  Surreal even.  There are no balconies on any other close-by building either.  The Heritage Statement in the Planning Statement fails to even recognise that Gwydr Mansions and the synagogue are locally listed Heritage Assets.  The CGI images only consider impact on Palmeira Yard and mislabel Cromwell/Davigdor Road on them as Western Road.
I am unable to comment on the rear view as experienced by housing backing onto that site but hope residents there are paying attention to correct identfication of their window use on applicant drawings and docs and to the fact that the block is not so close that they can get away with complaining about overshadowing or overlooking that officers will consider is too much.  Balcony use, noise and light pollution are highly likely sources of loss of amenity though if bedrooms overlook gardens and are affected.  Getting kids to bed and to sleep an issue for anyone ?
For non-Holland Road area residents objections concerning impact on a valued Conservation Area, synagogue and Listed buildings is about townscape protection.  So I hope others will also have a say ASAP.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , ,

The General Data Protection Racket…err…I mean…umm…Regulation

11.07.19…..The GDPR Directive from the EU caused instant loss of a huge chunk of democratic right and accountability concerning the planning process.  Long before its recent implementation, however, Brighton & Hove City Council was reducing transparency and access.  It’s official; they want us to keep our noses out of it.
In 2012 the then Development Control Manager, Jeanette Walsh, withdrew public access to hard copy planning application material which is much easier to study and for those without home computers, an essential way of looking at what is proposed.  I was informed that soon even the officers would be paperless and so my longstanding practice of studying case files came to an end.
Hard Copy Case files used to contain plans, Neighbour and Statutory consultation records and responses, email and other correspondence between officers and client developers. You could see the genuine, the cynical and the bogus consultation letters sent in by the developer’s employees, parents, friends in Melbourne Australia!!!!
Once online-only access became the norm, BHCC at least still published lists of addresses sent Neighbour consultation letters so you could check if addresses still existed or if crucial ones had been left unconsulted.  You knew if it was the statutory 3 or a few hundred.  You knew who had been lettered as an internal or statutory consultee.  You could follow a transparent and accountable process.  And tell them when addresses consulted no longer existed…long ago converted to flats, demolished, replaced with tower blocks or in the case of George St, converted to retail.  One address given as a load of flats was in fact the RBS bank in the modern era.  The record consulted by BHCC was 40 years out of date and there was no money to update it.
The change of online system used by BHCC removed all references to names and addresses in harsh redactions but added some useful functions and the text of resident consultation responses…but anonymity became the rule. There was a larger box to write more words in making an online response but the right to email longer text, photo and other attached evidence was withdrawn.  I went to war over that.  And with the support of Argus reporter Joel Adams and Council Leader Dan Yates, I got it reversed in May 2018.  The attempt to steer consultation responses into a small box in sidings was reversed.
But now we have the EU’s GDPR strangling involvement further.  There is no right whatsoever to know who was sent a Neighbour letter or to necessarily read Official Consultee responses from outside bodies.  Public consultation responses  are anonymous – we cannot even know what City, Country,  Ward, Constituency, let alone street they come from and as The Brighton Society say in a new post the process is open to abuse.
The application of redactions can be inconsistent.  Luckily for the freehold owner of Newtown Road Trading Estate Units 1-4, who put that info into his objection to the Sackville Trading Estate and enough to help get him traced and contacted, I was able to represent the interests of the protected employment strip in Newtown Road (City Plan DA6) and write a couple of posts here around the issue he (too loosely) brought to officer attention (which they 100% ignored) – the small matter of acquired noise rights which would give residential right to get unrestricted B1, B2, B8 activity curtailed in that industrial and semi-industrial supposedly protected strip.  I recognised the noise issue instantly from a previous Newtown Road application which converted a derelict factory site to flats and quoted it at Planning too!!
We need to be able to help one another and to stand up to what is being done to reduce our involvement and ability to network and cooperate over planning issues.  The over application of GDPR is, I suspect, yet another manoeuvre by stressed planners struggling to cope with staff reductions and resources.  But it has to be resisted.  The Planning Committee are not even allowed to know where letters of support or objection come from and it is not good enough for Liz Hobden to tell the Brighton Society that numbers of responses are not part of the decision process.  Cllrs ARE influenced by the level of public involvement.  And they are uneasy with what is not allowed too.
Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , ,

City Plan Pt 1, adopted 2016 – is some of it out of date already?

08.07.19…..The best laid plans of mice and men….and all that.  Take a look at DA6…

City Plan Pt 1 Area designated DA6

The solid purple strip down Newtown Road in Hove is meant to be sacred and absolutely protected B1, B2, B8 employment land and, labelled as the Newtown Road Industrial Estate, is specifically acknowledged on a list of the chosen within City Plan Pt 1 policy CP3 Employment Land.
The striped purple bit is meant to be employment-led but one half of it is now a block of flats with a terrace of 6 houses behind it, with only a little office on the ground floor as a sop to this policy.  The site redevelopment was housing-led…bigtime.  The other half WAS a Peugeot car dealership lot with a garage and offices.  Now vacated there is a live planning application in the pipeline for two tower blocks….of more flats.  A small bit of employment space is offered at ground level but again, this is housing-led, not employment-led as the City Plan REQUIRES. 
Below the purple is the green strip, an area set in Policy stone as a waste transfer station.  But that designation was removed in about 2015 after the authority had no choice.  The Coal Pension owners of the Sackville Trading Estate bought the land and made it clear during a Waste Plan consultation that it would never build a Waste Transfer Station there and so the designation was duly removed, making  this bit of the City Plan REQUIREMENT obsolete. 
The truth is that when a developer swaggers forth with what THEY want to do, the City Plan is not enforced and the Planning Dept complies rather helplessly instead with developer demands.  Fact.  And what they demand is housing they can flog to rich incomers.  Every time lately.  Every time. 
Sadly, the Council has rather shot itself in the feet over the Sackville Trading Estate (in that top left corner of DA6) by excitedly formulating specific site policy for it to have a minimum of 500 units of housing along with 6,000sqm of employment space without considering how it would impact that sacred Newtown Road protected employment strip.  Worse, it recommends approval of the MODA application officers worked on with them in pre application advice over some time which provides 581 rental flats and 260 care home flats for sale but a shortfall of 600sqm of overall employment space, contrary to policy.  Adding up the number of bedrooms and looking at the B1 element…one can expect 1500-2000 people to be using that site with only one vehicle access/egress point. 
According to the owner of units 1-4 Newtown Road sited in front of proposed high tower blocks on the Sackville Trading Estate, this development disincentivises investment in the designated employment area of Newtown Road.  He fears that the unrestricted B2 and B8 use of his premises will be challenged and compromised by the residents if these towers are approved. Because they will acquire rights concerning noise.
Indeed, as we learned when the derelict factory was an application for replacement with flats and terrace of 6 houses further along Newtown Road, residential use would mean providing rights over these employment sites that could shut them down.  It is WHY the application for that block and terrace I refer to above was recommended to be refused, to protect the Peugeot dealership which took car delivery at night and did body work in the garage.  Noise.  Councillors shrugged and went against recommendation to allow it and now Peugeot have decamped and site owners have put in their own housing application.  So we see that Councillors on Planning can be complicit in treating the City Plan Policies as…optional.  Protect B1, B2, B8 use?  Meh! 
And so there is the growing suspicion that the will to protect non-office employment sites has entirely wilted.  I can see a day coming when the plumber or roof repair people home owners need to call in will be forced to get their stuff off Amazon.  It will be all there is. 
Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , ,