15 November 2012…..Some 70 residents, local to the proposed bus depot redevelopment, attended this 3rd public meeting on Wednesday evening, 14th November 2012. On the agenda were three important state-of-play briefings: from MATSIM’S Craig Ritchie, BHCC’s Planning Strategy officer, Rob Fraser and Planning expert/local resident Mike Gibson.
Only some 25 people attended each of the previous two meetings and it was felt by saveHOVE’s Valerie Paynter that too few of those who should be included knew about these meetings. Cllrs were not feasibly able to do more than provide the meetings and inform Fonthill and Newtown Roads, a bit of Wilbury Avenue and Conway Street with flyers and the Chairs of the Local Action Team and housing estate Residents Association (agenda/invitation by email attachment to pass on to those they represent). The LAT Chair emailed all those who had provided email addresses at LAT meetings and saveHOVE e-briefed the notice to its supporters. It is vital people provide email addresses to guarantee receiving information and to remain in the loop. Sadly, none of these 3 meetings was notified to residents of the very large, bordering, Clarendon & Ellen housing estate of 320 flats by its Residents Association. And this was a worry.
Over the weekend Mike Gibson and Valerie Paynter quickly organised last-minute production of double-sided flyers in order to deal with this identified problem. Delivery help came from a Hove Park Villas supporter who put notices through doors in Hartington, Ranelagh and Hove Park Villas on Sunday. And a number of those attending came from those streets.
Monday and Tuesday, Valerie spoke with traders in Ethel Street and Goldstone Villas, put up notices throughout the Clarendon & Ellen Estate bordering the development site and in the window of the Sackville Road Londis. And it was gratifying to see representatives from these newly informed areas attending.
On the whole, a very impressive bunch of people attended which rewarded the crippling bloody effort it took to inform them. It won’t be repeated.
It was exhausting to do so much work in so short a space of time to ensure a proper level of awareness was achieved; but resources and volunteers are, at this stage, still thin on the ground.
In the wake of this 3rd meeting, the nucleus of a group is definitely forming which will make it possible to share the load more widely in taking things forward. It is vital that this is accepted and that people understand there is a huge opportunity here to shape the local area and it is too good to pass up.
THE DEVELOPER: MATSIM
The first speaker up was MATSIM’s Craig Ritchie who relayed the bombshell news that MATSIM won’t now proceed to submission of a planning application for current proposals, that they have “downed tools”. We were told that MATSIM had spent two years working on the scheme. He confirmed that they were reviewing their plans after discussion with planners from BHCC. He denied this involved use-class issues (B1/B8) but at the end of the meeting, in conversation, he was indicating that financial viability had become an issue and it is clear that fingers are pointing at the Planners on this. Ummm. I did think Rob Fraser looked a bit strained as he gave his news. Hmmm.
Over the last week or so hints came to saveHOVE that something had gone wrong. Emails seeking information from MATSIM’s Andy Lambor were not being answered it was said, including the query from saveHOVE. However, Lewis & Co, the planning agents assembling documentation for the application, did give some indication of the state of play to saveHOVE, saying that “council officers are being a bit difficult. Watch this space”. Even so, Craig Ritchie’s comments and chagrin came as a shock.
Craig Ritchie was invited to the meeting to tell us about MATSIM’s consultation responses from the week-long exhibition at Industrial House and online responses to the website containing all the exhibition material, ahead of the expected planning application submission.
15,000 invitations had been delivered in the wider area for their exhibition and at Hove Station. As indicated in the previous article they went up to Hove Park, down to Blatchington Road, over to Stoneham Road to the west and Holland Road to the east. Of the 320 responses, some 42 of them came from outside Hove itself.
The figures stack up like this: 80% agree that the redevelopment is a positive change. 68% were happy with the arts/media/offices/cinema mix. When ticking boxes, the following approvals resulted: cinema 42%, café/restaurants 57%, food retail 48%, other retail 43%, offices 67%, housing 56%.
The biggest negatives were (predictably) traffic, tower height and parking. The greatest positives were seeing the back of the bus depot, having cinema/restaurants and a regeneration opportunity.
In MATSIM’s s106 contribution discussions the schools issue has come up a lot and was part of discussions up to a week ago.
At the end of Mr. Ritchie’s presentation, things got a bit antsy. To several it seemed pointless to be having the meeting if MATSIM had ‘downed tools’; and in sympathising with them, Cllr Jarrett, Chairing, came dismayingly close to saying it would be fine if they chose to leave. Almost nobody did, thank God.
THE COUNCIL’S PLANNING STRATEGIST
The second speaker was BHCC’s Rob Fraser who provided an understanding of what the City Plan is about and what for – “to balance all the needs of the city” with regard to housing, schools, employment sites in a viable way. BHCC had been in talks with MATSIM about the site, most of which is commercially sensitive and confidential. In some ways this period of negotiation is like the bit of the iceberg you cannot see and it is a huge and vitally important part of the process. He indicated that following submission of a planning application of this size planners have 13 weeks to determine the application. In practice, the to and fro of it all, info provision and changes, etc. at least a year is more likely (as was the case with King Alfred which took about 18 months from first submission).
He gave an update on where we are with the Planning Brief requested by Valerie at the first of these three meetings and which the City Planner confirmed at the 2nd meeting would be provided. Work is being done on background studies concerning employment needs where they are known. They are also presently considering long views, and the general townscape. He indicated that critical views would dictate height. These terms needed explanation and, when asked if heights could be dictated in the Planning Brief, he was ‘dissuasive’. But he did not flatly say ‘no.’
One interesting point, made by Mr. Fraser in a general discussion, was that BHCC wish to REDUCE the numbers commuters living in the city. Currently this is about 28,000. This is almost certainly a sustainability issue as well as one concerning the city’s economy. There is a wish to have people both live and work here.
Mr. Fraser told the meeting that there is an identified need for 19,000 homes but only some 11,000 opportunities to provide them. A density of 100/hectare is needed.
The LAT Chair asked a valuable question about how much autonomy BHCC in charting its own course and people need to understand that there are serious constraints! When the City Plan is taken forward at the end of January 2013, it then goes to a Government Planning Inspector who can reject it, say it is unsound, but not write it for us. It has to “meet the city’s needs in full” but the fact is, “it cannot meet housing and employment and other needs in full….and this does mean pushing the limits on some sites”. If the council defaults on providing an acceptable City Plan, the National Planning Policy Framework determines all planning application (presumption in favour for all sustainable applications). Click on NPPF in the tag cloud for more on that.
THE EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF PLANNING ON NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANS
The third speaker was local resident, retired Professor and planning expert Mike Gibson. Under the Localism Act, the right to produce a community-led Neighbourhood Plan is provided. Where the City Plan and the site-specific Planning Brief are top-down documents, a Neighbourhood Plan is bottom up. That is perhaps the simplest way of putting it. Residents would provide some sort of vision and a conservation and development framework for how an area (to be chosen and bordered by them) would be in 10-15 years time. It cannot be done without reference to the City Plan. It has to fit with/conform with the City Plan. The end result, if robust, would be adopted by the Council as part of the overall Plan. It is a Statutory Plan.
Why do one? Mike Gibson told the meeting that it had to be accepted that there would BE change. That beyond the immediate redevelopment site under discussion there would be impact. The Plan had to be produced by a minimum of 21 people working on it who would designate an area they had agreed on. It is not done by the council. It has to be started locally by volunteers who would have to do “a lot of hard work”. What is produced has to be agreed by 50% of voters in a referendum .
Once begun, there are some four sources of support and funding which would be needed to pay for various bits of expertise. It is “a 12-18 month journey”. He introduced the ‘Locality Neighbourhood Plans Roadmap Guide’ to the meeting, hot off the press and downloadable as a pdf or purchased for £20. A photocopied sheet of the Neighbourhood Plan Process, from the guide, was distributed at the beginning of the meeting. Not only did the Cllr underestimate attendance which meant a number of adults sitting on toddler chairs (Honeycroft is a nursery) or occupying standing room only, but Mr. Gibson too underestimated attendance and sadly, not everyone got a copy.
It was suggested a few people meet up a few times to discuss whether creating a plan is appropriate and for where.
As the two hour meeting wound down, Rob Fraser indicated that the upcoming Planning Brief might be something a Neighbourhood Plan Group could contribute to. With MATSIM pulling back to regroup and review, there is now a useful period of time available, pressure off, within which to get to work.
There is, apparently, a mixed response from councils about these Neighourhood Plans. Few are of an urban character. Cllr Jarrett indicated that BHCC views Neighbourhood Plans as a good thing. Indeed! Craig Ritchie, who had stayed for the rest of the meeting piped up to say that he too thinks they are a good thing. Mike told the meeting that whilst this is a very new instrument (my use of the word), it represents the “culmination” of a trajectory (my word again), begun in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
People would be working with the council, in partnership, and finding a consensus they can live with. A minimum of 21 people must form the group within which there must be at least 1 resident, 1 business person and 1 councillor as basic.
Names and contact details of those attending were (mostly) provided and those wishing to be part of this brave new group were invited to *star* their names so this can be taken forward. It says something positive that of the 70 or so who turned up, fewer than maybe a dozen failed to remain to the very end. An absorbing meeting.