08.03.17…..How ironic. The for/against public consultation split was duplicated at the meeting of the Planning Committee. Nevertheless, an actual judgment had to be made by them. Five voted for, five voted against, one did not show up and one abstained. So the Chair’s casting vote had it.
Concerns mostly hinged on the 3-storey east wing and its unneighbourly impact on residents directly behind as well as just how much heritage value was salvageable in any retained conversion attempt and at what financial cost; and these issues were thoroughly explored by councillors. The lack of financial detail to demonstrate the unviability of retaining the existing structure was set against and beside the structural decay information provided by the applicants. Concern for Sussex Road and Victoria Cottages light provision was considerable.
Sitting beside me were the Pilbrow architect (and partner at Pilbrow & Ptners), Keb Garavito Bruhn, and his PR team. The victory should have made the architect happy but he left looking tense and unhappy. Had the application been refused, a further small concession on heights given, and the application returned for a second vote, there would have been relief for residents and near unanimous support from councillors. Instead….everyone left looking upset. Including the winner! Of course the applicants now have a list of 19 Conditions to fulfil so its not over. Brickwork remains a bit of an issue.
The council officers said they placed reliance on Local Plan HE8, item C to underpin their support. Councillors were minded to explore this a bit. The benefit is to the townscape, the conservation area and some retention of heritage. But it was acknowledged there is no benefit to existing residents and some negative impact.
HE8 Demolition in conservation areas
Proposals should retain buildings, structures and features that make a positive contribution to the character or appearance of a conservation area. The demolition of a building and its surroundings, which make such a contribution, will only be permitted where all of the following apply:
a) supporting evidence is submitted with the application which demonstrates that the building is beyond economic repair (through no fault of the owner / applicant);
b) viable alternative uses cannot be found; and
c) the redevelopment both preserves the area’s character an would produce substantial benefits that would outweigh the building’s loss.
Three of the Planning Committee Members were absent. Two sent in substitutes and one was a no-show. On the Tory side, Cllr Jayne Bennett did not arrive. Cllr Lynda Hyde sent Cllr Dee Simson to sub in her place. On the Labour side, Cllr Inkpen-Leissner sent in Cllr Kevin Allen to sub for him.
How the Planning Committee Councillors spoke and voted
Greens: Cllr Leo Littman was firmly in favour and voted with the recommendation to Grant. Cllr Phelim MacCafferty voted in favour, after consideration of why it was not a Listed bldg.
Labour: Cllr Kevin Allen did not utter one word at any point in the meeting. He abstained. Ward Cllr Clare Moonan voted against, but would vote for if there was height reduction. Cllr Adrian Morris voted against, with concerns about neighbour impact and height. Cllr Russel Moye voted against, but would vote for if there was height reduction. Cllr Penny Gilbey voted for it. Chair, Cllr Julie Cattell understood the 900mm plinth need and supported it. Voted for and her casting vote for the application decided it.
Conservatives: Cllr Carol Theobald was quite the cheerleader on this and voted for the application. Cllr Dee Simson, subbing for Cllr Hyde need to see more on the financial viability issue to be confident, and lower east wing height and could not support just because better than the previous attempts. She voted against. Cllr Joe Miller voted against but would vote for it with proof of repair/restoration unviability on cost grounds, need to reduce east wing and depth of the 900mm privacy and flood mitigation plinth.
The meeting was webcast live on 8th March, uploaded 9th March (incomplete and in need of sorting), full version including Medina House expected to be online by 10th March.