Hove Library: new full planning application for basement to become a private nursery

13.04.18….This new application has been submitted but is not yet registered or out to consultation.  It is the Full Planning application to match the still under consideration Listed one.  Watch this space.

 

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Kings House! 2 Major Development planning applications are out to ONLY 21 days Consultation

06.04.18…..Here we go again with potential controversy.

image of the Kings House listing on the NEW Beta version of the council website

Mortar Nova showed their plans in January at the Cornerstone Centre in St. Johns, Palmeira Square. I did a bit of a write up of what I saw.  View it here and compare with any changes made for the formal application.
The redevelopment of the Kings House site involves conversion of the main Listed building and construction of newbuilds behind it.  It is classified as Major Development and the Full Planning application has a very, very long list of documents for people to look at and to take in before organising responses.  In the past, such applications could expect 8-12 weeks consultation – not just 21 days.  At least the full planning application has been notified to a number of residents.  Two objections are already in!  And there are 13 site notices!
Notification of the Listed planning application is restricted to internal Heritage officers and externally to national Heritage organisations.  It SHOULD be notified to CAG in a formal letter at the same time rather than wait for their monthly meeting to give it to them, which CAN mean, as happened with Hove Library, that they comment AFTER the 21 days and can be ignored.  Similarly, local Conservation, Resident and Amenity societies and groups should surely be notified as well.  Why only the big boys in far away national organisations?  Why are local Conservation views not directly solicited?

*Registered on the 3rd of April, the deadline for comment is the 24th of April*

Whilst a number of residents have been lettered by BHCC, publication wider in the weekly plans list will not happen until the 7th, shaving 4 days off the 21 day consultation window for the wider public.  I only know about it NOW because ward cllr Andrew Wealls informed me.  Where important sites are concerned, the public needs to be WIDELY consulted on Listed and Full Planning applications.  Doing it through various groups is not beyond the Planning Office’s capability.

ADVICE

BH2018/00868 (Full Planning)

1) Read the Planning Statement absolutely FIRST THING; and 2)  Read the Design and Access Statement,  Part 1 and Part 2 next before looking at anything else.  It orients the entire picture and tells you what is proposed.  Read the Heritage Statement as optional, depending on your reason for responding.  Reading the Planning Statement and D&A will give you questions you can answer by scrolling down and looking at other documents.  Look for what is missing or factually wrong.  The evidence about parking/trip rates is always controversial.  Take a lot of photos of activity in Grand Avenue if you live there, dated with time of day to include in your response.  Avoid the online comment box which encourages three lines of nothing important.  Email a document to planning.comments@brighton-hove.gov.uk or post letters to the address given on the site notice.  Here is the full documents list – where consultation responses are also posted.  Please make TWO responses – for each of the two applications.

BH2018/00869 (Listed application)

Documents are as for Full Planning but responses should address the Listed Kings House and impact on it mostly.  The Heritage Statement matters more here.  Part 1 and Part 2.
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The wicked world of Delegated Decisions in Local Authorities

05.04.18…..Yesterday at the Planning Committee a somewhat cowed panel of councillors, along with a small contingent of Hove Library supporters and ward Cllr Andrew Wealls were put in their place and taught a very harsh lesson by Brighton & Hove City Council officers.  The Scheme of Delegation was their instrument of torture and emasculation on the day – a scheme councillors themselves had agreed and were now left to choke on as a few tentative questions about the delegated Hove Library decision came forward in the wake of Christopher Hawtree’s public question.
There are two ways decisions get taken in local authorities – by elected councillors voting in Cabinets or Committees (unqualified amateurs/politicians) using officer advice to judge, or, by paid, employed, ‘experts’ trained in various Council functions using their Delegated Powers.
Councillors AGREE these schemes of delegated powers and CHOOSE which decisions will be left to officers under what circumstances.  This is in deference to expertise they recognise they do not themselves have or wish to learn to comparable level.  It is also about sheer laziness in some cases.  After all, being a councillor is not intended to be a full time job.  Typically, a councillor will log a claim of 20-25 hours a week.  Exceptional ones do double that.  And they are few and rare.
The Scheme of Delegation puts an enormous responsibility and a lot of power in the hands of officers which the public are not typically aware of.  Yesterday, trust in the Brighton & Hove City Council agreed Scheme of Delegation died.
In my previous two posts here I wrote about the Labour Administration’s plans for Hove Library and how the officers ruthlessly avoided taking the application to the Planning Committee even after more than 5 objections were received and even after receiving a formal request from ward Cllr Wealls to take the application to committee for councillors to decide.  Yesterday at Planning Chair Julie Cattell and Planning lawyer Hilary Woodward pointed to the Scheme of Delegation which gave them the right to do it.  It is not a right that has, until very recently been used in this way.
Typically and traditionally, cllr requests to refer applications to committee are granted or more than 5 objections up to the point where officers are ready for a decision to be made – however long after the advertised public consultation period – means applications go to committee for decision.  Without any warning, that convention appears to have been terminated.
Pressure from the Labour Group and its Planning Chair Julie Cattell to avoid the danger of getting the application refused surely led to letter of the law implementation of the Scheme of Delegation which SOMEONE took the time to scrutinise for opportunity.

But there is another imperative behind the change in how the Planning Department is operating.  Pressure on the Planning Department to determine planning applications faster has come from developers pressuring Government and the public believing planners are obstructive and preventing development.  So is it any wonder that the de-staffed, demoralised and besieged planners at BHCC, whipped and under pressure from politicians, developers, the public, officers in other departments in the council with their own targets and pressures have resorted to this underhanded and unannounced crackdown on procedure and abandonment of convention?  They are in survival mode.

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A Hove Library Nursery. BHCC is just sneaking crap planning applications past the public now.

04.0.18….Most who read postings here rely on saveHOVE to keep them informed about planning applications, come to saveHOVE for advice and avoid involvement otherwise (apart from putting in consultation responses).  I have tried my hardest not to remain in this position, to get a planning consciousness in people so they are vigilant and engaged by plans to change their way of life, to densify their area, to compromise it.  People rely on me far too much and its got to stop.  My health has faded to a level that means I am no longer on top of all the planning and development coming along or the influential council policies and meetings.
Whilst Christopher Hawtree and the Brighton Society, with CAG and ward Cllr Andrew Wealls were taking consultation response responsibility for BH2017/03940 plans for removal of radial shelving on the ground floor and destruction of listed features to accommodate an office there and a nursery in the basement, it was focussed on Conservation and the consequential impact on library function and useage.  For that first application I informed the elist, but only put in a preliminary saveHOVE objection to lack of ANY neighbour consultees.  I was unable to do more on behalf of saveHOVE over the winter period.  And in its Decision Report, the saveHOVE objection point was not even on the little list of points made.
Belatedly, and without the distraction of Medina House, Texaco site, King Alfred, pre-app consultations and other planning/development issues coming along, and with the jolt of hearing that BHCC felt free to abuse their position by refusing to take BH2017/03940 to the Planning Committee for decision, I have looked at the nursery application – registered in mid-February.  So I am WELL behind that curve.  Nevertheless…!

BH2018/00469 a Hove Library basement Nursery & outdoor playspace

This is still a live application with a projected decision date of 10th April. Does BHCC DARE to ignore any representations after the 21 day formal consultation period after 18 Feb and before 10th April?  As it said it had a right to do with BH2017/03940?  There is only ONE objection shown online within the documents section.  Nobody has looked at what is proposed or its impact, apart from one Vallance Road resident. And it is not surprising, is it, when BHCC put up only a site notice in Church Road and nothing more.  No neighbour consultees.  Applications get notified in the classified area of a free printed newspaper but who sees it?

Negative application issues

1.  Three Vallance Road residents and two commercial premises border the proposed nursery playspace area o the rear of Hove Library.  They are adjacent properties which can expect significant noise intrusion and impact. The convention of a minimum of three adjacent neighbour consultees has been avoided.  And unless the Vallance Road residents go to the spot on Church Road where the site notice was placed they have no knowledge it is even proposed.
2.  Where a nursery is proposed, there should be information in the application about capacity, about how many children it is proposed to accommodate. This application contains not one word on this.  Not a word on how the converted spaces are to be used or by how many staff and children.
3.  Noise mitigation.  The application makes no mention of how it plans to mitigate noise created by singing and playing, squealing and laughing, crying and stomping tinies (or their shouty parents) which will impact on use of the library above it, which people have a right to use in peace.  If the noise is too much it could deter use of the library by people who are sensitive to shrieking noises or just turned off by small children doing what they do at full volume. It means the nursery impact bleeding into library use and displacing it to some extent.  Is deterrence an AIM?
I have put in a saveHOVE objection to these glaring anomalies today, well beyond the 21 day period so they are free to ignore what I have said.  And to rubber stamp a totally negligent planning application.  People should flood them with objections to this.  Just for drill.  And so they know you know what they are getting up to.
Normally – in the past – these are issues I learned to see addressed and queried by planning officers, and to look out for.  Why is the planning department now dumbing down to cut out these professionally normal planning activities?  Is it lack of competence or is it that “Corporate Objectives”coeercion thing going on….again.
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Hove Library decision rights usurped by BHCC officers, ensured it could not be refused

03.04.18….Following expiry of the advertised public consultation period (21 days for this). it has always been the case that officers are then free to decide an application from that point on under delegated powers if there are fewer than 5 objections and they wish to give consent, or 5 supports and they wish to refuse.  More than 5 and the application must go to Committee for councillors to decide it.  In addition, ward Councillors are empowered to request and get  an application taken to Committee.  January 7th was the consultation end date for this application, we are told.

So. Was this application decided on January 8th then?  Was it hell! 

This application had 13 objections as well as Cllr Andrew Wealls’ request the decision go to the Planning Committee. Regrettably, they were not all in BEFORE January 7th.  But normally, in the absence of a decision, this is not a bar to consideration.

The date that matters is the decision date!

By convention, representations continue to be sent in and can expect to be taken into consideration right up to the decision date.  Further, if the ward councillor requests that the decision be taken to committee, that is usually definitive.  Cllr Wealls’ asked on the 9th of January.  Every Planning Committee meeting has its pre-printed Agenda which Cllrs have had a week to study but in addition, at the meeting a “Late List” of further representations and officer remarks.  Indeed, it is sometimes the case that a representation will be made AFTER the late list is printed and officers give the information verbally to the meeting.
So, what was going on in the Planning Department, within BHCC itself, between the parties involved that meant no decision was taken until March 20 and no objection received after 7th Janury could be considered?  What were they doing with their time for OVER two months?  How can they justify refusing to take the Councillor request and the 13 objections into consideration? How do they justify depriving the Planning Committee of its right to determine this application affecting a precious and important Grade 2 Listed Library?
The points listed in the Decision Report do not even include the point saveHOVE made which was echoed by the Brighton Society, objecting to the fact that there were NO neighbour consultees.  This application was advertised to internal Conservation and Historic England and not another living soul.  Apparently a notice went on a pole outside the library too I am told.  At Christmas.  The application was registered 7th December and the consultation period was deemed over on 7th January.   Christmas!
Residents are entitled to be suspicious of the timing of the application (reducing attention on it), the absence of ANY neighbour consultees (reducing attention on it), the refusal to consider any comments received after 7th January, including the one from the Conservation Advisory Group which did not meet till after that date  (voiding attention on it by compulsion) and the refusal to allow the decision to be taken by the Planning Committee made up of Councillors elected by residents to represent them (ensuring they would not get a refusal).
Why would they do this?  One simple answer is that Local Authorities are not allowed to Appeal refusals of their own planning applications.  So in whose interests was this usurping of rights and middle finger to obligation?
These days planning officers are contractually required to “uphold Corporate Objectives” regardless of professional judgment.  This was a nasty political clause foisted on them by the 2007 Labour Administration in the wake of its gerrymandered King Alfred planning consent (for all the good it did them).  And here we are again in 2018, with another Labour Administration and its ‘kill Hove Library’ Corporate Objective.   They are determined it will not be kept as a library.  They STILL want to sell the building and rob the city of its Carnegie endowed function, one of the few institutions we HAVE to counter the image of the city which relies so heavily on its night time economy that the image of the city is now about getting wasted, about entertaining hens and stags, noisy students and building rubbish tower blocks for incomers to buy into.
Quite simply, a ruthless Labour Administration is behind this decision.  The Chair of Planning should resign.  Today, the Conservation Advisory Group had its monthly meeting and voted unanimously to send a letter with eight questions in it to Liz Hobden, the Head of Planning.  At Planning tomorrow, Wednesday, Christopher Hawtree will ask a public question concerning the issue of the delegated decision.  Will Planning Committee Cllrs have questions of their own?  Officers took a decision that was rightfully theirs so I hope they will.
Labour wants the basement of Hove Library to become a nursery and offices to  replace radial book shelves at the rear of the ground floor area.  Bit by bit they reduce the library function.  Is this the tipping point that kills its viability or is there more to come?  The application to convert the basement to a nursery was registered in February.  Here is the application for conversion to a nursery which remains undetermined.
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