Royal Alex Update
Taylor Wimpey’s appeal against refusal of their planning application to demolish the historic Royal Alex building and build a block of flats on the site was defeated at the Public Inquiry in June this year. The council subsequently decided to prepare a planning brief for TW, so that they wouldn’t have to submit yet another planning application with no hope of acceptance. During the following months, Jo Thompson, major project officer, and Gill Thompson, town planner, held meetings with representatives of local amenity groups: the Montpelier & Clifton Hill Association, Clifton Montpelier Powis Community Alliance, Brighton Society, Regency Society, also Homelees House, the Primary Care Trust, Taylor Wimpey, and two local residents – Philippa Sankey and Adam Jones, whose houses in Clifton Hill back onto the Royal Alex grounds, and who are also respectively Secretary and Chair of the CMPCA.
During these meetings, Jo Thompson & Gill Thompson (no relation), made clear that the rejected option of complete demolition was not on the table, and that any planning application would have to involve retention and conversion of at least the main Royal Alex building. Also the green space in front of it must be preserved.
A poorly publicised exhibition was then held at Hove Town Hall during the last week of October. On display were five options, ranging from retention and conversion of all the buildings on the site, to complete demolition and redevelopment. There was no indication that the latter option was out of the question, and just included for ‘control’ purposes.
Only financial considerations were taken into account, although the District Valuer had not completed his assessment by the time of the exhibition. The exhibition appeared to be biased against the conversion option – complete demolition was the only option showing not so much a profit as a smaller loss. This is largely due to the Council in effect continuing to tax profit that does not exist, by requiring the provision of 40% affordable housing. Coincidentally, the day before this exhibition started, there was a conference on land economics and valuation at UCL, which was attended by many of the best brains in the country. The conference unanimously concluded that the economic model that aims to build ‘social housing’ using the super-profit from development is for the time being dead; it was rather aptly referred to as ‘bubble economics’, and it was firmly stated that the bubble would not be around for the foreseeable future.
Local architect Mr. Graham Towers, who has more than 30 years professional experience of urban housing design and development, has found that the Royal Alex exhibition was incorrect regarding the numbers of flats which could be achieved in the different options. His calculations, based on a detailed and realistic comparison with the Taylor Wimpey planning application, show that more flats could be achieved in a conversion scheme than claimed in the exhibition, and fewer flats created in a new-build scheme.
The exhibition also did not take into account the fact that the large roof space in the existing building could be utilised for additional flats, as has been pointed out to Jo & Gill Thompson by Mick Hamer, who coordinated the MCHA case at the public inquiry in June.
Discussion of the planning brief for this site is pencilled in for the environment cabinet of 17 December. The MCHA is pressing for discussion of the brief to be deferred until the meeting of 26 January to allow time for a proper feasibility study by a qualified and experienced conservation architect, and to allow time for all stages of the public consultation to be completed. Otherwise there is the risk of yet more doomed planning applications followed by another time consuming and costly appeal. This is unfair on the community and also unfair on the developers, who need a clear and unambiguous brief this time.