Agenda item - BH2013/04337 - University of Sussex, Refectory Road, Brighton - Outline application some matters reserved

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Agenda item

BH2013/04337 - University of Sussex, Refectory Road, Brighton - Outline application some matters reserved

Outline application with some matters reserved for demolition of existing buildings and construction of new buildings providing new academic facilities (D1) circa 59,571sqm, 4,022no new student accommodation bedrooms (C1) and new mixed use building circa 2,000 sqm, providing (A1, A3, A4, C1 and D1) uses, incorporating new pedestrian, cycle, vehicular and service routes, landscaping, new parking, upgrading of related infrastructure and associated works. Matters for approval include layout, access and scale. Matters reserved are appearance and landscaping.



Outline application with some matters reserved for demolition of existing buildings and construction of new buildings providing new academic facilities (D1) circa 59,571sqm, 4,022no new student accommodation bedrooms (C1) and new mixed use building circa 2,000 sqm, providing (A1, A3, A4, C1 and D1) uses, incorporating new pedestrian, cycle, vehicular and service routes, landscaping, new parking, upgrading of related infrastructure and associated works. Matters for approval include layout, access and scale. Matters reserved are appearance and landscaping.


(1)             It was noted that the application had been the subject of a site visit prior to the meeting.


(2)             Prior to the presentation from the Case Officer the Senior Solicitor, Hilary Woodward, highlighted that the application was for outline permission with two matters reserved in relation to landscaping and appearance. Currently under the Council’s Constitution the reserved matters were delegated for decision to the Executive Director for Environment, Development & Housing; however, in this instance the Executive Director had agreed to refer the reserved matters to the Committee for decision if the Committee were minded to grant the outline permission.


(3)             The Senior Planning Officer, Sue Dubberley, introduced the application and gave a presentation by reference to plans, photographs, elevational and sectional drawings and there was a scale model of the proposed development at the meeting – attention was also drawn to matters on the Late List. The application concerned the University of Sussex Campus which sat in a valley with the A27 trunk road to the south, the South Downs National Park to the north and east and Stanmer Park to the west. The boundary of the application was situated predominately within the city; however, there was a small area that was within Lewes District and an application had been submitted to Lewes District Council for determination.


(4)             The matters reserved on the application related to appearance and landscaping and there was an accompanying Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with the application. The application formed part of the university masterplan to expand and grow – increasing student numbers to 18,000 from 13,400 by 2018. The locations of the proposed buildings for demolition were highlighted, and it was added there were a number of listed buildings at the front of the site.


(5)             The first phase of the development related to re-development of East Slope and the demolition of the Mantel Building. A new road would run through the site which would act as a pedestrian and cycle footway. To ease the visual impact the tallest buildings would be at the bottom of the slope and the lowest – at three-storeys – would be at the top on the peripheral, and an existing car park could be relocated. The demolition of the Hastings Buildings would be determined by Lewes District Council. The development of new academic buildings would be arranged around a new courtyard with green roofs, and there would be a net gain in academic space. The John Maynard Smith building would also be demolished with a new building its place. There would be further development on the West Slope comprising of the demolition of the Lancaster Building and Park Village and a similar layout would be used in relation to the positioning of the tallest buildings on the slope. In this aspect of the scheme the original building footprints would be retained to mirror the original space design.


(6)             In relation to the principle of the development policy in the Local Plan was site specific and supported the expansion of the University for student residential and academic purposes, and policy in the emerging City Plan allocated the site for student residential accommodation. The proposed layout had been the subject of revisions to realign the roadway and offset the feeling of ‘terracing’ – the building heights had also been reduced. Visual impact was discussed and it was noted the Heritage Officer had stated there would be some compromised views, but the main ones affected were not visible from publically accessible locations, and viewpoints were shown to demonstrate the buildings would be below the tree canopy.


(7)             In terms of traffic there would no additional parking requirements at the site due to the existing restrictions on student and staff access to permit parking, and it was considered that the increase in car trips around the site would be negligible. There would be increased demands on the local public transportation; however, it considered that these could be met from within existing capacity, and this would all be monitored as part of the conditioned travel plan. The new buildings would meet BREEAM level excellent.


(8)             There would be some loss of woodland, but the majority would be retained, and the loss of grassland was considered acceptable through the mitigation measures proposed. There were protected specifies identified on the site – in particular bats and badgers, but it was noted the badger sets were not located on the actual site or the areas to be developed within it. Officers were satisfied that the s106 agreement and the EIA would secure appropriate mitigation measures.


(9)             The scheme proposed the removal of 441 trees; with the retention of over 250 and the majority of existing woodland, and there was no objection to this given that the retained trees would be protected and there would be substantial replacement planting. There had been concern expressed about the increased number of students at the University and the ability of the city housing stock to cope with this increase; however, it had been identified that 940 of the proposed additional 4600 students would be local and not in need of housing. Of the remaining additional students there would be a shortfall of 340 units from the sum of the new units proposed on the site and those coming forward from other schemes with consent in the city. The recommendation was that the Committee be minded to grant the application subject to conditions and the signing of a s106 agreement.


Public Speaker(s) and Questions


(10)          Ms Caroline Lynch spoke in opposition to the application in her capacity as a local resident. She stated that if it were the intention of the university to create an additional 4000 student residential units on the site to accommodate the existing students then she would not be objecting to the scheme. She noted there were two universities in the city – both with similar aims to expand and projected that the student population would comprise approximately one fifth of the total population of the city. She estimated that between 2500 to 3000 existing homes would need to be given over to use by students, and referenced that up to a quarter of the city was under the article 4 direction. There were 15,000 people of the waiting list for affordable homes, and this was made worse by developer preference for student residential accommodation schemes. There was a housing crisis in the city, and it was considered that to grant this increase to university capacity would be irresponsible in these circumstances.


(11)          In response to the Chair it was confirmed by Ms Lynch that she lived in the Moulsecoomb and Bevandean area of the city that had a significant student population.


(12)          Mr Allan Spencer spoke in support of the scheme in his capacity as the Director of Finance at the university. He stated that the planning application was central to the growth and development of the University of Sussex; the masterplan was also a means to facilitate a high standard of development whilst meeting some of the concerns that had been expressed. Universities operated in a highly competitive market and the application was a means to strengthen its position as a leading national facility. The growth in student population would be incremental over five years. The university was acutely aware of the concerns of the impact of students on the housing stock in the city and had met with local and community groups to answer questions and provide assurance. The university was committed to working closely with the Council and attended LAT meetings and public sector properties groups which had helped to deliver over 1400 new student residential units in the city. The university had worked hard to deliver a masterplan which understood the responsibility the organisation had in the local community. It was their belief that the application sought to develop the campus in a way that would be sensitive and the Committee were invited to support the application.


(13)          Councillor Duncan asked about the consequences for the university if the application were not granted and Mr Spencer explained that the university was small in comparison to its competitors and without the development the capacity to recruit staff and students would be seriously damaged. In response to a further query Mr Spencer stated that without the development the pressure on housing within the city would be greater.


(14)          Mr Spencer explained in response to Councillor C. Theobald that whilst the application proposed the loss of trees the university had already been instrumental in planting two hectares of new trees to mitigate the loss that would be associated with the development; at this point the Head of Development Control, Jeanette Walsh, noted for the Committee that landscaping formed one of the reserved matters. In response to further questions Mr Spencer answered that the development would be phased to provide new accommodation before existing blocks were demolished; whilst there would need to be some careful planning in relation to the academic phase of the scheme it was noted there were decant options and much of the development would be on existing brownfield sites. There would also be a mix of green roofs to respect the setting of the national park.


(15)          In response to Councillor Gilbey it was explained by Mr Spencer that the maximum growth in the number of student would be 1000 each year to facilitate a ‘gradual build up’.


(16)          Mr Spencer explained to Councillor A. Norman that the university was committed to maintaining active relationships with the LATs, and there was an appreciation that whilst the development was located at the Falmer campus this had wide ranging impacts across the city in terms of where students lived.


(17)          Mr Gowans asked about archaeological matters and Officers noted that they would be able to respond to these questions.


(18)          Councillor C. Theobald asked about parking and Mr Spencer explained that the university had been managing its own transport plans for some years; there was existing capacity on the site and it was not considered there would be any significant impact that could not be managed.


(19)          The Chair asked specific questions in relation to Sir Basil Spence’s original vision for the site, and asked about the legibility of this in the context of the level of proposed development. Mr Spencer explained that the university was largely enthused about the masterplan, and a number of areas of the Sir Basil Spence’s original vision were being reinforced. There would be the option to create much more natural looking area and the application contained specific details about how people would move through the site to reinforce the north-south emphasis, and the number of footways and cycleways would strengthen the design.


(20)          The Chair went on to ask about the commitment in the EIA to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the university and how this balanced against the proposed level of demolition at the site. Mr Spencer explained that the opportunity existed to upgrade the environmental standing of the buildings as some were very poor in terms of their resource demands. There were opportunity to allow the life sciences buildings to utilise greater levels of sustainability and ways for the university to create more of its own energy.


(21)          The Chair then asked about the travel plan and the sharing of some of facilities with the neighbouring football ground; Mr Spencer explained that relations between the two organisations were very good and there was very proactive work to co-ordinate activities. The football club also had some options to negotiate match days if necessary. Mr Spencer also confirmed that Transport Officers had also confirmed there would be capacity within existing bus and rail services to accommodate the additional use.


Questions for Officers


(22)          In response to Councillor Littman it was explained that the trees formed part of the reserved matters in the application; however the Arboriculturist had not objected to the proposed number of trees to be removed. The Head of Development Control noted that the Executive Director had agreed to refer the reserved matters to the Committee for decision, and added that the detailed application on the landscaping could not be progressed without the consent for the outline matters.


(23)          In response to Councillor Hyde the Senior Solicitor explained that although the permission was outline the Committee would need to be fully satisfied on all the matters in this proposed development prior to development commencing. The university would not be able to implement the scheme until all the reserved matters had been given approval.


(24)          Councillor Duncan asked for more information in relation to ecology on the site, and the Case Officer noted that the location of the badger sets formed part of a confidential report, and the details of this were passed round to the Committee, but not shown to the public using the presentation facilities in the Council Chamber; it was noted that there were no badger sets on the site, but badgers did use it. The County Ecologist, Kate Cole, explained that badgers used the site for foraging and commuting. There had also been three small temporary bat roasts found within buildings that were due to be demolished; work on these buildings would require a licence and mitigation measures. There was also a condition proposing that the main commuting corridors for the bats be kept dark and that there be no reduction in the foraging habitat. In relation to the badgers the application would have no impact on the sets, but there would be some phased temporary impact on their foraging during the works; however, badgers were known to be highly adaptable and any impact would not be significant; as a precaution the developers would be asked to adopt ‘best practice’ in relation to measures to protect the badgers.


(25)          In response to Councillor C. Theobald the Arboriculturist, Di Morgan, explained that there were 12 elm trees on the site, and it was proposed that five of these would be felled. The submitted survey detailed that three had a low life expectancy of 10 years and two with a moderate life expectancy of 20 years. The elms were an English Elm with little disease resistance to Dutch Elm Disease; an American species, with better resistance, was suggested as part of the mitigation.


(26)          In response to a further question from Councillor C. Theobald in relation to transport contributions the Principal Transport Officer, Pete Tolson, explained that the university had a strong track record on sustainable transport/travel plans, and there were no significant safety or congestion issues identified as part of the scheme.


(27)          Councillor Hyde asked further questions in relation to ecology and the County Ecologist explained that the mitigation measures in relation to the bats would take place at the appropriate time of the year and provide alternative bat boxes to take advantage of their opportunistic nature. In relation to badgers the condition would be monitored by the Planning Authority who would work closely with the applicant.


(28)          The Senior Solicitor confirmed for Councillor Hyde that it was appropriate for the Committee to consider matters in relation the impact of the additional students in the city.


(29)          In response to Councillor Gilbey it was explained that there were no tree preservation orders (TPOs) at the site as the university had historically worked well with the Council in relation to the management of its trees. The Arboriculturist confirmed that the retained trees would be appropriately protected during construction.


(30)          In response to Councillor A. Norman the Head of Development Control explained that an informative could be added at this stage to give advice on appropriate landscaping measures to inform the reserved matters.


(31)          In response to the Chair it was explained that TPOs were used to protect trees with a public amenity value. The Planning Authority had taken a practical approach given the good record of the university in managing trees, and taken note of the new woodland area that had been planted with approximately 1500 trees. The Head of Development Control added that the new square would remain on privately owned land and not be secured as a public space; the Council would not be in a position to request retrospective TPOs and had historically been satisfied with the working partnership. The Head of Planning Strategy added that the designation of the campus as a conservation area had not been progressed in the past due to the number of TPOs it would require and given the good working relationship.


(32)          In response to Councillor Gilbey it was explained that the nature of the campus had gradually changed since its original inception and the existing or proposed buildings would not break above the surrounding tree line.


(33)          In response to the Chair it was confirmed that – given the mitigation measures – the overall impact on biodiversity was not considered significant.


Debate and Decision Making Process


(34)          Councillor Wells noted he had listened carefully to the presentation, speakers and questions, and he had some reservations in relation to outline planning permissions as they did not contain the full details of the scheme. He went on to add that the level of tree loss was not acceptable and he had real concerns in relation to the impact of additional students in the city. For these reasons he would not support the Officer recommendation.


(35)          Councillor C. Theobald queried why some of the existing buildings could not be refurbished as she considered them to have some visual merit. She had concerns that the increased numbers of students would turn more of the city’s housing stock over to student use that would otherwise be family homes. She was concerned about the level of tree loss associated with the application and felt that five and six storeys would be too high for the site. She welcomed the reserved matters being bought to the Committee for consideration, and she understood the need for the scheme, but felt there were unacceptable aspects.


(36)          Councillor Duncan stated he would have preferred to also be determining matters in relation to the landscaping and the design, but he had concerns that the level of growth in the university masterplan would have a detrimental impact on the city. For these reasons he would not support the Officer recommendation.


(37)          Councillor Carden stated that the proposals were too much for the site, and felt the scheme was inappropriate given the existing housing problems in the city. He had concerns in relation to ecology at the site, and felt the expansion would overwhelm the road junction.


(38)          Councillor Littman noted the difficulty of the decision, and noted that some of the facilities at the university had been dated for some years; however, he felt that both the natural and built environment were of fundamental importance to the site, and it was not guaranteed these aspects would be retained in the scheme. As a matter of judgement he felt there were too many unanswered questions in relation to the scheme.


(39)          Councillor Hyde noted that points discussed during questions and the debate and added that the site had been a ‘delight’ to visit. She added that the increase in student numbers would have a significant impact on the city, and she felt the expansion was too much. Whilst she welcomed the reserved matters coming back to Committee she could not support the Officer recommendation.


(40)          Councillor A. Norman noted her view that it would not have been the original vision that the site remain static in terms of growth and development. She welcomed the reserved matters coming back to the Committee, and noted the good working relationship between the Council and the university, and she was inclined to support the Officer recommendation.


(41)          Councillor Hamilton noted that the number of new students would exceed the number of proposed new bed spaces and this would result in further loses of family housing in the city – as well as the monetary loss in terms of revenue, which he accepted was not a material planning consideration. He felt that the site was already heavily developed given its adjacent location to the national park, and he felt the site could not withstand further development, and he would not be able to support the Officer recommendation.


(42)          Councillor Gilbey stated that she could not support the scheme; despite having first- hand knowledge of the need for the new facilities. She felt the scheme was too large, and was concerned about the loss of trees at the site.


(43)          The Chair stated that he had found the decision very difficult and he wanted the university to be successful; however, he had concerns about the lack of detail in the application and was unsure if this was appropriate for the future of the site. He added that he was not satisfied all his questions had been answered.


(44)          Before the vote was taken the Senior Solicitor reiterated that the outline nature of the application could not form a reason for refusal, and issues in relation to loss of Council Tax revenue through increased numbers of students were not material to the scheme.


(45)          A vote was taken by the 11 Members present and the Officer recommendation that the Committee be minded to approve planning permission was not carried on a vote of 1 in support and 10 against. Reasons were then proposed and seconded to refuse the application by Councillors Duncan and Hyde. An adjournment was then held to allow the Chair, Councillor Duncan, Councillor Hyde, the Head of Development Control, the Senior Planning Officer and the Senior Solicitor to draft the reasons in full. These reasons were then read to the Committee and it was agreed that they accurately reflected what had been put forward. A recorded vote was then taken and Councillors: Mac Cafferty, Duncan, Hyde, Carden, Littman, Phillips, C. Theobald, Wells, Hamilton and Gilbey voted that permission be refused; Councillor A. Norman voted that permission not be refused.


19.1       RESOLVED – That the Committee has taken into account the Officer recommendation, but resolves to refuse planning permission for the reasons set out below:


      i.           The proposed development would result in the loss of a significant number of trees which would have a negative impact on the amenity of the  campus both in terms of its users and its ecology contrary to policies QD16 and QD18 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan 2005;


    ii.           The outline application, by virtue of its overall master planning approach, does  not make a positive contribution to the existing visual quality of the environment by virtue of its proposed scale and height resulting in the creation of a more dense urban environment to the detriment of the existing character of this edge of city location  contrary to policy QD1 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan 2005 and policy CP21 (5) of the Submission City Plan Part One;


   iii.           The application fails to demonstrate that it would not result in a negative impact on the city’s existing housing stock as a result of the proposed increase in student numbers contrary to the sustainable objectives within the National Planning Policy Framework;


   iv.           The proposed development will overwhelm the composition and setting of the campus and its listed buildings as envisaged by Sir Basil Spence contrary to policies HE3 and QD3 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan 2005.

Supporting documents:


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