Exeter City Council’s Planning Committee considered the application [15/1086/03] to build student accommodation on the site of Radmore & Tucker on Frog Street (which we all know as Western Way).
I had grave concerns about this application, so after the Planning Officer presented his report I spoke against the plan:
Thank you Chair, I’ll try and be brief…but there are several points that I would like to bring to your attention.
Of course, I’ll try and restrict them to material considerations – but I may take the liberty to stray from those in one or two area
But before I start with the material I’ve planned, I would like to say that I concur with what’s been said about retaining the view of the Cathedral from the mediaeval bridge.
I spent many years in the Midlands – and at times, in Coventry where the city centre is a post-war concrete jungle and where the current Radmore & Tucker building would be considered a contender for the Sterling Prize.
Yet even there the town planners respected the view of the ruins of the old Cathedral – right up until they plonked a new shopping centre slap bang in the middle of the vista – destroying both the view and the vision.
You only have one chance to get this right – don’t follow Coventry’s example.
Since March 2012 one of the major pieces of material consideration is the National Planning Policy Framework.
And most importantly, that NPPF introduces a presumption in favour of sustainable development which is the “golden thread” running through planning.
But what does that really mean?
I hope that it isn’t that any development that can turn a profit for developers is sustainable?
The NPPF helps a little in that states that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development:
- of good design;
- an economic role;
- a social role supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities through supplying housing to meet existing and future needs;
- an environmental role but expands this to helping to protect the natural, built and historic environments);and
- to move to a low carbon economy to address climate change
I would have hoped that the documentation accompanying the application might help enlighten me on many of theses points.
But to me it doesn’t – there’s lots of pictures, but in this case none of the pictures appears to be worth a 1000 words.
And I note that Historic England have serious misgivings over these photo-montages
The NPPF sets out 12 core principles that should underpin planning.
I just want to cover a few of those core principles
In Section 1 of NPPF “Building a strong, competitive economy” the aim appears to be to should support existing business sectors, so I ask myself how this development will support the thriving and growing artistic community and independent shops we are starting to see flourishing along Fore Street?
Section 6 “Delivering a wide choice of high quality homes” looks ensure a suitable supply supply of housing.
In particular it aims to deliver a choice of quality homes to create sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities.
I am aware that this council has a Supplementary Planning Document [SPD] that seek to deliver purpose-built student accommodation [DOWNLOAD from here]– and looks to the city centre as the location for much of this.
However, each and every application that comes before this committee seems to be aimed at the high-end and luxury market.
What happens to those students that can’t afford the rents for these units?
It’s probably not a material planning consideration, but we have a 35% affordable housing threshold for those larger estates on the outside the city centre – which has delivered 600 affordable homes for mainly social rent over the pat 5 years, and there are 2000 such homes in the pipleline.
When are we going to see developers of purpose-built student accommodation starting to offer units to grow such inclusive and mixed communities?
At section 7 “Requiring good design”, the NPPF states that good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, and it is important to plan positively for the achievement of high quality and inclusive design for all developments, including individual buildings, public and private spaces.
Is this a “good design”?
Well it might be better than what’s currently there – but to my mind that doesn’t make it inherently “good”!
It seems to be a series of blocks that takes no account of the surrounding streetscape and landscape.
There are no appropriate innovations and seems to contradict paragraph 58 which seeks to ensure that developments respond to local character and history, and reflect the identity of local surroundings and materials.
All around the development site are buildings of historic importance – yet the design fails to take any account of distinctive brick and stonework of the 2 local churches
It does little or nothing to promote or reinforce the local distinctiveness and character highlighted by the House That Moves.
And in particular it does nothing to integrate this new development into the historic environment.
Years ago, our predecessors thought this area of sufficient value to designate is as a Conservation Area – are you about to go against that legacy?
And to be clear Paragraph 64 of the NPPF gives you permission to refuse a development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area.
Some of this is reinforced in section 12 “Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment” which recognises that heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource and should be conserved in a manner appropriate to their significance.
The NPPF requires applicants to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected, including any contribution made by their setting.
The NPPF seeks to ensure that there are no detrimental impacts on the reasonable outlook and amenity of immediate neighbours – some of the objections I’ve seen suggest that there will be detrimental impact.
Another factor that is covered in NPPF is a desire that landscaping delivers a good standard of amenity for all.
The only amenity I see mentioned in relation to this development is the roof gardens – and they’re not even available for all residents of this building, only the occupants of the duplex penthouses, let alone the wider community.
And at the height suggested in the application, these roof gardens will affect the views of the setting in contravention of NPPF section 12 “Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment”
The NPPF at section 4 “Promoting Sustainable Transport” states that transport policies have an important role to play in facilitating sustainable development but also in contributing to wider sustainability and health objectives.
I have reservations about green travel plans being used to prove that a development is sustainable – yet I haven’t seen even this among the documentation.
There is mention of cycle storage – but why have I also seen reference to car parking spaces?
Surely the advantage a city centre location for purpose-built student accommodation is that a car isn’t needed?
I welcome the comments from the Planning Officer that the parking spaces would be for disabled use only.
So I believe that when assessed against the policy guidance contained within the NPPF, there are sufficient grounds to warrant refusal.
Thank you for listening
The committee then determined the application and decided to REFUSE planning permission.
Alex Richards: Thrown Out: City planners reject luxury student flats which would have blocked historic Exeter view [Express & Echo, 05 January 2016]