Martin Randall, head of planning & public protection, Brighton & Hove City Council speaks to the AJ
Why has Brighton got a reputation for being a tough place to win planning?
That is something of an urban myth. We are certainly a place where land for development is scarce and we set high standards to match the city’s outstanding natural and built environment.
A series of high profile development projects in the city and more in the pipeline illustrate a real confidence by investors in Brighton and Hove that has been sustained through the tough economic conditions of recent years. Good examples include the flagship One Brighton scheme and a series of developments that have collectively delivered the wholesale redevelopment of the New England Quarter.
The recently completed American Express European headquarters highlights a confidence in the local economy and the quality of the local workforce in a city with two universities. The universities have themselves contributed a portfolio of significant buildings. The council is working with both to bring forward more.
Is Brighton a hard place to get things built?
No. Brighton and Hove is a compact city and we have to make the very best use of the limited supply of land. So, as you would expect, every significant proposal is the subject of much scrutiny, discussion and debate. Despite this, planning approval rates remain high. A new Open Market is at an advanced stage; the city’s shared archive The Keep has just been completed; Block J of the New England Quarter is emerging alongside Brighton Station and the former Co-op building in London Road (it will retain its impressive facade). Many other smaller projects are also underway.
Why have so many recent large projects not come to fruition?
The funding for some major seafront developments has not been forthcoming recently
In common with many other places, the necessary funding for some of the major seafront developments has not been forthcoming recently. Marks Barfield’s iconic i360 is an amazing scheme, which deserves to attract investment. The council has boldly offered support through prudential borrowing. The King Alfred scheme gained planning permission just prior to the economic downturn and, not surprisingly, the development agreement on this ambitious scheme subsequently lapsed.
How is the council encouraging development?
The council is leading by example and addressing its own landholding to promote regeneration. A dedicated team act as a client for the authority to align wider interests early on. One of its strengths is partnership working. Councillors are used to cross-party working to move projects forward and we have now formed a strong partnership working with neighbouring authorities to strengthen the economy and promote growth in the wider Greater Brighton City Region as part of the City Deal. From a planning perspective, we have a team to promote planning briefs in partnership with developers and to help ‘unlock’ difficult sites. Early on we introduced a series of ‘recession busting measures’ to assist development, including scope for re-negotiating S106’s and, up to this point in time, a free pre-application service.