A former housing office in Brighton can be converted into 10 flats after planning permission was granted on Wednesday (June 12).
Brighton and Hove City Council intends to turn its former Oxford Street housing office into flats for people in need of temporary housing as a way of saving money on expensive placements.
And at Hove Town Hall the council’s planning committee granted the council’s Housing Department permission to go ahead despite some criticisms, including no solar panels on the roof.
Former council leader Daniel Yates, a Labour councillor, and Joe Miller, a Conservative councillor, asked about the loss of employment space while accepting the need for housing.
They questioned why the building had been “left to rot” and why the council had not met the standard that it required from others.
The council’s planning policies require developers to provide evidence that there was no demand from other employers by marketing a site, usually for at least a year.
The council’s “employment land” policy requires “documented evidence of the marketing strategy adopted, particularly whether it has been marketed at a price that reflects local market prices and attempts to make the building attractive to different business or employment uses”.
The site had not been marketed despite being empty for four years and nothing had been done to make it attractive to other potential employers.
Councillor Yates asked if it was now council policy to allow an office to become so dilapidated that it could overcome planning policy to be converted into housing.
He was told that the offices had not been marketed but a report had been supplied to say the poor state of repair would have required “substantial” outlay to make it usable.
Councillor Yates said: “It’s only been vacant because no one has been allowed in there.
“Developers could close up buildings and say: ‘There is no need to retain this space. Let’s use it for something else.’”
Councillor Miller asked why the offices were left empty for so long and not advertised to let.
He was told the offices needed a lot of investment and were not advertised due to low demand in the area.
He was concerned about the impression of secrecy around the closure of the building and added: “There is a need for residential accommodation in the city (but) I have issues with the loss of office space and whether, when it came to lack of demand, the applicant (the council) did not have to provide the same standard of proof that we would expect from a developer.”
Neighbours objected to the height of the proposed flats, with an extra floor having been added during the design stage.
The Planning Committee meeting at Hove Town Hall heard that one nearby resident had said that the extra floor would lead to a loss of light in neighbour’s living rooms.
The resident said: “There is a housing shortage but the additional storey will have an impact on two flats in Ditchling Road. It is not acceptable for so many flats to have such a negative impact.”
Council building manager Scott Lunn told the committee that there was a shortage of “development opportunities” where the council could spend money from the Housing Revenue Account budget.
Green councillors Leo Littman and Sue Shanks were concerned about the standard of the proposed building which Councillor Littman said was “just about suitable”.
Councillor Shanks said: “We need housing in the city. I just think if we are going to build, we should have as high a standard as possible.”
Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the application.