3:55pm Friday 18th January 2013
By Tim Ridgway
Housing, public transport, offices and shops – all are things that we rely on as we go about our daily lives. But making sure enough is provided and in the right places takes years of planning. As decision makers look to agree the development blueprint for Brighton and Hove until 2030 at the end of the month, reporter TIM RIDGWAY asks just what the City Plan will mean to you.
Located on the edge of the city is a vast, green and relatively quiet open space.
For hundreds of years Toad’s Hole Valley, just off King George VI Avenue in Hove, has sat undeveloped while residential and suburban areas have sprung up around it.
Then, in the early 1990s, the 47 hectare site became cut off from the rest of the Sussex Downs with the construction of the A27 bypass.
Two decades on, the privately-owned plot, which is fenced off but home to a plethora of birds, foxes and other wildlife, lies at the centre of a debate which will guide the future of Brighton and Hove.
On the one side are bosses at Brighton and Hove City Council who claim it is the “last piece of the jigsaw” in providing a “balanced” city.
They add without the valley, they cannot provide enough homes, schools, office space, a nature reserve and other facilities to meet future demand and help the city thrive.
On the other are conservationists and anti-developers – labelled by opponents as “Nimbys” – who believe the land must be protected from development.
The future of the valley will be decided in a crunch debate as councillors decide on the City Plan, which will guide development in the area until 2030.
Work on the 20-year plan first began in 2010 and is due to be completed at the end of this month.
Deputy council leader Phélim MacCafferty said: “No one would opt to develop greenfield sites if there were alternative options available. “Toad’s Hole Valley is privately owned, so plans could come forward at any time. “Its inclusion is important because identifying it in the City Plan gives us the opportunity to guide development on the site.”
The council’s Green administration took the bold move to include the targets more than a year ago.
It claims the land, which is owned by the Cook family and was previously earmarked as a potential home for Brighton and Hove Albion, could provide a carbon neutral “One Planet Living” development.
Included in it would be 700 homes, a secondary school, business park and transport links.
It adds failing to include it in the document would leave the authority well short of the national housing target set by Government.
This would open the council up to a lengthy legal challenge with the planning Inspectorate at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer.
Coun MacCafferty claimed the sustainability aspect of the scheme would “put the city ahead of the game”.
But opponents suggest there is another way.
Michael Ray, former head of planning for Hove, made the case at a Regency Society debate earlier this week.
Mr Ray said: “A totally green approach to the city’s future would be to avoid any development of Toad’s Hole Valley.”
He added: “Development of the valley would be the end of the road for the city.”
Further concerns raised were the potential for increasing flooding risk to existing homes and harm to wildlife.
Mr Ray added the local authority needed to focus its search on “windfall sites”, which are developed land which unexpectedly become available.
Labour councillor Brian Fitch, who represents Hangleton and Knoll, home to Toad’s Hole, helped collect more than 1,300 signatures as part of a campaign to Save Our Valley.
Coun Fitch said: “I believe we should be protecting the countryside and what is proposed is just destructive to the valley.”
But among those who disagree are Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, Brighton and Hove Friends of the Earth and the Affordable Housing Partnership.
To meet the demands of a growing and ageing population, Brighton and Hove City Council believes it needs to provide 15,800 homes by 2030.
It also has 12,500 people on its social housing waiting list.
However, after asking external consultants to look at every piece of land in the city, the local authority said it can only find enough space for 11,300.
This includes allocating housing in Toad’s Hole Valley.
Speaking at a recent public meeting, Rob Fraser, the council’s head of planning strategy, said: “We do not have major development sites that other cities have.
“We have to prove to the inspector that we cannot provide 15,800 homes.”
The local authority has had its hand bent by new Government guidelines which state there must be a presumption to “favour sustainable development”.
This, it argues, means that even if it did not include Toad’s Hole Valley in the plan, it may be built on anyway.
Mr Fraser added the council had asked neighbouring authorities if they would provide extra homes but the plea was knocked back.
Affordable housing targets will also be changed under the plan.
The current level of 40% will only be kept on sites of 15 or more units.
This will be reduced to 30% for those between ten and 14 units and a 20% financial contribution equivalent on sites of between five to nine units.
This is seen as a way to make development of smaller sites in the city more profitable.
OTHER AREAS FOR NEW HOMES
Toad’s Hole Valley is just one part of the City Plan.
As well as overall housing targets, it highlights what it would like to see in eight major redevelopment areas in the city.
The document also includes six special areas which it wants to protect, which includes the seafront and South Downs.
The local authority also wants to protect Brighton city centre to ensure it remains the focal point for offices and retail.
To avoid “studentification” of areas, quotas will be enforced on the number of student houses in areas such as Coombe Road, Bevendean and Hanover.
However, in a move opposed by some in the private sector, the local authority has ruled out Park and Ride claiming there is not enough space.
The local authority is open to a programme of “informal” sites at existing car parks around the city.
Speaking about the City Plan, Coun MacCafferty said: “We now have a robust and practical plan that will bring forward sustainable development and provide homes, jobs, schools and other facilities that our residents and businesses need.
“It is ambitious and aims to respond to difficult economic circumstances as well as setting out a clear framework for the city’s sustainable growth.”
Opposition councillors have kept their powder dry on the revised proposals.
They will first be discussed by the council’s policy and resources committee on Thursday in Hove Town Hall.
Then opposition councillors will present their amendments to the document at a meeting of all 54 members on January 31.
If agreed by the council, it will be published for a six week formal consultation before being submitted to the Government in April.
It is expected the Planning Inspector will examine Brighton and Hove’s City Plan in the autumn before possible adoption in February 2014.
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