Wed 07 / 12 / 22
Construction Voice: How to create a balanced city with conflicting needs and demands
Paula Seager of Natural PR summarises the latest Construction Voice panel event.
By Paula Seager of Natural PR Ltd
It was a night of more questions than answers at Brighton Chamber’s latest Construction Voice event, examining how to create a balanced city with conflicting needs and demands.
As the evening progressed, an online headline from The Times revealed that Councils will no longer be forced to comply with mandatory housebuilding targets, under a package of concessions agreed earlier in the day by the government to head off a backbench rebellion on planning. So, Gove is on manoeuvres and the goal posts for development have changed again. This on top of the turbulence and yet-to-be-understood impacts of Covid, Brexit, the Russian war on Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis.
Discussion focused on how to maintain what is great and unique about Brighton & Hove, with the huge pressure on housing, balanced with jobs for local people. If the balance tips too far one way, the city risks becoming a dormitory town, with people living here and working elsewhere, which, in itself, would threaten what makes it such a special place.
There is limited space in the city and if too much is allocated to employment space, or the wrong kind of employment space, there won’t be enough housing which is affordable for local workers; a problem already happening, with people moving out to live elsewhere in Sussex commuting into Brighton & Hove. This is exacerbated by the ‘London effect’; people moving to Brighton with bigger budgets, pushing the house prices up, and commuting to London.
Donna Chisholm, Executive Director, Economy, Environment and Culture at Brighton & Hove City Council, said that the Council has a complex and diverse role as a planning authority, house builder and landlord, and is always trying hard to balance the greatest pressure, which is for housing, with employment space. This they try to balance against maintaining the great cultural and tourism assets of Brighton & Hove. The City Plan was adopted in October, and this is supported by an Economic Strategy which is needed to help attract Government funds.
She said that the city has been successful in bringing forward several major sites, among them Circus Street, Preston Barracks and Edward Street, but we have to hold onto some of the smaller business spaces too and in future will focus more on entrepreneurship and the small spaces they need to start out in. She also raised the importance of affordable light industrial space, recognising those essential neighbourhood businesses which get displaced by redevelopment. Going forward, the Council is not going to be pushed into rushed decisions on important sites such as the King Alfred, because a false move could threaten what makes the city so special.
Rob Sloper, Development Director for U+I (a Landsec company), which is the specialist, mixed use developer behind the transformations of Circus Street and Preston Barracks, said that all development in the city should mix in elements for employment. Scale is important: with Circus Street being three acres and Preston Barracks five acres, the sites allowed more room to deliver housing, employment space, cultural facilities, such as the Dance Space, student accommodation, shops and public space, creating complete communities within the city.
David Fisher, Chair of the Regency Society, looked at the topic from a historical perspective, though he didn’t think things have changed much, as similar pressures have always been an issue in the city, looking back to the Regency Society’s early publications in the 1940s. He cited examples where in the past, whole areas of historical buildings were threatened by Council decisions to build flats, yet this was in areas such as Brunswick Square, where houses were already being divided up into flats in response to demand. It doesn’t have to all be new buildings; you have to look at much more than that when building a community.
David Wasserberg, Associate Director at Savills, London, said he was familiar with the trade-offs and it’s a tough nut to crack. Coming from a property data perspective, he tended to be combative on the topic because of having to fight the case for development all the time. But at the same time, he questioned if Brighton can put together a compelling package to go to the next step without threatening what makes it an appealing city.
He felt the universities and life sciences here were another important part of the city’s appeal. The level of provision of offices in the city on a per worker basis was very low compared to Bristol, Cambridge and Southampton. He feared that opportunities were lost because of this, but if we want higher retention of work force from the universities, we need affordable housing. At the same time, industrial space is needed too, but looking at the Local Plan he fears it is not being addressed, though it is an important part of the jigsaw.
In closing, Rob Sloper said that as a developer and master planner, the key thing is to understand and respond to the local place you’re working in.
David Wasserberg said when looking at new sites to develop, think about densifying the range of uses and create employment uses in innovative design-led ways.
David Fisher said we need to be building neighbourhoods, which is more than just new buildings and cited the Victorians as a good example.
Donna Chisholm said that in place making, we are seeing a pushback to globalisation. For the next five years we will be focusing on how to protect what is special about Brighton & Hove, and create innovative places for people to live, work and visit. We all have a part to play in achieving that; the Council can’t do it on its own.
Paula Seager is Managing Director at Natural PR. Find out more on their website.
And thanks to our event partners:
Find out more about Construction Voice, and read about previous Construction Voice events here.
Rachel Gibson ED of South East Dance introduced the beautiful new Dance Space, which includes hireable rooms for events and meetings. (Book a viewing here).
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