Hove Gardens finally gets go-ahead

Hove Gardens finally gets go-ahead

Local developers Matsim have just won their appeal against the Council’s July 2017 refusal of their Hove Gardens Project. A government Planning Inspector has approved the high density redevelopment of the former Furniture Village warehouse to provide 186 apartments, 1,300 sq.m. of offices and 230 sq.m. of shops.

This £70m investment will kick-start the transformation of one of the most run-down areas of Hove. From Fonthill Road east, a re-surfaced Conway Street will be landscaped, lined with shops and offices and ‘traffic calmed’ to make a pedestrian/cycle friendly route to the substantially improved steps up to Goldstone Villas – a huge improvement for nearby residents and people walking through the area from Poets Corner.

The Planning Committee turned it down for one reason only - a deficit of 12 ‘affordable’ homes. The project provided 35 ‘affordable’ housing units (19%) whereas their independent valuation expert said it could provide 47 (25%). Readers with long memories may recall that the Argus reported planning chair Julie Cattell’s comment that the scheme was almost perfect but ‘with a little bit missing’ (22.06.17 Regeneration chance lost with flats refusal).

It appears that the Committee wrongly assumed that Matsim would revise the scheme to close this gap, rather than appeal. Instead Matsim secured planning approvals for 40,000 sq.m offices and then appealed. These approvals significantly increased the value of the site and therefore land costs, alongside increased construction costs. These increased costs only partially offset the estimated higher sales figures due to house price rises since July 2017.

Thus the Inspector agreed with Matsim that the project was now only viable with 19 affordable units - 10%. Moreover, he also had to take account of the fact that the Council could no longer demonstrate a 5 year supply of land for house-building. But he did impose a ‘review mechanism’ to ensure additional ‘affordable’ units will be provided if actual costs and sales produce a surplus.

The Hove Station Neighbourhood Forum supported Matsim at the appeal for the same reasons we supported the original application. We are in the final stages of a five year process of preparing a statutory Neighbourhood Plan which aims to give the local community a real say in the large-scale regeneration of our area as set out in the 2014 City Plan. Our Plan has a target of 40% ‘affordable’ units, But for this uniquely located project a significantly lower level is acceptable because it will ‘kick-start’ the delivery of the Plan’s vision of a new Hove Station Quarter, whereas Matsim’s alternative of refurbishing the big shed would be entirely the wrong use for this key site. Moreover, as it is a unique project it does not create a precedent. The Neighbourhood Plan will require subsequent phases of the Conway Street redevelopment to deliver much higher proportions of affordable housing – not least on council owned land.

In his report the Inspector agreed with the Forum’s key arguments

‘….being the first scheme to come forward I acknowledge that the proposed development could in effect kick-start this process of the wider regeneration of this area..’ and ‘…would result in an improvement to the character and appearance of the area against the existing situation. I attach considerable weight and importance to these benefits’

His decision is a game-changer. It paves the way for an innovative move beyond a ‘business as usual’ approach of dealing with development on a project by project basis. The challenge now is for the Council, private landowners and the Forum to work collectively to the deliver the redevelopment of the whole Conway Street area, in a process which brings a fair share of benefits to local residents.