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West Street, Old Town: the council's planning committee has given the go-ahead for new buildings on the site to the left, ignoring the detrimental effect these will have on the privacy and daylight available to the properties across the narrow street, which is just 3.6 metres wide.

West Street, Old Town: the council’s Planning Committee has given the go-ahead for new buildings on the site to the left, in spite of the detrimental effect these will have on the privacy and daylight available to the properties across the narrow street, which is just 3.6 metres wide.

Please don’t mention the width of West Street

Do you know where West Street is? It is a narrow road sandwiched between George Street and East Parade in Hastings Old Town, an area where the buildings are mostly listed. Planning decisions should take into account the circumstances of the locale, a reasonable person might suppose. In West Street this has proved not to be the case, to the detriment of local residents, whose attempts to have the situation corrected have been ignored. Richard Price reports.

Post war, the south west corner of 1 East Parade was occupied by the Norfolk Hotel. The two-storey extension behind it formed the hotel entrance which by 2003 had its own title “Land at back of 1 East Parade” (LB1EP), while the adjacent building at 34 West Street (34WS) was the hotel store. These two properties were combined as a single site in 2003. Across the road, just 3.6 metres away, are three properties: no. 3, a new-build, and nos. 4 and 6 which are three storeys high and listed.

Planning applications for the site have exposed a problem within the Council’s Planning Department: the inability to consider that a street can be narrower than 15 metres, brought about by its dependence on the ‘street scene’ as the sole strategic analytical tool of conservation. This myopia is achieved by ignoring anyone who raises it as a concern.

What is a street scene?

diagram 1

The street scene is a drawing that shows the proposal in context. It is composed of the elevation of the proposal and of the properties on either side of it. Shown above are two such drawings submitted by the developer; the one on the left is from 2003, prior to any proposal – it shows no. 34 demolished and as such having relinquished any rights to light. To the right of no. 34 is LB1EP – as this has now also been demolished, it has also lost any rights to light. The drawing on the right shows a proposal made in 2008 involving a massive overdevelopment by an additional storey. Comparing the two drawings, it is clear that the original properties allowed far more light into this part of West Street and the properties 3.6 metres opposite than the 2008 proposal, or indeed any of the subsequent proposals.

The effect on the properties opposite may be difficult to visualise because the street scenes assume that the issues of daylight and privacy are dealt with by the width of the street. The diagrams below show how incorrect this assumption is.

Street section resized

On the left is a cross-section through a standard street in which it is assumed that the facades on either side are 15 metres apart – the distance stipulated by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to ensure privacy and adequate daylight for the façades opposite (as illustrated by the green line).

The cross-section on the right shows the very different situation in West Street, where the façades are only 3.6 metres apart. As can be seen, the proposal looks directly into the existing buildings opposite (which are listed) and the BRE acceptable angle of daylight (green) only allows for a single-storey building. The amber line shows the angle of the general line of the original properties on the site. This is 32° above the BRE acceptable angle of daylight, while the red line, which shows the angle between the resident opposite and the top of the proposed new building, is no less than 44° above the acceptable angle – in fact it is not far short of vertical, and virtually blocks out all daylight.

History of ignored objections

Application was made in 2003 on the combined 34WS/LB1EP site to put up a three-to-four storey residential block of flats in the Edwardian style with bay windows. The owner of 4 West Street objected, pointing out that the proposed bay windows reduced West Street to seven feet (2.1 metres) wide, closing it to traffic. Permission was granted though with the bay windows removed. The objection did not trigger an alarm about the proximity of the dwellings opposite. Five years later, in 2008, a proposal was made for two four-storey freehold houses and a three-storey maisonette over the store, accessed from 1 East Parade. The council planners informed the resident of No 4 that the proposal was three storeys and a roof, just like the previous building. However, the roof is a ‘mansard’ roof, a detail designed by Francois Mansart in 17th century France specifically to conceal an additional storey. Though the planners describe it as a roof, in effect it is an additional storey. This proposal was also permitted.

With a validity of three years, this permission required renewal in 2011. The owner did not own the crucial right of access to the maisonette, leaving it stranded above the store with no way into it. The planners did not acknowledge this, nor the proximity of the listed buildings at 4 and 6 West Street opposite, nor the effect of the proposed additional storey on their daylight and privacy. Planning department officer Sam Bachelor suggested to the committee that the scheme was based on a similar proposal, which was granted permission. He then stated that, “There will be no impact on neighbouring residential amenities.” While this is true for the adjacent listed 33 West Street and 1 East Parade, it is not true for the listed properties opposite. But the committee did not enter into discussion on this point.

Why have planners consistently refused to acknowledge the narrowness of West Street, even to the planning committee?

Why have council planners consistently refused to acknowledge the narrowness of West Street, even to their own planning committee?

Sheila Bull, who lives at 3 West Street, brought a judicial review against the planning permission in 2011. In his summary, the judge applauded the planners for their evidence, unaware that the Planning Department refused to acknowledge the three-storey listed buildings 3.6 metres in front or the effect of the additional storey on those listed façades. They also refused to acknowledge their presence to the Planning Committee, the barrister for the judicial review, the judge, or latterly the local MP. None of these formally visited the site but relied on the planners, as public servants, for an objective summary.

Subsequent applications were made in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 to resolve the ownership and access problems of the proposal, resulting in 2014 with a reversion to a residential block, as in 2003. In 2015, by making the bulk of the wall to the additional floor vertical, the planners finally acknowledged that there is an additional storey. At the same time as these applications were given permission, Planning Enforcement deemed at the 11th hour and 59th minute that building work had commenced on the 2011 permission, thus leaving the site with three current permissions and no time limit, the only defining factor of which is the additional storey which the planners are adamant must be there regardless of its effect.

Whilst 3 West Street has been future-proofed by a lantern light for daylight and a shutter for privacy, for the unacknowledged three-storey listed buildings at 4 and 6 West Street, the only recourse is to “Rights of Light” legislation under the 20-year rule. It is unfair to lay this burden of litigation on ordinary folk trying to maintain the “rich and varied” fabric of the Old Town which is supposed to be a council aim.

Construction on the doorstep

Furthermore, the planning permission contains none of the standard provisions regarding contracting procedure which are applied elsewhere in Hastings. Simon Duncan at no. 6 bought his listed property in early 2014, having been advised by his solicitor that the planning application for the site across the road was unlikely to be approved.

Simon Duncan, who lives across the street, surveys the future construction site.

Simon Duncan, who lives across the street, surveys the future construction site.

The wall by his front door sustained some damage in 2014 during the only bout of work that has so far taken place, when a crew turned up to remove the spoil over the semi-basement of no. 34. Without so much as a by-your-leave they blocked the street for a good week.

Simon tried phoning the council to try and get them to do something but despite talking to various people, one of whom eventually admitted that the building crew couldn’t do that, nothing happened. He contacted English Heritage to find out what rights he had living in a Grade II listed house. “I have obligations, but it seems I don’t have any rights,” he said.

The crux of the matter

“The crux of the matter is that the street scene is predicated on the opposing façade being 15 metres away,” Ms Bull told me. “On this model the daylight to the opposing façade is naturally dealt with, and so is the privacy, as 15 metres is the standard dimension for privacy between windows. But within the model there is no red light to warn that the opposing façade may be only 3.6 metres away and therefore it is still assumed that the daylight and the privacy are all right. That is really the issue, that the street scene does not trigger action if the width between the two façades falls below 15 metres.” This lack of concern regarding any neighbourly behaviour, even extends to contract procedure on West Street.

The fact that the Planning Committee disregarded the legitimate interests of the residents across the street regarding daylight, privacy, and contract procedure, is not because they were neglectful, but because they were not made aware of the situation by the Planning Department. This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs and provides another example of why there is widespread dissatisfaction with the planning process in Hastings.

 

The 2011 application is HS/FA/11/00555 and the latest, submitted in 2014 and approved in 2015, HS/LB/14/00730. These and the other applications can be viewed on the council’s website under environment and planning.

Posted 18:16 Monday, Feb 15, 2016 In: Home Ground

3 Comments

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  1. Heather Grief

    If the Council reject a planning application and the applicant appeals, then a Government Inspector, from another region, has to do a site inspection and then make a decision. The answer is for HBC to do its job and reject the application as an over-development which cuts out daylight to the houses opposite – this happened opposite me, and the Inspector ruled that no permission for housing along the stretch of Tower Road West opposite the backs of Markwick Terrace should ever be given, as it would set a precedent, and the windows of said new houses would have impinged on the privacy of Markwick Terrace’s houses, and spoil the street scape. No such application has been submitted since, and the owners of the ‘backs’ have been content to build garages, after obtaining planning permissions. I’m not sure how wide Tower Rd West is, but it’s several times wider than West St, and the distance between the windows of Markwick Terrace and the windows of the proposed houses was maybe 20 metres, if my memory serves me right – this was some years ago.

    Comment by Heather Grief — Saturday, Feb 20, 2016 @ 12:12

  2. ken davis

    Having designed a conversion of a listed building further along West Street and designed, and obtained planning for two projects on small infill sites in the old town, I have been aware of this ‘issue’ for some time. As expressed many times before, the HBC planning department display an amazing lack of design awareness time and time again. Sites such as this require very carefully and imaginatively considered design solutions rather than a squeeze on as much as you can approach, but such indifference really must be spotted in the earliest stages by planning officials. There are appropriate, indeed beneficial, design solutions for such sites which balance competing needs. Having designed a scheme in Courthouse Street where a big issue was made by the planners about sunlight to nearby dwellings I really cannot understand why the planners failed to do anything in this instance other than the possibility that a junior and inexperienced officer was on the case and insufficiently supervised.Try harder, much harder, HBC.

    Comment by ken davis — Friday, Feb 19, 2016 @ 20:18

  3. Lucy Locket

    This has been a long drawn out fiasco with some residents paying large amounts of money for legal advice and the failes Judicial Review. A Judicial Review which should have been successful had the facts been presented to the judge. One could call this a miscarriage of justice.

    As Richard Price points out the crux of this matter is not because the planning committee approved the application, it is because the planning officers failed to make the committee aware of the complex issues surrounding this application. And Mr. Price is correct when he says this is another example of why there is widespread dissatisfaction witht the planning processes in this town.

    Comment by Lucy Locket — Tuesday, Feb 16, 2016 @ 12:09

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