To consider a report by the Chief Planning Officer which sets out details of an application which seeks planning permission for the construction of two residential blocks including access, parking provision, the drainage layout and landscaping at land off Flax Place, Richmond Street, Marsh Lane and East Street, Richmond Hill, Leeds 9.
The Chief Planning Officer submitted a report which set out details of an application which sought planning permission for the construction of two residential blocks including access, parking provision, the drainage layout and landscaping at land off Flax Place, Richmond Street, Marsh Lane and East Street, Richmond Hill, Leeds 9.
Site photographs and plans were displayed and referred to throughout the discussion of the application.
The Planning case officer addressed the Panel, speaking in detail about the proposal and highlighted the following:
· Site / location / context
· A similar scheme for this site had previously been granted consent but had since fallen away
· City Centre site
· Former commercial use site, now proposing residential use
· This current application was the subject of a financial viability consideration
· The proposal to construct two stepped residential blocks of up to 11 storeys (East Block) and 15 storeys (West Block) totalling 350 units (56.3% of the units being one bedroomed, 42.3% of the units being two bedroomed and 1.4% of the units being three bedroomed)
· Affordable housing provision 3.14% (11 units)
· 38 car parking spaces, all with electric vehicle charging points, 36 motorcycle spaces and 376 cycle parking spaces plus 10 visitor cycle stands
· Landscape provision
· Communal space provision
· There was no retail or GP Surgery provision proposed, but it was understood the nearby Lincoln Green GP surgery may be upgraded at a later date.
It was reported that in addition to the letters referred to in the submitted report further letters of objection had been received referring to: bats roosting/ foraging on site, the loss of wildlife habitat, loss of trees, gentrification of the site, putting profits before people, lack of community engagement due to Covid-19 Pandemic, wind issues and fire safety issues.
The Panel then heard from Tiffany Mazza and Mike Heckman who were objecting to the proposals.
Ms Mazza said the development would cause increased traffic generation and safety problems to the area, the lack and reduction of parking would cause overspill on flax place. She said there had been 30 road traffic accidents between 2013/18 and Flax Place was a key route for ambulance despatch, adding to this already problematic area would cause more issues. Ms Mazza said this scheme (build to rent) provided only 1.4% of 3 bedroom accommodation which was less than the Councils own target of 30%. The scheme was not viable to provide the minimum 7% of affordable housing as outlined in the Core Strategy. She said build to rent schemes attracted absent landlords and leads to a transient population who do not invest in the local community unlike permanent residents, similar nearby developments had these same issues. It was suggested the visual appearance of the building was “ugly”, the Civic Trust commenting that the external façade treatment had been “dumbed down” from the well-expressed modelling and classic framing of the original to a flatter, blander treatment. The development was expected to deliver high quality innovative design, this design falls well short. Finally the community engagement had not been adequate, the changes to this application had not been effectively communicated and was evidenced by the 150 local residents who signed the petition
Mr Heckman questioned why financial viability was not an issue on the previous similar scheme for this site. It was also suggested there many tower blocks in the area and together with the proposal, would result in wind issues. The building design was overbearing, if the site was to be developed the building(s) need to be smaller and more attractive in design. There are too many single bed flats proposed, leading to a transient population and there was no provision for a GP Surgery.
Questions to Ms Mazza and Mr Heckman
· Could you expand further on the parking and traffic overspill
In responding Ms Mazza and Mr Heckman said
· There was already permit parking on Flax Place, but students from nearby properties tend to park in the area and Flax Place does not appear to be patrolled by Parking Wardens
The Chair then invited Michelle Davis (Agent) to speak in support of the application.
Ms Davis said the developers welcomed the officer recommendation of approval for this site and explained there had been a long delay in developing this site which had become something of an eyesore because the previous proposals had proved financially unviable. The new developers who would build this scheme are a major development company with a construction arm and their proposals provide an opportunity to develop this site with a high quality viable scheme on a sustainable City Centre site which is already allocated for residential development in the Aire Valley Housing Action Plan. Should planning consent be granted today, it is anticipated works would begin on site in May 2021. The previous consent had already established the principles of height and massing for this development and there was a strong similarity between the two schemes. All apartments exceed the minimum national space standards, the application complies with Policy H10 on accessibility standards for wheelchair users and there are a number of affordable housing units at 3% which accords with the District Valuer’s advice. In responding to the objectors comments; parking levels were lower than previously proposed and although they are lower than the Council’s maximum allowable levels for this area, this is a fringe parking zone and the city council encourage sustainable methods of transport particularly in a city centre location such as this, which is close to both the bus and train station. All car parking spaces would be served by 100% charging points, there is a significant increase in the number of cycling spaces and there’s also a car club bay on site. In terms of the overspill parking, the developer does have sympathy with the objectors, but it is for the City Council to enforce parking restrictions, that said, there is within the Section 106 Agreement a contribution of £10,000 for Traffic Regulation Orders to address potential overspill parking issues in the surrounding streets. In terms of the road safety points, Ms Davis said she had not seen the statistic from the Leeds Data Mill but she had seen the developers own transport assessment which collates the same data from the same source, from 2015 for the two junctions near to the site which are the relevant points for accessing and egressing the site, which show 3 accidents having taken place within the specified period; 2 slight and 1 serious. On the issue of consultation both the Government and the Chief Planning Officer have previously said that Covid-19 cannot be used as an excuse to delay the planning process and the staging of virtual Committees is evidence of that. Ms Davis said 600 letters and leaflets were sent out to local people with the developers contact details. Two letters were received from elderly local residents asking about employment opportunities, the website for the development remains live and allows members of the public to make comments on the scheme, to date no request for direct conversations with anyone had been received, although dialogue with the local ward Councillor has taken place. In summary this is a well thought out scheme with a quality design which will benefit the city and the local area.
Questions to Ms Davis
· Objectors suggest this development will block views across the city
· This development is providing less affordable housing compared to the previous scheme, there is inadequate greenspace provision and no health facilities
· One bedroom flats equates to 56.3% of the total number of units, was consideration given to more three bedroomed units
· Small units do not help the community spirit with the average length of stay within the City Centre being 3 - 4 years
· In terms of viability, with the exception of build to rent, were any other types of scheme considered
· Members expressed disappointment that only half of the affordable housing contribution was being provided
· The basement excavation, should this be considered as abnormal costs
In responding Ms Davis said
· There was an increase in height of one storey from the previously consented scheme
· This was a challenging site in terms of viability
· The type of accommodation is determined by the market, the typical age range for this type of development is 18-34 (young professionals) there is no demand for three bedroom units
· Young people are able to engage with the local community if the property is rented for some time
· Only build to rent schemes were considered by the developer
· Members were informed that the affordable housing provision was 3% which accords with the District Valuer’s advice.
· The cost for excavation of the car park was an expensive item
Members raised the following questions to officers/ applicants representatives:
· The submitted report referred to abnormal costs, but civil engineering works were not necessarily abnormal costs
· This development does not meet the parking standards, could new residents apply for permit parking
· This development was a build to rent scheme, had other options been considered
· The greenspace provision for this site is problematic, it is understood an off-site greenspace contribution is being provided, but where in Richmond Hill would this greenspace provision be located
· Could more details be provided about the affordable housing provision
· Residents occupying this site would struggle to access the Health Facilities and shops at Lincoln Green
· The comments of the Civic Trust, (page 53 of the submitted report) are these comments considered as a negative
In responding to the issues raised, officers said:
· Mr Brian Maguire from the District Valuer’s Office confirmed that excavation works were not an abnormal cost, the costs and the term “abnormal” had been provided by the applicant. However, these costs are considered reasonable and similar to other such schemes.
· It was confirmed that new residents would not be eligible for parking permits if demand in the area had already been met
· Each application was considered on its merits. This site had been allocated as housing and there is no policy preference for one type of housing over another on this site. However, it was considered that a build to rent development was the most viable proposal in respect of maximising potential affordable housing delivery on the site
· Members were informed that as yet no off-site greenspace schemes had been identified, but any schemes coming forward would be done in consultation with Ward Councillors
· The District Valuer’s said the previous scheme intended to provide affordable housing provision at 7%, however the current application was originally offering no affordable housing provision based on a financial viability case. The District Valuer had subsequently challenged the applicants assumed land value and potential profits resulting in the provision of affordable housing of 3.14% (11 units) in line with other schemes within the City Centre
· Members were informed that the Health Partnership Team were looking at the health care provision in the East Leeds area to determine if extra health provision was justified.
· The Leeds Civic Trust comments related to the proposals as originally submitted. The quality of the design had since been improved to follow a modernism / simplistic approach. On the issue of one escape stairs per block, it was reported that the applicants had submitted a fire safety strategy to address fire safety concerns which was considered acceptable by LCC Building Control. It was acknowledged that on site greenspace provision was less than required by policy but an off-site greenspace contribution was been provided to mitigate for this as allowed by the Council’s policy.
In offering comments Members raised the following issues:
· The majority of Members considered the quality of design was disappointing
· The massing of the development in this location was too dominant
· Members considered the greenspace provision to be insufficient
· The landscaping proposals were inadequate
· Healthcare provision in the area was an important issue
· Car parking provision did not meet policy standards
It was moved and seconded that the application be refused for the following reasons: there was a lack of affordable housing provision, the quality of design was disappointing, the massing of the development was too dominant, on site green space provision was insufficient, the landscaping proposals were inadequate, Healthcare provision was required in the area and car parking did not meet current policy standards.
Upon being put to the vote, the motion was passed unanimously
RESOLVED – That determination of this application be deferred to allow the Chief Planning Officer to prepare and bring back to Panel detailed reasons for refusal based on the following:
There was a lack of affordable housing provision, the quality of design was disappointing, the massing of the development was too dominant, green space provision was insufficient, the landscaping proposals were inadequate, Healthcare provision was required in the area and car parking did not meet current policy standards.