Former Eastbourne bank’s conversion approved despite lack of affordable housing

Proposals to convert a former bank into apartments have been given the go ahead by Eastbourne planners.

Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 4:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th August 2020, 9:37 am

On Tuesday (August 25), Eastbourne Borough Council’s planning committee unanimously approved an application to convert the former branch of RBS in Gildredge Road into 15 self-contained apartments. 

Due to the scale of the proposals, developers would normally be required to provide some affordable housing as part of the development, but developers said this would not be possible without damaging the financial viability of the proposals.

This argument saw opposition raised by ward councillor Robert Smart (Con, Meads), who said: “The applicant states that it would not be possible apparently to provide affordable housing as part of the development, nor could a commuted sum be paid. But surely we cannot just ditch the principle.

“I looked for the viability statements on the websites but could not find it. Frankly I wouldn’t put much belief into a viability statement; you can prove anything perhaps.

“However, I don’t believe that should supersede the principle of the affordability provision. Look at this as a precedent if that were to happen.”

According to council papers, an independent financial assessment of the developer’s position was underway but not completed in time for the meeting.

Cllr Smart added: “I’m not against this conversion in principle, however I believe the obligation regarding affordability should not be ditched irrespective of what the viability statement says and I believe that a new design must be submitted with more parking.”

The proposals for the building only had four parking spaces (as well as a cycle storage area) well-below the normal guidelines. However, planning officers said an objection on these grounds are unlikely to be sustainable as there are still permit parking places available nearby.  

The potential impact on nearby parking had been one of the main concerns raised by local objectors.

During the meeting, Jane Lamb (Con, Meads) argued for a condition which would deny future residents of the building from applying for a parking permit in order to address objectors’ concerns. 

This condition was not applied, however, following advice from the committee’s legal advisor.

While committee members had raised concerns over several aspects of the larger scheme, councillors did not consider there were grounds to refuse planning permission.

A second application to convert the loft of the vacant building into two further flats was refused however, as those apartments did not meet space standards.

Committee chairman Peter Diplock (Lib Dem, Old Town) said: “I think we’ve come to a point where, if not quite caught between a rock and a hard place, we have one hand tied behind our back.

“We know the property is vacant [and] it would be nice to have it brought back into use, particularly residential use. 

“We know there are concerns around parking but I think East Sussex Highways have said it is not substantive enough to object.

“We know the mind of the planning inspector in cases such as this. 

“The financial viability aspect is one that concerns me, but the financial viability assessment is still awaited and that will be assessed independently. 

“I do know from previous discussions that if we choose to challenge an independently-assessed financial viability report it costs us in the region of £2,500.”

The approved apartments are to be a mix of 12 one-bedroom and three two-bedroom flats, each with their own open-plan kitchen and lounge areas.  

The two refused additional flats would each have been one-bedroom flats.

For further information on the proposals see applications 200322 and 200332 on the Eastbourne Borough Council website.

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