Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dean wades in to the Deanery debate.

Above; an artists impression of the new development (copyright- Highwood Group) and below; How the Daily Echo reported the row.

Quite an interesting row has erupted over a development site in the heart of St Marys on a piece of land owned by Southampton City College and has been written up in this-evenings Echo (in the usual sensationalist way!)

A planning application was considered by the Planning & Rights of Way Panel last week (on which I sit) at the Deanery site in Chapel. I had a number of concerns, not least with the Officers written report which I thought was somewhat biased in favour of the development and did not consider what I thought were at least other, partially relevant matters. It is interesting to note that some authorities, officers do not give a reccomendation to refuse or grant a planning application- that is not the case in Southampton.

The report read to me as if the local plan foresaw this application as part of regeneration of the wider area, whereas actually the site had only very recently become available to the developer. The reality was the site in modern times had always been college land. Despite Officer protestations to the contrary, nobody ever thought that it would be available for development for housing or indeed any other use-other than possibly sporting given the location of the college gym on part of the site. Recently the Panel Report on the South East Region drew attention to the shortage of employment and education land, especially in the urban areas. I viewed the proposal as really a departure from the local plan, or at least its spirit, as this land had long been seen as education and college land (certainly not housing!).

The fact that the development by Chandlers Ford based Highwood Group comprised of 142 flats and 39 houses, just 20% family housing and not the 30% in the recently adopted core strategy was not mentioned in the report.

In my view, the site was taken out of context by the report in that is the surrounding derelict land in chapel which has been considered for redevelopment- quite rightly so but this area was not part of it. The application contributed nothing to employment or education uses. Interstingly in the report, what did Officers mean by partial redevelopment? i should have pressed them on this. One could certainly argue that the site should stand by itself or not at all.

There was also the significant issue that the site was one that has been identified as liable to flooding under certain conditions. On this matter alone, planning approval would lead to the decision being called in by the Secretary of State.

However the biggest concern to me was that the education department of the city council has not been consulted! Given the council is becoming the strategic authority for college education this seemed to me to be an extraordinary omission as they would have surely objected. There was nothing about the needs of the college sector for the future in the report with the city centre location being an ideal location for the work of the college. Even if surplus to college requirements, the city is looking for possible sites for the building of a new primary school and is currently conducting a primary school review.

At the meeting itself the Headmaster of Taunton's College Jonathan Prest spoke describing the development as a 'missed opportunity' adding, ' I wonder whether for the educational planning of the city it is not worth holding onto an area of land that large'. He has articulated these views further in tonight's paper.

Personally, I think he rather has a point.

The irony is that unknown to the Panel members at the time (including me), the City College no-longer wanted to sell the land because they had secured the redevelopment and modernisation of their remaining college buildings through an alternative funding source.

As Lindsey Noble, Principle of the City College says, "it is up to the council to make sure its planning policy restricted the 'disposal of too much educational land".


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