Havant residents angered by ‘disgraceful’ decision to approve councillor’s plans to convert New Road offices into flats

HAVANT residents have been angered by the council’s decision to approve a contentious planning application from a ward councillor.

By Emily Jessica Turner
Saturday, 5th June 2021, 12:10 pm
Updated Saturday, 5th June 2021, 12:14 pm
Aura House in New Road
Aura House in New Road

Critics of the plans to convert Aura House on New Road into accommodation say that it will create ‘substandard housing’, while Havant Borough Council (HBC) says the sizes of the flats would meet standards.

An application was prepared on behalf of Gary Robinson, ward councillor for Bedhampton, to convert his own property - currently offices - into six residential flats.

The application was approved by the HBC planning committee on May 27, despite planning officers recommending refusal.

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Gary Robinson Picture: Habibur Rahman

Ann Buckley, co-ordinator of the Havant Borough Residents' Alliance, said: ‘I worked for many years assessing housing and l am a Member of the Chartered Institute of Housing. The last thing we need in Bedhampton is substandard housing.

‘Having spent most of my working life in housing provision I understand the importance of suitable housing accommodation.

‘Because the council has recently failed the government's Housing Delivery Test it should not respond by approving six unsuitable flats.

‘Aura House, which stands close to the railway line, was not designed to accommodate homes which were described by the planning officer as “sealed boxes to keep out the noise”.’

Bob Comlay, chair of Havant Civic Society, said that the application approval was ‘an absolutely disgraceful decision by the elected councillors on the HBC planning committee’.

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A HBC spokesperson said: ‘The size of the flats is dealt with in para 7.36 of the officer report. The flats meet, or exceed, the sizes set out in the National Space Standards.

‘There is limited external amenity space, but there are no prescribed standards for this.

‘Given the site’s location, close to local amenities, this was considered to be acceptable.

‘Flats in town centres often have no amenity space and this is a well located site, close to the town.

‘The committee considered that the development would not result in ‘substandard housing’.

In a 40-page report, planning officers recommended refusal of the planning application and said that if the plan was approved, ‘the resulting residential accommodation would result in an unsatisfactory living environment for future residents.’

Ann added: ‘The Aura House application was approved against the planning officers recommendation to refuse it.

‘I found this decision surprising as there seemed to be grounds to refuse the application.

‘It was a very small planning committee, only the chair and four members, two were missing, it was a unanimous decision of those five.

‘The planning officer set out the importance of retaining the office work space in Bedhampton which is useful for small start-up businesses which are particularly needed at this time.

‘The planning officer also explained that these proposed small flats would not provide quality homes and a suitable living environment and I agree with that.’

Bob added: ‘By overturning this recommendation without any semblance of intelligent debate, the five elected members present [at the planning meeting] demonstrated their complete lack of commitment to the quality of entry-level housing, ‘levelling down’ the opportunities for the two thousand people on the council’s list.

‘It’s clear from the officers’ report and the public objections raised that those on the housing list deserve a higher quality of accommodation. It’s also true that the planning officers deserve a higher standard of engagement from the elected political representatives and, quite frankly, so do the residents.’

Ed Allsop, senior planner at Tetra Tech, speaking on behalf of Cllr Robinson, said: ‘The new flats will provide much needed housing in a highly sustainable location and allow people to get on the housing ladder.

‘The flats meet the national described space standards for flats of this size and therefore are not “substandard”.

‘This was discussed openly at the committee meeting where the council confirmed this is the case. It is accepted that the site is close to the railway line, but this can be seen throughout the area with many houses in a similar position and we are not aware that they are considered by their owners to be problematic. The windows serving the flats will be fully openable, just like the surrounding housing which is close to the railway line and is not dissimilar to other housing schemes.

‘It should also be noted that only seven objections were made, two letters were submitted in support and there was also a speaker of support at the committee meeting and no-one turned up to speak against the application. All key considerations were discussed and addressed within the appropriate public forum, this led to unanimous support from the councillors.’

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